The Scardovari mussel, black gold of the Delta
The bay, the fishermen's piles and the beloved local shellfish
The inlet of Scardovari
The "Sacca di Scardovari" is a deep inlet between the mouths of two branches of the Delta, called "Po delle Tolle" and "Po di Gnocca". A pool of water of three thousand hectares, outlined between rice paddies and marshy areas. Here the comings and goings of tidal waters, combined with nutrient-rich freshwater flows, create a unique brackish environment, which in recent years has proved ideal for shellfish breeding. Primarily the mussel, which in recent decades has made the fortune of this corner of Polesine. "The black gold of the Delta”, according to a very fitting slogan. The Scardovari mussel, “cozza” in standard Italian, should be called “peòcio” (in the local parlance), or at least “mitilo”, according to its scientific name, Mytilus galloprovincialis. But in the end, the locals have accepted to call it “cozza”, as they do in Naples.
There are various mussel farming areas along the Italian coast, each with its own peculiarities. The Scardovari mussels grow in an environment far from urban or industrial sources of pollution and with a constant water exchange due to both tide and river current. Fresh water, naturally rich in nutrients, prevails in the Scardovari inlet, and this allows the molluscs to develop without artificial interventions. The local fishermen's association also handles other seafood: the so-called Manila clam (Tapes semidecussatus, also known as “vongola verace” in Italian) and the Adriatic clam (Chamelea gallina); the Atlantic jackknife clam, or razor clam (Ensis directus, or “cannolicchio”); the smooth clam (Callista chione, or “fasolaro”); the warty clam (Venus verrucosa, or sea truffle); the oyster (Crassostrea gigas).
Time for tasting!
The Scardovari inlet not only provides local and genuine raw materials but also a variety of places where you can immediately experience their quality. Restaurants and simple stands offer local seafood dishes: from the simplest dish, mussels and clams with marinara sauce, to an "imported" speciality, spaghetti with clams, which have now acquired a dual citizenship, Napoeapolitan by origin, but from the Polesine area by adoption. This sort of North-South partnership is also confirmed by the so-called "pizza della Sacca", obviously with mussels and clams. Memorable dishes include: mixed mussels au gratin, mussel risotto, clam pie, bigoli with clam ragout... Delicacies that are the protagonists of the Fisherman of Scardovari Food Festival (Festa del Pescatore di Scardovari), celebrated on Saints Peter and Paul’s Day.
A history of water and genius
“Polesine dei sospiri" (Polesine of Sighs): that is how this extreme strip of the province of Rovigo used to be called, so often at the mercy of ruinous floods, the most recent in 1951 and 1966. Major hydraulic works have helped the territory, which has found its first redemption in agriculture, with specific pride in rice production, and subsequent fortune in the breeding of shellfish. In 1976, a Consortium was created, bringing together all the fishermen's associations of the area (as many as 14!). The 1980s saw a development of trade and after thirty years, in 2013 the Scardovari mussel received the EU recognition of the PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin.
Nowadays, the production sector of the Sacca di Scardovari involves 1,500 fishermen. Quite surprising is the fact that half of them are women. This has an explanation in the more recent history of entrepreneurship in the Veneto region. There were years, in fact, during which Polesine represented a sort of new frontier of the textile industry, mostly benefiting female labour. When that moment was over, it was shellfish farming that revived the territory's fortunes, leading it over the years to unusual prosperity.
Credit to: Francesco Soletti