The most famous Italian rice dish is Risotto alla Milanese; its intense color and aroma are given by saffron and the typical texture by quality Italian rice. Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, and 90% of the Italian production is grown in the area of Vercelli-Alessandria, Pavia, and Novara, between Lombardy and Piedmont from April to October.
Rice production in Italy started around the middle of the 15th Century and Leonardo da Vinci is known for his contribution to the building of channels in the Po river plains. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, Camillo Benso Count of Cavour was the one who changed the history of Italian rice, in such a fundamental way that the above-mentioned area is also called ‘Camillolandia’. In 1868, Cavour devised a canal, completed after his death, that brought water from the Po River and Lake Maggiore to support the production of rice and other crops irrigating 235 thousand hectares of fields. 155 years later, the 85-kilometer artificial watercourse running between Po River and Ticino River is still a unique hydraulic system in Europe, has not lost its function, and continues to feed a perfect network of ditches and small canals for a total length of 10 thousand kilometers.
The importance of Cavour’s engineering breakthrough is due to the fact that large quantities of water are essential to growing rice. However, it must not be stagnant: when in spring the bulkheads are removed from the top of the canals the water flows continuously from one field to another serving as a ‘water blanket’ that protects the plants from temperature changes and turning the fields into an infinite lagoon composed of countless squares.
Ilona Catani Scarlett