A few years ago, in our quest to find the best almonds in Sicily, we were lucky enough to sit with Carlo Assenza of Caffé Sicilia. Before talking to us for hours about the incredible properties of the Romana, Pizzuta, Fascionello and the other local varieties he loved so much, in a blunt but gentle way he asked: "Why are you here? The best almonds are in Toritto".
We kind of ignored his question because we so wanted to work with him -he was truly a remarkable man- but after his passing last year, we started our own journey to find what we believed to be "the best almonds". We never forgot his words though, and after meeting with the team at Donna Francesca, we ended up in the exact same place il Signor Carlo told us to go. Toritto.
Interested in learning a bit more about the Filippo Cea almonds? Here's a sneak peek.
At the end of the XIX century, the surroundings of Toritto were made of a dense forest, offering shelter and hiding to local burglars. After the Unity of Italy, to make the road from Rome to Bari safer, they tore down the local forest, leaving space for a far more secure and organised landscape: almond trees. A local agronomist, Filippo Cea, who liked to graft with different varieties, created one that could benefit from the soil, extract the most nutrients and enjoy the altitude and exposure. The Filippo Cea almond perfectly integrated in the Apulian landscape, and while over 70% of the varieties are not Filippo Cea, you can find that in the province of Bari, near Toritto and Mariotto (where Donna Francesca is located) they are a staggering majority.
An important note: the denomination "Almonds from Toritto" include a number of different cultivars, in which the Filippo Cea must be at least 70% of the total. Other varieties from the area, such as the "De Vito" can also be included. The Filippo Cea variety is the one with the highest properties and values, and not every company offers the 100% cultivar. Although, our Donna Francesca does :)
Flowers blossom in February to the first week of March, with the harvest starting mid August till mid September. The almonds are then left to dry under the hot Apulian sun for about 7/10 days, turned over constantly to get rid of humidity and minimise the risk of parasites. How do you know they're ready? When shaking the shell, they make a knocking noise. After the shelling process, they'll start their journey to tables all over the world.
What we love
Its sweet and intense taste, yet balanced and elegant, characterised by a high content of oil and fatty acids. Because of their very low acidity and a strong doughiness with final butter tasting notes, they make a great snack, or precious ally in any sweet preparation you may want to attempt.
On top of their delicious taste, as shown by various studies conducted by the Institute of Agronomic Research in Bari, the Filippo Cea almonds have an outstanding organoleptic and nutritional profile: the high oil content (59.57%), of which nearly 74% is comprised of oleic acid, followed by 18.6% of linoleic acid.
Another significantly important factor in this almond’s variety is its significant vitamin E (Tocopherol) content, which carries out antioxidant actions in the human body by slowing down the ageing process, fighting the relaxation of the skin and aiding the whole cardiovascular system in fighting cholesterol. What's not to love!
Filippo Cea almonds are great in a multitude of recipes: from marzipan and ice cream to almond milk and confectionary, the possibilities are endless. To experience its full flavour and start easy, we made a very simple, quick and gluten free cake with polenta flour, almond meal (homely made!) and blueberries. A soft, moist, delicious afternoon treat. Recipe is here.