An hour and a half drive outside of Rome and a world away is an ancient drained lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, endless greenery and one of Italy’s oldest national parks where brown bears, golden eagles and wolves roam free. Inside this remote lake – now a 37-mile wide basin – you’ll find three dedicated brothers growing some of the most delicious, sweet, creamy and juicy carrots you’ve ever tasted.
This is the Abruzzo region of central Italy where hot summers, mild winters and fertile soils combine to help ensure organic vegetables flourish and thrive.
Any farmer will tell you soil quality is paramount to growing good produce and the land in this basin – owned and worked by the Aureli family for over half a century – holds some of the most fertile soil in the whole country.
“This is one of the most important areas in Italy for carrot growing,” Alessandro Aureli said, who owns the farm alongside his two brothers.
“The soil in Fucino Basin is perfect for growing veg. It’s 700 metres above the sea and, as the area was once a lake, it’s full of nourishing organic matter. Every area of the basin gets a different amount of wind, rain and sun making different areas best for different crops. Years of experience means we know the best areas for each – the best spot for carrots is right in the middle where the soil is brown and rich.”
The Aureli family started growing carrots in the Fucino Basin and surrounding land almost 50 years ago using a small stone building beside a gurgling river as their ‘headquarters’ – a far cry from Aureli HQ now-a-days which is somewhat larger and proudly painted to resemble a carrot with orange walls and green rooves.
It’s these years of experience that has taught this family to create some of the tastiest and most nutritious carrots around, all of which hold Protected Geographical Indication – a highly coveted recognition of quality.
“We don’t care what the carrots look like or if they have a nice shape,” Alessandro said. “We just grow them to be full of flavour and nutrition. Carrots from this area are particularly high in beta-Carotene.”
As well as being extremely fertile, the land in the Fucino Basin is relatively untouched and unspoilt by people as only a small, sleepy patch – a former island in the ancient lake – of the expansive basin is inhabited.
“This is great for our carrots, as the land remains pure and free from human contamination and pollution,” Alessandro said.
While previous generations may have only grown carrots, the Aureli brothers now grow 25 different vegetables and are innovating and expanding with the times by creating unique and tasty carrot juice combinations, gluten-free vegetable crumbs and sweet creamy carrot puree, which we use in our Little Freddie pouches.
“We don’t have any storage facilities so the carrots come fresh from the field and are pureed, on average, within 24 hours,” Alessandro said. “Other companies might keep the carrots for 4 months then puree them. We then test the consistency of the puree every half an hour to ensure a perfect result every time.”
In addition to treating their produce with the utmost care, the brothers show incredible respect for the land they farm, working hard to sustain its fertility for the future.
They grow industrial corn to create green electricity in their biogas plant to power the factory. Everything that cannot be made into puree or concentrate goes to the plant to be recycled – including all carrot peelings. The brown organic waste that comes from the plant is then used as a natural and rich fertiliser for the land.
The soil itself is kept fertile and rich through natural crop rotation, with each different crop adding minerals and goodness back into the soil for the next vegetables to flourish.
“The winning rotation is corn, then red beet, then potato and then carrot,” Alessandro said. “It’s not scientific but years of experience have discovered that this sequence works the best. We also grow clover, which nourishes the soil by fixing in the nitrogen.”
When it comes to weeds and grass, workers pick the unwanted visitors by hand as it’s safe and unobtrusive for the crops.
It may seem like a lot of fuss and but this hard work pays off in spades when it comes to these creamy and delicious crunchy treats.
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