I’m going to tell you the story of a sea product which is unique and must be protected, il mosciolo selvatico di Portonovo, a wild mussel. This story is set in a less known region of Italy, Le Marche. It is still a genuine and authentic area. There you can find rolling hills, beautiful beaches, great food, and kind people. Last weekend I had, in fact, the pleasure to be invited to the event SeaLand, Quando la Terra incontra il Mare, meaning when the Land meets the Sea.
The organizer was the lovely (and beautiful) Juliana De Brito. She’s Brazilian and she lives near Portonovo. She owns a website to promote tourism in the Marche region. She writes in English by the way. Take a look here: Wonderful Marche.
The aim of the event was to promote the union between the sea, represented by the Portonovo Bay fishermen and the land, represented by Agriturismo Rustico del Conero. This union brought to the development of a new recipe.
Conero Nature Park
The Portonovo Bay is part of the Conero Regional Park. Pronounce KOH-neh-roh. The park is located around Mount Conero: 572 meters of Mediterranean vegetation overlooking the sea. Very beloved by tourists are the famous beaches of Sirolo and Numana.
Inside the park, you can hike along 18 different paths through the woods, observe plants and animals, visit the WatchTower and the Romanesque church of Santa Maria, and also buy local products such as Rosso Conero red wine, olive oil, and honey at one of the farms.
There are also many fascinating legends related to this area. One of them tells of a treasure that is allegedly hidden somewhere in the park. Another one tells of a princess from the Veneto, taken as a slave. She was so sad that she melted along with her own tears and created a spring of pure water, still existing.
Mosciolo selvatico di Portonovo, the delicious wild mussel
Portonovo Bay, nestled at the foot of the Conero, has crystal clear waters and white cobble beaches. One of the best products of the area is the Slow Food product mosciolo selvatico di Portonovo, which is a wild mussel. Slow Food is an organization founded in Italy in 1986, aiming to preserve traditional and regional cuisine, and promoting the farming of plants and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.
We visited the Portonovo Bay Cooperative, where Sandro, former engineer, explained to us everything about the mosciolo [MOH-shoh-loh], together with Roberto Rubegni of Slow Food Ancona Conero. Here the main facts:
- The mosciolo is wild. It means that it lives attached to the Conero underwater rocks, and it reproduces naturally. The taste is sweeter and more mineral if compared to a regular mussel.
- It is the only mussel in Europe to be fished by hand.
- Its flavor depends on the microalgae it eats so it varies according to the place and the month of the year. That’s why it can be fished from May to October: in other periods of the year, it tastes different.
- The production area goes from the coast close to Pietralacroce village to the border between Sirolo and Numana. The Portonovo Bay is at the center of this area.
- Due to the scrumptiousness of these mussels, they became very popular in the area restaurants during the 50s and 60s. The fishing increased consequently, so much so that at some point there were about 80 boats in the Conero coast. But the difficult fishing method (not many divers willing to do the job), and the competition with the price of farmed mussels gradually led to a decrease of fishing.
- There are currently 4 scuba divers who detach the mussels from the cliffs with a grappling hook (rampino). And another one aged 28 is luckily starting the activity.
- The fishing method is sustainable because the scuba divers throw the small mussels back at sea and they manage to reattach to the cliffs and keep growing.
- The amount of mussels fished during a season is 80-120 tons.
- Restaurateurs from Ancona, Portonovo, Sirolo, and Numana go to the cooperative in the morning to purchase the moscioli.
- Moscioli must not be washed because the water in which they grow is pure. There’s a strict control system. Waters are pure because there are no rivers flowing into the sea here. And also the sewer pipes bring the material uphill onto Ancona’s drainage system.
- The Slow Food Presidium now grants the traceability of the product along the entire distribution chain. On the bags, you can see the label, along with the date and place of fishing.
- At the Cooperative, you can directly purchase the mussels.
- If you’re lucky enough to visit the Conero on the second-to-last weekend of June, you can attend Mosciolàndo, the mosciolo festival, with workshops, visits, and tastings.
Below you can see where Le Marche are in Italy. And where the mosciolo selvatico di Portonovo can be found.
COOPERATIVA PORTONOVOPESCA s.r.l.
Monday – Saturday 8 am – 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm – 5 pm
Agriturismo Rustico del Conero
We then headed towards the Agriturismo Rustico del Conero, a farmhouse producing organic cereals, legumes, and flours, located inside the regional park, 20 minutes away from the coast.
The owners are particularly sensitive to environmental problems, so they decided to use alternative energies and to produce biomass. Here you can find 5 comfortable apartments and 6 double rooms (all with ensuite bathrooms), all with wood-beamed ceilings and wooden furniture. Wi-fi signal inside my room was great.
Agriturismo Rustico del Conero is perfect to relax and switch off for those who are looking for a quiet place surrounded by nature, but yet 15 minutes away from villages and beaches. The access road is a gravelly country road.
Moreover, the agriturismo has horse-riding center. Some horses are athletes. Others are suitable for trekking, also with kids. There are several paths, including panoramic ones to go riding with a superb view over the Portonovo bay. And for those who prefer cycling, there’s the possibility to rent some e-bikes.
At the agriturismo, we attended a moscioli based dinner. Gunther Wolff, the chef at Hotel Emilia, prepared for us some new recipes, combining land and sea products, and using flour and vegetables produced in the farmhouse. We had, for example, moscioli and chickpeas paté, or spaghetti with moscioli and grapes.
The purpose is to perfect the recipes and offer them in a menu for special events at the farmhouse. I must say that the setting was incredibly pleasant. The old barn is now a panoramic pergola, where it is possible to organize private dinners, meetings, weddings, etc.
Agriturismo Rustico del Conero
Frazione Varano, 199
60129 Ancona AN
The perks of visiting the Portonovo Bay area
In conclusion, if you visit this area of Le Marche, you’ll have the chance to:
- Stay in deep contact with nature.
- Explore a region where land and sea are equally unspoilt and captivating.
- Try the moscioli at one of the local restaurants.
- Buy the moscioli at the Cooperative.
- Go horseback riding (or cycling) in the Conero nature park.
- Visit some of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
- Swim in the clear blue waters of the bay and live an unforgettable experience.
This post is the result of a collaboration with Nascente Lab.