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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 03:48 GMT 04:48 UK
Italian farmers fear pesto penury
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Basil plant (archive)
Basil is the main ingredient for pesto sauce
Farmers in many parts of northern Italy have called for the declaration of a state of natural disaster.

They say a severe drought and devastating storms have destroyed many crops, including basil.

The herb is the key ingredient of one of the country's most famous pasta sauces, pesto alla genovese.

Vicious thunderstorms over the past few days have seen more rain fall across northern Italy in a few hours than had fallen since the start of the year.

You Euros have my sympathy as I enjoy another spoonful of pesto alla brooklynese
Joseph Fullman, New York

The most eye-catching damage came west of the port city of Genoa, where hail stones the size of golf balls caused 4m euros (2.7m) worth of damage.

They smashed greenhouses used to grow basil, the fragrant, intensely-flavoured herb that is the main ingredient of Genoese pesto.

About 80% of the basil crop was destroyed, leading to fears of a shortage of pesto sauce.

The area west of Genoa was hit hard by the storms

Pesto - made with basil leaves, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine kernels and garlic - dates back to Roman times.

Although it is simple enough to make, only sauce made with basil grown in the worst-affected area is allowed to be sold as genuine pesto alla genovese.

Fears are also growing for the fast-approaching grape harvest in neighbouring Piedmont - home to some of Italy's finest wines, including that known as the king of wines, Barolo.

Across Italy, the biggest farmers' association estimates that the drought and storms have wreaked 1bn euros (680m) worth of damage.

Your comments:

I too love my pesto, but there's more to this than just my own appetite!! There are thousands of farmers whose main crop is basil. So while the drought might limit my pasta a little bit, it will be limiting the farmers' diets a lot more! Maybe we should think about that also?
Ayesha , New York, USA

Italian cooking did very well prior to Columbus and the introduction of tomatoes from the Neotropics. Workable substitutes for basil are available: cilantro, parsley, and even spinach. Basil will return in abundance during the next growing season and basil from other areas of Italy, Spain, and France will suffice. It's really silly to get hung up on "genuine pesto alla genovese", alternates are plentiful.
Michael Rothman, Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA

Stop Moaning and make your own Pesto, it tastes better than the ready made stuff in jars and works out a lot cheaper. Fresh homemade pesto is the best.
Mark Hawkes, Bangkok, Thailand

I am all for supporting local farmers but tragedies like the loss of this basil crop seem to highlight the reason that a global agricultural marketplace was developed in the first place. If enforcing origin laws is the only way to make Europeans appreciate local produce than Europeans will inevitably face (relatively artificial) shortages of "genuine" pesto alla genovese. In the meantime you Euros have my sympathy as I enjoy another spoonful of pesto alla brooklynese.
Joseph Fullman, New York, United States

Pesto has become a part of my staple diet. I use at least a jar of it a week - especially red pesto. To say I would miss having it is the understatement of the year. There is nothing more delicious than some lightly fried mushrooms in garlic with pasta and red pesto and a dusting of parmesan cheese. Delicious.
Isobel Knight, London, UK

Pesto is an essential ingredient in Italian cooking, and I love it. But I do not think I will be affected too much, because my father plants alot of basil in his backyard. We will simply have more basil-only dishes such as bruschetta, but less pasta dishes that require the pastier pesto.
Christopher, Irving, Texas, USA

Pesto is an essential part of my cooking. I am considering a lawsuit against the Vatican for permitting this kind of weather.
Barry Milyovsky, New York, USA

Are you one of the producers affected by the shortage of Genoese basil? Do you use pesto in your cooking and would you miss having it?

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