Franco, Salvo, and the Old Mill

October 2, 2011

Yes, Sicily’s folk culture is endangered, her old way of life fading away. I lose sleep over this.

But Franco and Salvo are trying to stop the march of time. The men have a vision and a passion: to save an old flour mill, to  grow ancient varieties of wheat for grinding, and to produce Sicily’s old-time bread. The mill in question, Mulino Soprano, had been in Franco’s family since it was built in 1822, but it had–like all the other flour mills in Sicily–gone to seed, closing in the early 1980s.

Restoring a Flour Mill in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Salvo Arena and Franco DiStefano

Thanks to “progress,” flour is industrial in Sicily today, pretty much devoid of nutrients and high in hard-to-digest gluten. The ancient varieties of wheat that grew on the island in Roman times have given way to a few globalized varieties.

But Franco, 50-something, can still remember a childhood when the mill was a hub of rural life Sicily and a center of gossip, when he ran in fields of wheat and fell asleep to the sound of swooshing water.

So Franco and Salvo spend all their spare time on weekends, while scraping together their own money, to bring back a slice of Sicily’s past.

Restoring an old flour mill in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The old water wheel

Restoring an old Flour Mill in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

It's amazing how long it takes to grind a bag of flour!

Restoring a Flour Mill in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Franco is proud of his antique varieties of wheat.

Baking Bread in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Salvo with his experimental breads

There’s still work to be done. The men are experimenting with ways of baking bread;  they plan to open a bakery, too. Already they’ve got a deliciously chewy brown bread–something that you can’t find in any bakeries here.

Brown bread baked in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Bread made from ancient grain

Way to go, guys! You’re local heroes to me!

***

The mill in Contrada Cifali on the road between Chiaramonte and Ragusa, but is impossible to find unless you go with someone in the know. And that person would be Consuelo Petrolo, an adorable tour guide with excellent English. You can reach her at [email protected] or visit her website. Consuelo can also find holiday housing for you in Southeast Sicily.

Organic flour in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

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21 comments to Franco, Salvo, and the Old Mill

  • I would love to visit this one day when I finally get to Sicily!

  • “loafs” ha ha. Visiting Sicily here obviously makes me lose my English. I meant “loaves.”

    • Jann

      Tee hee. I have the same problem with native “language loss” from spending too much time in Sicily, so I did not even notice your creative spelling!

  • An interesting story. A noble cause. A passionate enterprise. Taking back the land, the traditions, the care and the expertise. A big job but obviously something they believe strongly in pursuing. Couragio!
    I don’t think I saw one loaf of brown bread when I was in Calabria, though their white “commercial” bakery loafs were far superior to what we get here, for the most part.

  • Jann, this is definitely a tradition that should be preserved! There’s nothing like fresh-baked bread and that shot of the brown bread proves it. I think hope that Franco and Salvo are successful in their mission!

  • John Schinina

    Hi Jann, Sounds like a must see. Jann, promise you will never move

  • catherine billups

    I must go the next time I go to lunch at Majore in Chiaramonte. It is one of my favorite restaurants.

  • We toured an old mill in Cava d’Ispica just a couple of weeks ago – the whole tour was very interesting and your photo of the water wheel brought back memories of this mill we had seen. Yes it does take a heck of a long time to grind the flour down!
    Out here in Malta we still have excellent bread but, as you say, the quality of the flour has changed and the traditional wood ovens are now rarely being used in favour of modern ovens – quantity over quality! Very sad!

  • Gian Banchero

    My prayers are for the mill… Years ago we had very good Italian bakeries here in the San Francisco Bay Area (California), then about forty years ago they started to expand and serve the general public and the bread quality went belly-up. About twenty five years ago small bakeries started up affording an authentic product as found in Italy and France, little by little as the public found out what good bread tasted like they became willing to pay a little extra for the delicious quality product. Now all around the Bay Area we have breads at all markets that many times surpass their European counterparts…. So you see all that Mulino Soprano is striving for is not in vain, once people taste their product they will be “sold”, I promise.

    • Jann

      I know what you mean, Gian, about some American artisanal breads surpassing European breads, though, still–can anything equal the best Parisian baguette?

  • Sam

    And when you consider how Sicilians have always regarded bread with such reverence, this old tradition seems to be especially worth preserving.

  • Ciao Jann, Fantastico! Heartwarming photography! We wish them all the best in this worthwhile venture. We can’t wait to explore this wonderful looking place and meet Franco and Salvo and try our first warm, crusty loaf! Consuelo, due per favore!

  • “Bringing back the Past.” Lovely.
    Jann, you continually capture the souls of your subjects. I can see an abundance of passion & beauty inside their eyes.
    Brava! to the heroes for trying to keep the past ALIVE. X

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