Aglione della Val di Chiana

Crop: Allium ampeloprasum L. (Great headed garlic)

Many historical documents report use of ‘Aglione’ in Italy since the beginning of the 16th century. At the end of the 90’s, only few elderly farmers cultivated ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ (Allium ampeloprasum var. holmense (Mill) Asch. et Graebn.) within the municipality of Montepulciano (Siena, Italy). Recently, thanks to some local projects, the landrace was rescued and the interest on its cultivation and commercialisation have begun growing again. The cloves were/are used in some local food preparations; this use is a possible reason explaining its maintenance across time, in fact, nowadays it is widely served in typical restaurants.

Plants of ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ are similar to garlic. The landrace is sterile and produces big bulbs up to 1 kg (fresh weight).

Within the cultivation area, cloves are generally sown between the 15th of October and the 15th of December in rows spaced 40-70 cm apart; within rows plants are spaced 25-40 cm. In order to keep the bulb as big as possible, in April flower shoots are manually removed; within the traditional area of production, flower shoots are used in some culinary preparations. Before and after flower shoots removal, weeds are removed manually or mechanically. Fertilisation is generally applied before the sowing as direct fertilisation can cause bulb rot. The harvest is traditionally carried out manually by digging up the bulbs the Saint John’s day (June 24th). Some farmers also use mechanical harvesters. After harvest, bulbs are dried in fresh shaded rooms.

Cultivation System: low-input conditions.

Geographical Information

Country: Italy

Traditionally ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ was widely cultivated across the provinces of Siena, Arezzo and Perugia (Toscana and Umbria Regions) in the ‘Chiana’ valley. Nowadays the cultivation of the landrace is carried out in the same area and is particularly concentrated in the municipality of Montepulciano (Toscana Region, Province of Siena).

Farmer(s) description:

Within the cultivation area, farms producing ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ are grouped in two local associations: i) ‘Associazione per la promozione e la tutela dell’Aglione della Val di Chiana’ and ii) ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’. Together, the associations group around 50 farms that actively cultivate the landrace. On average farms are around 5 ha, even if also a big farm recently started its cultivation. Generally, due to its production cost, the cultivation is carried out on small surfaces (maximum 3 ha). Within the two associations farmers do not generally exchange propagation materials. However, in some cases (e.g. cultivation failure due to unexpected environmental factors), exchange can occur.

Propagation system: Clonal

Multiplication procedures and consequences on landrace diversity:

Plants of ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ do not produce seeds; thus, vegetative propagation is the only way to reproduce the landrace. However, it is noteworthy to mention that a farmer affirms that plants are (rarely) able to produce viable seed. Each farmer selects the biggest clovers (of about 60 g) as propagation material for the following season. However, it is also common to use bulbs that have not completed their growth and have not produced clovers that are big enough by the end of the cycle (in fact, it is not possible to place such bulbs on the market). To date, no data are available on the genetic diversity within the landrace. Anyhow, considering that the cultivated material originated from plants conserved and cultivated by very few farmers and the fact that vegetative propagation produces clonal plants, reasonably, the diversity within the landrace might be quite low.

Management plan existence:

The landrace management relies completely on farming activities within the area. Currently, no technical or scientific support is given.

Added Values

Market - existing and novel:

In recent years, the market of ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ has been quickly growing both locally and nationally. The landrace is commercialised as row product (i.e. bulbs and cloves) or also as processed products such as ready-to-use sauces, creams, and jams.

Many local restaurants use ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ for the preparation of a typical main course: the so-called ‘Pici all’Aglione’.

The interest on the landrace also caught the attention of the other European and non-European markets. The product has been recently exported in USA and Japan.

Others (e.g. commercial/geographical brands or special traits):

This landrace has been recognized as ‘Prodotto Agroalimentare Tipico’ (PAT, litteraly Typical Food Product) by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry through the technical support of Regione Toscana. The PAT recognition is based on evidence that demonstrate the use of a landrace (or a processed foodstuff) in a certain area for at least 25 years.

In recent years, ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’ also caught the interest of the ‘Slow Food’ foundation that included it into a group of products called ‘the Ark of Taste’; this initiative aims at drawing attention on products at risk of extinction by inviting people to take action in order to protect them.

Currently, ‘Regione Toscana’, within the EU’s Rural Development Plan 2014-2020, funded an historical research and morpho-phenological and genetic characterisation of the landrace in order to include it on the ‘Registro regionale delle varietà locali’ (Regional register of landraces) of Toscana Region. This activity is foreseen in the implementation of the Tuscany Region Law (n. 64, 1997) which is aimed at safeguarding and promoting the cultivation of local genetic resources).

In order to develop a protocol to guarantee the origin of the landrace, in 2016 the society ‘Qualità e Sviluppo Rurale’ (Ltd.) of Toscana Region funded a project to use selenium as geographical marker (i.e. terroir).

As mentioned above, within the EU’s Rural Development Plan 2014-2020, ‘Regione Toscana’ funded an historical research and morpho-phenological and genetic characterisation of the landrace.

The Department of Agricultural Food and Environmental Science of the University of Perugia carried out germplasm collection and started a project on the genetic characterisation of ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’. Collecting Information on the diversity within the landrace would allow to establish proper actions optimize on-farm conservation strategies.

The technical high school ‘G. Vegni’, located in Cortona (province of Siena, Italy), edited a book on traditional and modern agricultural practices on the cultivation of the landrace.

Currently, no ex-situ conservation is carried out for ‘Aglione della Val di Chiana’.

Provisions set by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Regione Toscana and local associations, the high quality of the product, the increased perception of the landrace value and a renewed interest in agriculture give hope of on-farm conservation in the next future.

Information on the diversity within the landrace would allow to establish proper actions optimize on farm conservation strategies.

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Case study provided by Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie, Alimentari e Ambientali (DSA3), Università degli Studi di Perugia (UNIPG), Italy.

Most of updates have been communicated by Niccolò Terzaroli (Università degli Studi di Perugia) and Matteo Finocchi.