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PRETTY IN PINK
Escapes | Festival | Nature | Food & Wine
The blossoming cherries of Vignola are one of the fleeting sights of spring in Emilia-Romagna.
For a short while, the trees appear to be swathed in a rose-tinted snowfall.
The trees in the cherry orchards of Vignola stand in neat rows, like soldiers on parade.
Their branches spread almost from ground level and form gnarled, inverted triangles, like river deltas on a map.
In winter the cherry trees look Gothic, almost sinister; but in May they give rise to billowing clouds of pink, white, and pinkish-white blossom – and this transforms them.
The military ranks and files suddenly bear more of a resemblance to a chorus line in which each swaying figure is wreathed in ostrich boas and flamingo feathers.
It’s a spectacular sight, well worth going to see.
The city of Vignola sits on the left bank of the river Panaro, about 20km due west of Bologna.
Cherries have grown in the warmth of the valley since Roman times, but it was only in the nineteenth century that they began to be cultivated.
Now Vignola is the cherry capital of Italy and the locus of an annual cherry-blossom festival, the Festa dei Ciliegi in Fiore, which takes place in April.
It is, of course, just the curtain-raiser for the cherry harvest that begins in June.
The Bigarreau cherries are the first to ripen, and other varieties follow swiftly on: the small, sweet Mora di Vignola; then the dark-skinned Nero I; the bright-red and slightly crunchy Anella; finally, the late-arriving Nero II and the Ciliegione.
Throughout the summer you will find them all at the daily farmers’ market on piazza Maestri del Lavoro in Vignola.
Out of season you can have them pickled in alcohol – bottled cherries – a speciality of the local Toschi family.
Vignola’s cult of the cherry is a grand gastronomical and horticultural tradition.
But – even in springtime – not everything is rosy in the orchards.
In recent years, the cherry crop has suffered badly from excess rain, a result of global warming, and it is also vulnerable to being plundered by hungry birds.
The solution seems to be to cover the trees with screens that keep both the water and the wildlife at bay.
The technique is already in use, and it is likely to become more widespread.
All the more reason to go and enjoy the blossoming cherries now, while they are still open to the blue Italian sky.
Article by Jonathan Bastable
Photgraphs by Sergio Caminata
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