Forni Avoltri rediscovers village shops: two examples of community welfare and food excellence

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Once upon a time, there were village shops: the shoemaker, the barber or the grocer who sold a bit of everything, forerunners of modern supermarkets. Pieces of the history of post-war Italy that have slowly been lost over the years to the rapid rise of modern, large-scale distribution. Yet something is changing and some of these small village realities have resisted and, indeed, in these very hard years of pandemic they have represented a fundamental bulwark of social aggregation, contrasting with the ‘cold and aseptic’ city supermarket.

In Forni Avoltri in Carnia, two small food shops that I am particularly fond of resist with tenacity and passion

Ceconi Eugenia’s ‘Bottega di Lisa’ and Loris Brunasso’s ‘Specialità Gastronomiche’ in the small hamlet of Sigilletto, with a second ‘branch’ in the wonderful hamlet of Lunaria, municipality of Rigolato. Two realities of a mountain village, which I would like to recount as examples of community places, where everyone knows each other and exchanges information on what is happening in the village, but also places that express and narrate a territory, its specialities, its excellence, and, deep down, its identity.

Forni Avoltri, the northernmost of Friuli’s villages, rises along the banks of the Degano stream and is located in the beautiful Carnic Alps, on the slopes of Mte Coglians (2780 m), the highest peak in Friuli Venezia Giulia

La bottega di Lisa: a bijoux shop among homemade jams, high altitude honey and a km0 vegetable garden

Eugenia has always had a passion for managing social venues. I remember my childhood in Forni Avoltri and the carefree afternoons spent in her Val di Mulin chalet, where summers flew by between tennis and table tennis matches and winters were truly unforgettable on her skates (the tennis court turned into a fun rink in winter).

Eugenia Ceconi, owner of La Bottega di Lisa in Forni Avoltri

So Eugenia Ceconi, with that face and energy of an eternal little girl, re-opened Lisa’s Bottega in 2012, giving continuity to the old business run by her mother, and, at the same time, renewing it in style and proposal.

Hers is an authentic bottega bijoux, contained in its spaces, but rich in its offer

To her basic food proposal, a very important service for the people of the village, Eugenia has been able to place side by side an offer of agricultural products expressing the best Carnic excellence.

Lisa’s Bottega welcomes visitors from the outside with small pieces of local handicrafts and in summer with self-produced delicacies

The gastronomic specialities inside are renewed with the seasons: regular guests, honey and jams

Strawberries, raspberries and currants colour her banquet in the coolness of summer, turning into delicious home-made jams for guests wishing to purchase a product that is truly typical of the area. Yes, because these delicious berries are cultivated by Eugenia and her indefatigable husband Franco, in a plot of land below the house, arousing the greedy curiosity of adults and children who can hardly resist the temptation to taste them! In addition to berries, in an authentic zero-kilometre economy, vegetables of all kinds and types populate the shop’s stalls: salad, aubergines, courgettes, beans and radicchio; first fruits that in summer the customer can choose directly from the garden, going down to the field with the owner.

The beans cultivated are the local varieties, ‘Blanc dal Papo’ and ‘Nostra dal For’, while a well-stocked wine cellar, with perfect humidity and temperature conditions, holds the best of the local sausages, salami, sausages and bacon, strictly smoked according to tradition.

In recent years, Bottega di Lisa’s proposal has expanded to include honey, strictly self-produced. 30 hives, populated by 60,000 specimens, are cared for and looked after in isolated and protected places

inside a beehive there is much more than one of the sweetest and most nutritious foods that nature has given us. There is a perfectly organised society, in which each individual tirelessly carries out a precise task to ensure the survival of the community. Eugenia and Franco are well aware of this. Even in winter, a season typically characterised by bee mortality, they go to the hives to bring candy sugar and water to the rescue. In return, the bees offer a concentrate of beneficial products, such as rhododendron and millefiori honey as well as propolis, an important ally for humans in the defence and protection of the immune system and respiratory system as well as our skin

Loris Brunasso gastronomic specialties: in Sigilletto and Ludaria excellent charcuterie and cheese

“Alc di Dut’, everything a bit. On the window of the grocery shop in Sigilletto is the philosophy of its owner.

To offer, in a tiny hamlet of 50 souls on the road from Forni Avoltri to Collina, the certainty of a service and a place to buy something good.

A historic café, over 70 years in business, which for years has had to cope with depopulation ‘It’s very hard,’ Loris confesses, ‘especially in winter. But then, in spring, the tourists arrive and business picks up again.”

Loris Brunasso pictured in front of the window of his ‘Alc di Dut’ shop in Sigilletto, a hamlet of Forni Avoltri

Sigilletto (Sighiet in Friulian) is one of the four hamlets of the municipality of Forni Avoltri (UD). It stands at 1,121 m and has a few dozen stable inhabitants

And shopping in Sigilletto doesn’t resemble the hurried, anonymous city shopping usually done in large supermarkets. “We all know each other, and we always chat, about health, about the weather, it’s a community shopping.”

Grocery shopping that is service for the locals, while it is an authentic journey into the taste of local cheeses and charcuterie for passing tourists.

Personally, going shopping at Loris’s is often not a passing stop, but a planned destination where you can find a rich selection of malga cheeses, cured meats and smoked sausages, with the certainty that every product on the counter is not there by chance, nor is it a commercially advertised product. It is the result of careful research and selection work: by this I mean physically going to the place where that product originates, often directly to the malga. Getting to know the people who take care of the chain and the thinking behind the product. Obviously tasting, tasting and getting to know the territory.

About a couple of years ago, Loris opened a second sales outlet, in Ludaria, a delightful hamlet of Rigolato. The concept with which Loris inaugurates this new adventure does not change: he creates a cosy and familiar environment, a shop where you can find genuine flavours and fragrances, knowing that each product proposed is linked to a territory and each territory encloses stories of people.

Aperitifs in the shop among friends: at Ludaria, in the second shop opened by Loris, getting together for a few hours is easy

Something is changing…

Hence, yes, perhaps something is changing. Apart from the tenacity and perseverance of Eugenia and Loris, my wish, as a customer and lover of authentic places and territories, is that these small examples of social and commercial resistance represent places defended by their communities for their role as trusted presidia of the territory and social fabric and, above all, that they support, with quality products and services, that slow recovery of food culture mixed with a new gastronomic sensitivity that is slowly creeping into this highly globalised food culture to which we have become accustomed.

Portrait in the distance of the small hamlet of Ludaria, Rigolato.

It certainly won’t be easy as alas, lately the equation is quite simple: shops endure where there are people to animate them. If mountain villages and towns become depopulated and the young people leave, the shutters close and the elderly are forced to move away. It is a vicious circle from which it is important to understand how to get out, because small villages without shops die, and vice versa.
As a customer and consumer, I personally am trying to live through this difficult time by rethinking my own little food model as well, looking for alternative solutions, in the place where I live, that are no longer based on simple consumption, but value those who guard the territories and relationships with them.

So make way for young and multifunctional proximity shops. And great support for realities like those of Loris and Eugenia that we cannot lose. Not to stop a change that is historic and probably unavoidable, but to rethink it, so that it is positive and promising for everyone.

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