Saturday, 30 May 2015


Last year Manuel Montanari, a young up-and-coming film director produced a short film called “Da qui se ne vanno tutti” which translates “Everyone is leaving here”. This poignant short was filmed here in Casperia. The protagonist, a young man, returns to his home town after a long absence only to find it completely changed, virtually empty of the family and friends he knew, and the houses vacated by the former townsfolk being bought up by foreigners with money. “Da qui se ne vanno tutti” is a lament often heard in these picturesque little hill towns where you see fewer and fewer young people, and more and more closed storefronts and “For Sale” signs.

For sale signs on Casperia's Piazza del Comune
It is over a 1000 years that the Saracens stopped their rape and pillaging of the Sabina and little more than 400 years have passed since Aspra, known as Casperia since 1948, was absorbed into the Papal States. Casperia’s hilltop position and imposing crenellated walls have been basically meaningless ever since. Changes in transportation technology and the post-war trend for the countryside’s younger generation to move away to seek employment and a new life in Italy’s larger cities has sucked the vitality of many of Sabina’s hill towns. Casperia’s centro storico, the historic social and commercial hub of the comune, which once boasted a bank, an alimentari (grocery store), at least two macellerie (butcher shops) a frutteria, a latteria (milk shop), a beauty parlour, a working frantoio (olive press), and a tabacchi, not to mention a bar. 

Casperia's Piazza del Comune in 1935
However for many of the years we have visited here, the only commercial activity in the walled town was Friends Cafe, now Osteria Vigna, and two part time drinking establishments, Johnny Madge’s Gecko, and Al Solito Posto, (and an Orologiaio or clock store, which we never saw open). The commercial core of the town has transplanted itself outside Casperia’s gates, which is car accessible and therefore easier to reach not only by customers but by suppliers as well.

Modern commercial buildings outside Casperia's Porta Romana
This trend has been challenged by a number of people recently. For about a year or so, a very interesting artist’s shop, which also sold jewellery and women’s accessories, made a go of it on Via Cola di Rienzo, but sadly, it closed just before Christmas of 2014. Though not exactly “inside” the centro storico, though technically “inside” the castle walls, a popular Lego, yes Lego shop has opened near the Porta Romana in the old Pro Loco office. Customers go and make what they want with the Lego and the Lego is then apparently sold by weight. 

The subject of this post though, concerns the opening of an organic vegetable, fruit and honey store at #20 Via Tomassoli run by two friends of ours, Paolo Nucciotti and his wife Sarah Defranchi. 

Paolo and Sarah admire Genovese and cinnamon basil plants which they plan to give away during their store's opening 

Paolo was born in Rome and Sarah was born in Genoa. They have been living here in Casperia for the past two years. Their 14 month old son Luca was born here in Casperia. Paolo and Sarah’s 5.5 hectare farm, which they have been operating as organic for the past two years but is waiting to be legally certified, lies on an olive tree dotted fertile sunny slope of land just below the ruins of the medieval village of Caprignano. There they produce potatoes, zucchine, leafy greens and other vegetables, as well as their own Sabina D.O.P. olive oil. Recently, they bought a number of hives of bees so they will be soon producing and selling their own honey too.

Paolo and Sarah have and association with a group of organic farmers based in Forano dedicated to promoting local, sustainable, organic agriculture called VerdeFoglia Bio. The members of VerdeFoglia Bio have land producing organic greens and vegetables. They not only produce and sell organic produce, they use their land and their resources to teach others how to grow organically and sustainably. 

Wooden boxes lined with heavy paper ready to receive lettuces, zucchine, beet greens and other produce 
For months, Paolo and Sarah have been working very hard to refurbish the property at Via Tomassoli,10 and get it ready to function as their store. Over the months I have watched Paola and Sarah working on the store, it has been totally and beautifully transformed.

This beautiful olive tree bonsai was a gift to Paola and Sarah from their friend and neighbour Yoshinari

The property was once a frutteria. The mother of the current owner planted the giant ivy that now sprawls above the door of the store during the time she worked there. 

Stefano and Zara on their morning walk pass by the store as Sarah gets everything ready for the opening

A few weeks back, our friend Antonio’s old art shop across the street at Via Cola Rienzo, 24 was reopened as a women’s clothes store. Who knows? Perhaps now with a Lego store down the road and a women’s clothing store across the way, not to mention the new Fendi Sewing School opening soon on Piazza del Comune, there will be enough local and outside traffic to support everyone. I sure hope so.

Paolo and Sarah’s Ortofrutta opened this morning around 9 o’clock. Sarah was still working lining wooden boxes with paper making them ready to receive the beautiful lettuces, striped romanesco zucchine, and beet leaves harvested from their garden earlier in the morning. 

When I arrived to do my interview for this post, Paolo was still out picking up a basketful of freshly picked red cherries and some last minute greens. I wandered down to the Porta Romana where I saw him pull up in a borrowed truck. 

“Ti serve una mano?” “Do you need a hand?” I asked. Paolo smiled and let me carry up the cherries.

Back at the store, customers were arriving in twos and threes. The box of beautiful organic romanesco zucchine which had been full when I left the store 15 minutes ago was now half empty. 

Paolo arranged the box of cherries in among the other boxes full of fresh greens. I noticed a back of black coloured nuts. “Cosa sono?” “What are they?” I asked. 

Paolo explained that they were a type of local sweet almonds. do you want to try one he asked, reaching for a tool to break one open. 

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t like any almond I had ever eaten before… It was fresh, sweet, with a beautiful consistency. So this is what an almond right off a tree tastes like, I thought. Well not exactly. Paolo explained to me that the almonds needed to dry out for a period after they were picked before they could be eaten. 

I didn’t buy any almonds this morning. I had to content myself with a beautiful big head of Romaine lettuce. Tonight I will try my hand at making a Caesar Salad. But I knew that the next time we visited Paola and Sarah’s store that we would be buying a large bag of those beautiful almonds, and that the next time that we visited the Poggio Mirteto Friday Market that we were going to need to buy a nutcracker, and perhaps a cherry pitter too. Cherry pie…. Hmmmmm!

From June 5, 2015, Paolo and Sarah’s Ortofrutta store will be open Friday and Saturdays from 09:00 to 13:00 when it will close for the lunch break and will reopen later in the afternoon from 17:00 to 20:00. 

Their store will also be open on Sunday mornings from 09:00 to 13:00. Besides seasonal organic fresh fruit and vegetables, they also sell a variety of bulk dry herbs and spices and honey as well. 

It is located at Number 20 Via Tomassoli which is the road that starts at Casperia’s Porta Romana and the Lego store and climbs up into the town through a second gate just past Osteria Vigna. If you watch Manuel Montenari's short film Da qui se ne vanno tutti” you can see how to get to the shop as the protagonist passes by it in the film between 3:49 and 3:54.