Interview with Massimo Biloni, expert in genetic selection and rice culture

Date: 11-08-2020

Massimo Biloni es un reconocido experto en el mundo de arroz que se dedica tanto a la selección genética de variedades, que realiza desde en centro Italian Rice Experiment Station (IRES) que está liderando, as well as to the promotion of rice culture. For this, together with other enthusiasts of rice in innovative cuisine, he has created AqcuaVerdeRiso. It is a company created in 2015 that is specifically dedicated to the dissemination of information on rice, the creation of sensory tests on rice and the training of rice sommeliers. Also, in 2019 he was elected president of the Asociación Strada Vercellese di Riso di Qualità and is the co-author of Il Libro del Riso Italiano. 


  • There are many varieties of rice in Italy, is there much difference between them?


According to data from the Ente Nazionale Risi, around 150 varieties of rice are cultivated in Italy, but only a few are being cultivated in large areas.

The varieties grown in Italy today are very different from each other: we go from rice with a large grain for risotto, to round rice for sushi or rice cakes, aromatic basmati type, ribe type for parboilization, Long grain ( Lungo B) for export, or with red and black pigmented rice for special markets.


  •  What are the most typical varieties for Italian cuisine?


Risotto rices are now classified by the new rice law (Legislative Decree 131/2017) in traditional Italian rices that are Carnaroli, Arborio, Roma, Baldo, S.Andrea, Vialone Nano, Ribe and all new varieties with similar grain.

Today, however, when we talk about Italian cuisine, we are talking about an evolving world. Now in my area, young people frequent pizzerias as much as sushi restaurants. This has led to an increase in rice consumption that does not affect traditional Italian varieties, but rather new Italian varieties created in the last 15 years specifically for this market.


  • Are there most or least recommended combinations of rice variety and seasonings?


There are varieties that are more consistent and with grains that stay non-steaky, such as Carnaroli and Vialone Nano.

These types of varieties are more suitable for making certain complex risottos in which a certain tenacity of the grains is required. For a creamier and smoother risotto or for other dishes such as arancini, with rice and supplements, it would be better to use varieties with lower amounts of amylose such as Arborio, Roma and Baldo.

For a good rice salad, a Ribe type rice or aromatic large B such as Apollo rice would be more suitable. In contrast, for a rice stew, a rounded grain rice would be more correct.


  • Does the area where it is grown influence the quality of the rice? In what way?


The growing area affects the quality of the rice produced. In fact, in a colder area with more clayey soils, as in northern Piedmont, rice is obtained with a smaller and more compact grain, than can be obtained with the same variety grown in Sardinia or Ferrara.

If this is combined with the fact that there are varieties that are better adapted to certain climates and certain soils, it is possible to understand how the variety-territory link, what in wine is called in French "terroir", is also important in rice.


  •  What are the novelties of the rice sector for creative cuisine?


The most current novelties are the black and red pigmented rice. They were introduced in Italy in 1997 as aromatic black rice Venere. Today, the landscape of specialty rice varieties is very complex and includes rice of various shapes and lengths, with different aroma and consistency.


  • We cannot forget to ask an expert of your category, what is your favorite rice dish?


In winter, the "panissa", a risotto typical of Vercelli cuisine. In summer a rice salad with Baldo rice. I also like occasionally to boil aromatic rice and just season it with a good extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese - simple and delicious.


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