The unique qualities of Acquerello
Acquerello: The first rice to be aged in Italy
“The grains, a year after the harvest, are known to be sound because time renders them better as food” – (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, Volume I, Sutra Sthana)
It is not just in an ancient Sanskrit text that you find recognition for the advantages of aging rice: even earlier, in far off China, rice was conserved for up to three years, to ensure that in the event of drought, the Emperor would not go without; it was noted that the older the rice, the better it was. This is why today the rice aged for three years is called “the Emperor’s rice”.
In Southern Asia even today a sack of rice aged two years is regarded as a highly-prized gift.
In the rice producing zones of Italy it has always been considered that the best available was “fresh processed aged rice” meaning rice harvested and stored for a year before being processed for immediate consumption.
The aging remains the key process for achieving high quality: indispensable even if today it is less and less carried out. On the one hand the traditions, even in Asia, are now considered a luxury and, on the other, there are the costs of storage, refrigeration, the natural loss of weight of the rough rice and the amount of capital tied up in the process which can only be recouped by achieving rice of the very highest quality.
To age properly, the freshly harvested grain must be conserved at a cool temperature in the storage silos for as long as possible because, while the growth cycle of the plant ends with the harvest, the organic characteristics of the grain are not yet fully developed.
The granules of starch in the grain have still to achieve perfect stability; in fact the breathing activity of the rice does not stop once the grain is separated from the plant, it continues in the storage silos, improving the characteristics of the protein and starch and allowing the grains to reach a higher level of uniformity and quality.
This is the secret of Acquerello.
Progressively, the aging process provides three magical virtues:
- the proteins, vitamins and starch in Acquerello are less soluble when cooked in water (as can be seen, because the grains do not stick to the bottom of the saucepan);
- Acquerello absorbs a greater amount of cooking liquids and flavours (readily confirmed when tasted);
- Acquerello has greater consistency and is less sticky (the rice grains do not bind together) with the advantages of a delicate but decided taste and flavour.
Acquerello: The world’s only rice processed with the Helix
The processing, the refining or whitening of the rice, is achieved by an exclusively mechanical polishing operation, using equipment which does not change the inherent characteristics of the grain.
The more rice is refined and apparently made more white and beautiful, the more it loses nutritional value and, during cooking, its consistency and starch to become more sticky and glutinous.
For Acquerello rice, the key refining process is carried out using an exclusive traditional machine the Helix invented in 1875, had been abandoned by everybody until the Rondolinos bought all the existing ones.
consists of a machine similar to a cement mixer, with abrasive emery-coated internal walls;
has inside an endless propeller screw, positioned vertically 20 centimetres from the inner walls, which causes the rice to rise slowly and delicately with a rotary movement lasting some 10 minutes, during which time the grains rub against each other and the internal walls (with modern machines used in the industry today, the rice is forced through a 6 mm passageway and is polished white in just 6 seconds);
ensures that the more precious nutritional elements (mineral salts, proteins and vitamins) found principally in the outer part of the grain are not lost in the polishing process, as happens with other whitening systems. The friction and heat generated by the screw’s spiral action, cause the valued elements to penetrate the grains, so
the resulting rice is enriched, perfectly formed and has a honey-coloured appearance.
From nutritional, gastronomic and organoleptic points of view, the screw is today still considered the best machine for this vital process even if, for the rice industry in general, it is certainly the least economical because of its complexity and notably slow operation.
- Acquerello is currently the sole extra rice, the classification conferred only on rice which has less than 1/3 of the defects allowed by law and less than 1.5% broken grains instead of the permitted 5%.
- To preserve the characteristics of Acquerello in the best possible way, it has been chosen a form of packaging without equal: vacuum sealed enamelled tins which offer the best guarantee of conserving the rice perfectly.
- Both the processing and the packing take place directly at Colombara, so the complete production cycle, from sowing the seed to point of sale is under the family’s control.
Acquerello: The only rice with its germ
The grain of brown rice (wholegrain rice), is coated with a layer called chaff or bran, usually light brown in colour and more rarely black or dark red purple. The chaff, fat and fibre content, greatly slows the cooking time of brown rice and impedes a good absorption of cooking liquids and flavours, and these are the limits in the brown rice’s gastronomic diffusion.
The grain of brown rice, under the layer of husk, contains the white rice and the germ, bud or embryo; this looks like a tiny, dark yellow speck which lies in a small pouch by the so-called “tooth”. In refining, bleaching of rice the embryo is unfortunately separated along with the chaff and is thus eliminated depriving rice of its best parts.
The embryo, which in weight is about 3% of white rice, is the essential part for the perpetuation of the species. The embryo has the flavour of a peanut and contains large quantities of many valuable nutrients, especially proteins with all the aminoacids, lipids, vitamins, fitina, minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and many other trace elements and is therefore of great nutritional benefits.
In Acquerello the germ is first recovered, separating it from the chaff, and then slowly mixed with white rice with a unique patented process. In this way the embryo, which is very tender and soft, melts and a part penetrates inside the grain and the remainder adheres to its exterior.
It may be said that Acquerello restored with its embryo is the last word in rice, because it retains all the characteristics of easy cooking of white rice, versatility and absorption of cooking liquids and flavours, is improved in taste and also contains all nutritional most valuable features otherwise contained only in brown rice.
THE RONDOLINO FAMILY
A Life Dedicated to the Growing & Production of the World’s Finest Carnaroli Rice
In 1935 Cesare Rondolino decided to become a farmer, better to say a ‘rice producer’. Later he decided to purchase the Tenuta Torrone della Colombara which was famous for its fertile fields and abundance of water, thus particularly suited to rice growing.
In 1972 his son Piero joined him, to help continue the typical large-scale venture, where the most productive varieties were grown to achieve maximum yields for the commercial rice processing industry.
In 1992, after this long experience, Piero developed Acquerello: a superior form of Extra quality Carnaroli, aged to perfection.
In 2000, supported by positive feedback from experts and consumers, Piero and his son Rinaldo decided to reduce the terrain cultivated to the 140 most fertile hectares and sow only one variety of rice: the Carnaroli, certainly regarded by Italians as the most highly valued variety of rice for risotto and similar dishes. They also started their collaboration with the Slow Food association that chose the Torrone della Colombara as their learning centre for the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG).
Today the people who contribute to the growth of Acquerello are: Umberto and Anna, brother and sister of Rinaldo, working on image and design, as well as Maria Nava, Piero’s wife, in sales and marketing. All continue to ensure and develop the highest standards for Acquerello.
The Origins of Risotto
It is difficult to trace the beginnings of the risotto dish. However, there is a story which dates back to the 16th century in Milan.
During the two centuries that Milan was under Spanish rule, rice had become a staple. It was at this time that the construction of the Cathedral Duomo di Milano was taking place. Legend tells of a young artist working under the glass master Valerio, who was working on the famous stained glass windows of the Duomo around the year 1574.
Valerio noted that his young apprentice was preparing remarkably bright colours for the glass and discovered that his secret was to add a pinch of saffron to the final blend. This resulted in his master giving that young artist the name “Zafferano”. Over the years Valerio would tease Zafferano that he used so much saffron that he believed one day he would even add it to his risotto.
At the feast for the wedding of Valerio’s daughter, the young Zafferano decided to play a joke on his master and corrupted the chef to add saffron to all the risotto dishes being served. The resulting stark yellow color of the risotto caused a stir, but one by one the guests eating the dish sung its praises. Instead of Zafferano’s trick causing a commotion, it created a new dish christened Risotto all Milanese, which launched the risotto dish onto the gastronomic scene.
The Different Types of Rice
Carnaroli is rich in amylose (24.1%) and resists the absorption of liquid for a longer period. It is for this reason it is considered by chefs and fans to be the ‘King of Rice’. It has a delicate nutty flavour and is principally used to maintain a more individual texture when high levels of liquid, stock or condiment are used.
Vialone Nano Rice
Vialone Nano is a semifino grain which is appreciated for its softness and less grainy texture than Carnaroli. Vialone Nano is also very rich in amylose (23.9%) and holds its shape during cooking while absorbing the flavours of the other ingredients. It is particularly suitable for traditional risotto recipes as it binds well with vegetables such as pumpkin, mushroom, asparagus as well as meats.
The Arborio grain takes its name from the town of the same name in the province of Vercelli. It originated in 1946 as a Japonica (short-grained) cultivar with its origins stemming from the Vialone variety. It is noted for its ability to absorb flavours and produce a creamy texture.
Arborio is Italy’s most widely produced rice making it easily available and cheaper than other types of rice. For this reason it is often recommended in risotto recipes, but having a low level of amylose (12.90%) it has the tendency to lose its structure during cooking and easily becomes gluggy and porridge-like in texture.
As arborio rice is industrially milled, much of the bran layers are stripped during processing. This not only affects the structure of the grain which results in a high percentage of chipped and broken grains, but also removes many valuable nutrients. This rice is best suited to soups and puddings.
Baldo is a recently commercialized grain derived from Arborio. Its grains are long and thick and its compact crystalline structure offers it very good absorption capacity. Baldo rice grains are very consistent due to their amylose content (20.5%). It has a good compact consistency and should be served firm, not soggy. Baldo can be used in risottos, pies and for baked rice dishes.
Roma rice is an Italian cultivated variety of rice which has big, round and long grains. It has high levels of starch making it a highly versatile ingredient to use in the kitchen. Roma rice can be used to produce very soft and creamy styles of risotto, but this variety is considered better for soups and other non-risotto rice dishes and for making sweet rice desserts.
Balilla is also referred to as the original rice because it was derived from a selection of the first established Italian rice varieties. Up until a century ago it was the only variety cultivated in Italy. Its grains are small and round with a high capacity for absorption in cooking. Balilla rice is suitable for soups, rice cakes, pies, croquettes and arancini.
Sant’Andrea was derived from the rice variety Rizotto and is grown in the Vercelli region. It is classified as a fino rice placing it between the superfino and semi-fino varieties. It is unsuitable in a classic risotto, as it turns soft and slightly sticky when cooked. Try it also in soups and as a side dish.
Risotto Rice – It’s About the Starch
Amylose is linear, while amylopectin is branched. Amylose is found inside the microscopic granules, while amylopectin forms the crystalline skeleton of the grain.
Amylose starch does not gelatinize during heating, so rice containing a high percentage of amylose remains separated and fluffy when cooked. Amylose is found in high concentrations of 25-30% in long rice.
Short grained rice typically has low amylose levels, so when cook tend to be soft and sticky. Medium grain rice contains 16-24% amylase, but a higher proportion of amylopectin in its soft outer layer. It is this amylopectin starch which is released during cooking and creates the desirable creamy texture.
Achieving the perfect texture of a real risotto is all about understanding this ratio of amylose to amylopectin. The ideal rice for risotto is the one with a higher the amylose content which remains firm and separated when cooked.