Valtiberina and Casentino, The Tobacco Valleys

Valtiberina and Casentino, The Tobacco Valleys

Have you ever crossed the countryside of Valtiberina? If so, you certainly noticed majestic sprinklers that shoot upwards. At their feet there are stretches of plants with broad and roundish leaves, arranged in orderly rows. It is tobacco, the great excellence of the Upper Tiber Valley.

Brief botanical bracket: tobacco is a plant native to Central and South America belonging to the genus “Nicotiana”. Usually reaches at least the waist of an adult, but it can reach two meters.

Tobacco leaves are just fine to look at. There is something to get lost within their intense green and  to think there are some that touch a meter in length.

The valley has lent a large part of its agricultural land to this cultivation for centuries. A raw material with which the famous Tuscan cigars are manufactured.

What Do You Know About Tuscan Cigars?

When  the Tuscan cigar is lit, it exudes an unmistakable smell. There are those who consider it a divine scent and those who are annoyed by it. Of course, the cigar is one of the flagship products of the region.

The territory around Arezzo is dedicated to the tobacco cultivation used to make it. If you are lucky, you will meet someone who can take you to see one of the active dryers in the area and explain the steps that the tobacco leaves go through before being processed.

Delicious curiosity: a selected quality obtained from the plants that grow here is used to manufacture the Tuscano Extra Vecchio. “That is?” you may be wondering. It is a type of cigar that  was included among the products of the Slow Food Ark of Taste more than 20 years ago.

Not Only Tobacco: Eating Tobacco

The journey of tobacco does not necessarily end in the packaging of smoking products. Even non-smokers have the opportunity to appreciate this plant. Even if you hate smoking, it would be wrong to demonize it in its entirety.

At least not before trying the tobacco-cooking pairing, especially in desserts. Over time, the confectionery masters have resorted to creative strokes and curious experiments to invent delicious proposals including chocolate or ice cream flavored tobacco.

There are also gourmet salty alternatives such as cold cuts flavored with tobacco and cheeses matured with tobacco leaves. You can taste them in restaurants or festivals in the Upper Tiber Valley.

The Tobacco Growing in Valtiberina

In the second half of the Sixteenth century Valtiberina was the first Italian area where tobacco was grown. It was 1574 when Cardinal Niccolò Tornabuoni sent tobacco seeds to his nephew Alfonso, who at the time was the bishop of Sansepolcro.

The cardinal obtained them in Paris, where he was the ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. To get to France, tobacco had already made a long journey from America to Europe.

Does that sound amazing to you? It would all begin with a seemingly insignificant private episode, the exchange of some seeds between distant relatives. And yet it seems that is what happened!

In the beginning tobacco was used both in medicine and for pleasure – as a dust to be smelled or with which to load the pipe. In the following centuries, it spread widely in the area of Sansepolcro, Anghiari and Monterchi.

Its exploit has not known setbacks until today. Tobacco growing is still one of the most important economic activities in the valley.

A Revolution Following Tobacco Scent

What you have discovered so far will change the way you look at the beautiful local countryside. Next time you look at a tobacco field, it will look different richer and more bewitching.

These plants changedValtiberina. Daily life, work, social well-being. In the Twentieth century, in fact, tobacco factories offered Tiberian farmers an alternative to the life of the fields.

Women entered the factory thanks to this “revolution with roots“. They were the so-called tabacchine, especially used for the selection of leaves, living symbols of a small step forward on the road of female emancipation.

Careful, it is not all gold that glitters. The life of  the tobacco factory workers was, however, very hard, marked by strict rules and not foreign to abuses of various kinds.

Casentino, A Novel by Smugglers

The extraordinary story linked to the tobacco growing in Valtiberina has an interesting following in another valley of the territory of Arezzo, Casentino.

In Chitignano, on the Casentino mountain, tobacco was a specialtyalong with gunpowder for a long time. There were also lands for sowing, but more than anything this product was a commodity at the centre of a profitable trade.

This happened until 1830 when it was forbidden to cultivate it throughout Tuscany. It was then that the legal economy of the area collapsed and people from Chitignano launched body and soul into a lively smuggling.

Valtiberina and Casentino, a clandestine friendship

Thusthe illegal trafficking of tobacco between the two valleys began. On one hand the Tiberian producers, on the other the Casentino merchants. Once arrived in Chitignano, the tobacco was processed to make cigars and chopped, sold smuggled both in Tuscany and in neighboring territories.

A routine full of secret encounters and hasty exchanges (set on barter between tobacco and – guess? – gunpowder). Kind of  a crime movie script, don’t you think?

Do you want to know more? Visit the Ecomuseum of Gunpowder and Smuggling, a unique institution of its kind that houses some working tools of the time and valuable information about this singular and very original period of the past period of Casentino.

Tell the truth, did you not expect that in the land of Arezzo were trafficked tobacco and gunpowder?