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Meet the maker: the woman behind the world's most sought-after pistachios

In Sicily, Laura Lupo makes products such as pesto and torrone from her own highly prized Bronte pistachios.

Published 18 Mar 2020, 12:00 GMT
Laura Lupo
Bronte pistachios, first introduced by the Moors in the ninth century, can be found everywhere on the island.
Photograph by Laura Lupo

On the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, Laura Lupo and her family are braving the hot sun and steep terrain for the pistachio harvest. It’s a momentous event that takes place every two years in the small village of Bronte, eastern Sicily — home of the world’s most sought-after pistachio variety, pistacchio verde di Bronte.

Bronte pistachios, first introduced by the Moors in the ninth century, can be found everywhere on the island: they’re sprinkled over cannoli, blended into spreads, and ground into a thick pesto. But, elsewhere in the Mediterranean, they’re harder to find and often sell for a premium.

“We only produce 1% of the world’s pistachios,” Laura explains. “But they’re the best because they grow in Etna’s mineral-rich soil. This gives them a richer and sweeter taste.”

Known as Sicily’s ‘green gold’, Bronte pistachios fetch double the price per kilo of Iranian or Californian pistachios, which explains why armed guards and helicopters patrol the pistachio fields during harvest season to deter thieves.

Check out more Sicilian dishes to try, and Palermo's best restaurants

Laura was introduced to Sicily’s pistachio industry when she met her husband, whose family had been cultivating the Bronte variety for over 50 years. “When my husband and I attended food fairs, people didn’t know how to consume our pistachios, beyond eating them as a snack,” she says. “This, to me, lowered their value. So I decided to do something unique: to make and sell ready-made Bronte pistachio products.”

In a small factory in the centre of Bronte, Laura’s company, ’A Ricchigia, produces dozens of DOP Bronte products, from pistachio pesto to torrone (nutty nougat), exporting them across Europe and Canada. Each is made exclusively from the handpicked nuts grown on Laura’s family farm. The quality of the produce is such that she’s collaborated with top Italian chefs and appeared on TV.

“I was the first female entrepreneur in Bronte, so I was teased at first. But when I became one of the first people to talk about Bronte pistachios on television, people started to praise me. I’m proud of what I do and have a great desire to continue,” she says.

Laura’s next challenge is to expand her product line, including more lactose- and gluten-free options. “This will give even more people the opportunity to try our pistachios,” she says proudly. “My mission is to spread our Sicilian tradition to every corner of the world.

Bronte, in eastern Sicily, is home to one of the world’s most sought-after pistachio variety.
Photograph by Getty

Pistachio treats to add to your pantry

1. Crema di pistacchio
The 'A Ricchigia factory and shop in Bronte offers dozens of products, but if you can only buy one, make it the Nutella-like crema di pistacchio (pistachio cream), best served on toast or in a layered sponge cake. Also available online.

2. Gelato
Bar Conti Gallenti is a cafe and pastry shop in Bronte specialising in Sicily’s ‘green gold’. The pistachio-topped cannoli, arancini and pizzas are divine, but the creamy pistachio gelato is the main draw.

3. Pecorino al pistacchio
One of Palermo’s oldest food markets, Mercato del Capo is a great place to stock up on pecorino al pistachio — a hard, salty cheese laced with pistachios. Nut-laced chocolate, sun-dried tomatoes and salami can also be found here, all of which can be vacuum-packed for the journey home.

4. Delizia di pistacchio
Family-owned Pasticceria Capello is one of Palermo’s oldest bakeries. Its standout treat is delizia di pistacchio, a pistachio sponge topped with nutty icing and dark chocolate.

Read more stories from our Meet the Maker series

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food (UK)

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