It was a land of shepherds and transhumance, of woodcutters and craftsmen. The isolation that for centuries has meant poverty, is now seen as prosperity and quality of life. oday it enjoys clean air and crystal clear water, woods and meadows are dazzling green. It is a precious piece of that Italy which has deserved the title of “Bel Paese”. Capracotta rises to 1421 meters of height in the province of Isernia, the second-highest town in the Apennines and renowned ski resort. Many, in the 1800s, emigrated to seek their fortune in America. Others, in the years of the economic boom, left it to reach the industries of the north. Today it happens more rarely. A lot of young people stay here, attracted by a quality of life that, thanks above all to its pristine air and water, the big city does cannot offer. Here the air is surprisingly pure, a precious resource, so much so that the Municipality of Capracotta, in collaboration with the University of Molise and the CNR of Naples, is working to certify it. Harmony is a word that in its original meaning means “perfect union of the parts in the whole”. It is an agreement of voices and feelings, of relationships and life. Harmony is what experiences who visits these places. ach season has its own colors, but it is in Spring that nature shows its shining kaleidoscope. The botanical garden created in Capracotta in 1963 preserves and protects the native flora of the central-southern Apennines. Carmen is responsible for it. Gardeners and botanists provide her the indispensable help. Graduated in natural sciences, she has always nurtured a passion for plants, especially the ones living at high altitudes. Her love for the plant world led her to choose her beautiful work and it has been natural for her to arrive at such a special place. Certainly, it has the characteristic of being one of the highest botanical gardens in Italy. Further, here there is a path dedicated to people with motor and sensory disabilities, therefore visually impaired and blind, equipped with some visual-tactile panels that either refer to the information content of the panel and to an audio guide in the panel itself. Therefore, are accessible not only the flower beds and habitats that characterize this botanical garden but also the information. Inside the botanical garden, there is a vegetable garden that fulfills other important functions. The garden has mainly a didactic purpose but also it wants to conserve the native vegetable varieties, lentils and beans above all, recovered by farmers that we name custodians, custodians of these ancient varieties. Another purpose is to preserve the seed of these varieties, thus enriching our agronomic heritage. The collected seed is stored in a small germplasm bank that we have available in our garden. The aim is also to identify other custodian farmers to whom to give this seed in order to perpetuate lentil cultivation. I have the luck to live in a town where you are in close contact with nature. During the course of studies, especially the university ones and with the botany exam, I discovered my true passion and therefore I tried to examine in-depth my studies in this field as much as possible. For Carmen the garden is a source of continuous emotions. Every day, and not an emotion, but a myriad of emotions. It is an emotion when I welcome the students who come to visit the botanical garden and, at the end of the guided tour, they are happy and thank me. At that moment I am really happy because I think I managed to give them an important message. I feel emotions when, after having arranged the flowerbeds with great care and attention, visitors express their wonder and approval about the way this botanical garden is maintained. Carmen completely dedicates herself to the garden. Seeing it thrive, welcoming more and more visitors, are her greatest satisfactions. I am very satisfied with my job, but I am always trying to achieve better results. It is continuous growth, from year to year. Pure air and pure water mean pure land, able of generating lush, nutrient-rich grass. All the animals, even the tiniest ones, benefit from it. Cows, left free in the pasture, give the best milk. Antonella has been able to put these favorable conditions to value, in order to give a positive change to her life and relaunch the family farm that today produces excellent milk and yoghurt. I studied chemical engineering, after which I had two chances: either pack up and leave or roll up my sleeves and do something with my parents’ firm. I have found that many of my studies are also useful for my work, chemical engineering often places side by side with agri-food. Time spent studying is never lost. Sooner or later, studying pays off in some way. Dawn has just arisen. Antonella and her husband Alessio, who is today free from his job of the ranger, are getting ready to go up the high pastures. It is time for daily milking. To reach the mountain pasture, they have to go up a few hundred meters along a steep mule track. The little Matteo prefers to spare himself the effort of the climb, and so he gets on the tractor with his uncle Massimo. We breed 130 to 140 heads of cattle. Weather permitting, we stay on the mountain pastures from May to October, depending on weather conditions. We try to make the most of the pasture to obtain the best product possible. The grazing animal lives at its better, it is less stressed, and this positively affects the milk’s quality. Studies say that the milk produced on the mountain pasture has nutraceutical properties. A substance is nutraceutical when it is functional, when in addition to nourishing the body it provides benefits, with omega 3 and conjugated linoleic acid, all them molecules useful in the fight against tumors, high cholesterol, and hypertension, the diseases of our millennium. Some heads of cattle have moved away from the bulk of the herd and scattered on the meadows. As a modern cowboy who has replaced the horse with a motorcycle, Massimo runs back and forth on the mountain to gather them. Intelligent and disciplined animals, cows head for the cowshed. For Antonella, it is important that milking does not last any longer than she has to, the company’s commitments are not the only ones for her. My family rules the roost! Fortunately, I have a husband who assists and encourages me in all choices. And then I have two children, one of which, the oldest one, is passionate about all the agriculture activities, he considers himself a small cowshed boss, he is always here with us on the farm … it is wonderful to see him grow up in this way. I thank the Lord for having grandparents, my husband’s parents, who are irreplaceable. They go to pick up the children, help them in the afternoon if they have some after-school activity … Nowadays it is really a great fortune to have grandparents. We will manage it, it is a bet we have made ten years ago and it seems that the market is responding well to us, so we are proud to have made this choice, me and my brothers in the first place, because it must be emphasized that I am not alone in this journey, in this discovery, in this madness as we wish to call it. Probably we manage it because we are united, together with the figure of our mother who encourages us not to give up and spurs us every day to do something more. Spring is a joy for the whole nature. This is also for those who live in Capracotta, especially the young ones, who every year invent new ways to decorate the downtown streets. Founded in the Middle Ages, the town was almost entirely destroyed during the last conflict by the retreating Nazi troops. In reconstructing it stone upon stone, house to house, the inhabitants have shown an attachment to their small homeland that still lasts today. Like others who had emigrated, some years ago Michele decided to return to his family’s town. His parents were born here, and here he spent the summers of his youth. His restaurant is a destination very appreciated by gourmets, who even come from far away. Hey workers, good morning. What are you doing? Are you helping grandpa? Go slow, Gio … Daddy, I am going to pick up some orapi. Did you see Michele what weather is up there? – Oh well, come on, a bit of fog, it is no big deal.
– I think you should not go … Bye! Okay, bye. A local saying says that in Capracotta there are eleven cold months and one fresh. It is also said that it is the “village of storms” because of the strong wind and heavy snowfalls that here often rage. But this is the climate preferred by the “orapo”, the wild mountain spinach. Also known as “Buon Enrico”, it grows on mountains up to over two thousand meters of height and owns extraordinary virtues. It is rich in minerals and vitamins, it has restorative and purifying properties and it is the basis of many traditional recipes. I have started making this job, and just here, for three reasons: the passion for cooking, the desire to make something on my own, and above all the love for my land, for my town, for my origins. I was born in Milan, I lived for a long time in Frosinone, a city which I keep beautiful memories of, but I always had the desire to return to the town of my origin, also because I have always come here on weekends and in summer. The summers of my youth are indelible in my memory. Rather than go to Ibiza or some remote exotic islands, my fun was in Capracotta. The evenings spent along the course with the guitar, the games … what I did here was priceless for me! I always had a great passion for cooking. Of course, I also attended courses, but above all, I got informed about the area. What amuses me most is to revisit the dishes of this territory, by making the dishes of dozens of years ago up to date, thus lightening and enriching them, sometimes adding other ingredients to make them more appetizing, more beautiful and more suitable for our days. My dishes are all certainly seasonal because I use almost only seasonal products. In the winter period, I mainly use potatoes, lentils and beans, which can be well preserved and worked outside the harvest periods. Objectively, also some problems do exist, here it is not everything perfect, obviously, also because I do not believe that perfection does exist but, at the moment, we have the schools and this is the most important thing for a village. I am convinced that a village dies when there are no more schools. Now, fortunately, we have up to middle school so we are fairly calm. Clearly, among the problems that you can experience in a village at 1,421 meters above sea level, are the sudden climate changes. Here the temperatures can have important excursions during the day, but these ones are not insurmountable problems for us. The main problem is in Wintertime when particularly abundant snowfalls can cause some problems for the roads. But we are equipped. At any time there are snowplows that open the roads and in addition, we no longer have the problem we had until a few decades ago, when electricity was often lacking. Michele’s creativity gives rise to dishes of refined goodness, such as “Cicatèlli with datterini, orapi and ricotta flakes”, or “Chitarrine with lemon-flavored orapi”, and all are made with the natural ingredients offered by his extraordinary territory. This is my place … and I live really well there. Today, many young people give more and more impetus to traditional activities, not only breeding farm but agriculture as well. Luca and Loreto brothers, with great passion and the energy of their years, are dedicated to the cultivation of cereals and legumes of their ancient tradition that, forgotten by now, risked disappearing. This experience of ours, a real challenge, was born from the love that our father had for Capracotta, for the territory, for our town and for what it could offer us. Today it is a truly unconditional passion because cultivating in the high mountains is interesting from a quality point of view, but it is also a challenge against time, both atmospheric and material. Many times we are really on the knife’s edge because it could rain and it could not, actually, we never know what weather we will have in two hours because often the change is sudden in high mountains. The total absence of pollutants and the abundant presence of snow that provides nutrients to the soil, mineral salts and nitrogen, in particular, is a real godsend for the cultivation of legumes and cereals. Then … let us take these poles. I will take the poles, you take the shears. With these ones we have to finish the fence for the wild boars. Practicing this activity here, in my places, in Capracotta, where I was born and where I know each leaf of the woods, is for me something exceptional, magical. I could not do what I do every day in another place, not even in a more beautiful one. Of course, living here is not easy, with so much snow, so much storm … here rage real snowstorms. But, in my opinion, this is the taste of challenge that gives me the charge every day. As in the tale of “Jack and the magic beanstalk”, the Luca and Loreto’s story also originates from a pot and its content, small legumes with an almost unknown name. We found a small copper container with small seeds inside and we didn’t know at first what they were. Our father told us that it was the Roveglia di Capracotta, a legume widely cultivated in the mountainous areas and that was used for the sustenance of the families and, together with the vetch, also of the cattle. Given the difficult growing conditions, he even risked extinction. We have done a big job of recovery and promotion of the seed. In the beginning, we started with only 300 grams of seeds and now we manage to produce a few hundred kilograms per year. In the expertise of the two brothers, there is something that once was normal and that today appears to be an exception: the transmission of knowledge from father to son. I still remember the elderly when we were children, my grandparents while gathering these wild herbs, arranging them in a certain way to get them dry, upside down so that the green chlorophyll not to dissolve. These are scenes that evoke a world that is almost forgotten, but that makes think of something clean, a beautiful emotion to remember and to relive. It is an emotion that accompanies us day by day. Often men do not evaluate the consequences of his own actions. Wild boars from Eastern Europe, far more prolific and voracious than the native ones, have been introduced for hunting. The result is more and more frequent devastation of crops. The appearance of wild boars in our areas, which number since the 1970s have been increased exponentially, certainly brings us more sacrifices. The fact of having to fence off our cultivations, of having to protect them with fences either electrified and not, involves additional expenses and more work. And anyway, it is difficult to hinder the action of these wild animals that, alas, have been increasing in a really dizzying way lately. We have to work hardly. The soils of Capracotta, like all those of the upper Molise and particularly the ones of the mountain, are rich in stones and rocks and this translates into a double consequence,either positive and negative. Rocky soils guarantee much better cultivation of legumes than clay soils. But it also represents a challenge because all the larger stones must be removed, and it is hard, very hard. We are putting soul and body in this. Our grandparents succeeded in the past, with very few resources but with a lot of work. Today we can and must do it too, and so we move forward with honor. The woods around Capracotta hide a precious and difficult to find treasure because it is hidden underground. To find it you need an excellent sniff, a quality that only some dogs develop, and long training. To Briciola, a cute spotted mongrel, neither one nor the other lacks. It is not so easy to find a truffle, but when you find it, you have further proof that the woods are healthy and nothing contaminates them. riciola has a promising pupil, the young and white Pallina, which applies herself with great commitment. – Here it is!
– The treasure is found, a beautiful black truffle, intact and of excellent quality. For the two doggies, a cuddle is the most welcome reward. Living in Capracotta, far from the comfort of the city, may not be easy. Those who are used to city life, easier tolerate noise and smoke of cars, rather than the relative discomfort and the often inclement climate of these places. Storms and isolation are often seen as too high a price to pay for enjoying pristine air and water, the fragrant color of flowers, solidarity among people. Who chose to live all year in Capracotta has instead understood that life is above all the joy of simple things, authenticity of traditions and sincere human relationships. He understood that living in Capracotta … is living a peaceful life.