In the plateau of Poirino, the flatland around Turin that slowly introduces the sweet Langhe hills, the traditional aquaculture of the tench is being practiced since the XIII century, and it has a lot to teach for the future. Most of us have no clue of what a tench is. The tinca tinca is a fresh water fish common in many areas of the globe. In this region it has a very distinctive history, which intertwines with the history of these lands, a history of poverty and resilience. These are dry, red grounds lacking rivers, so barren that the inhabitants were once called the « rasatà », the burned. Such water shortage boosted the creation of artificial ponds mainly used for irrigating purpose. But the ancient wisdom found other useful application of those water surfaces: basin for laundry, drinking trough for livestock and breeding station for tenches, small omnivorous fishes that were taken ashore at the end of every summer, when the basins were getting empty.
After WWII the area entered the industrial era and most of these ponds were left unused. Until 1994, when the threat of turning them into waste dumps rallied the sons of local farmers who organised a protest to stop the project. One of them, Giacomo Mosso of the farm Cascina Italia in Ceresole d’Alba, realised that those holes in the ground could be an opportunity for the future. « At that time I was 27 and I was considering to convert my family’s farm into a bio-diesel production plant. Then my cousin, much more business oriented than me, convinced me that I had to bet on something more original, something that you can only find here, our golden tench ».
Tenches grown here are of the best quality, they don’t taste muddy like most of fresh water fishes, thanks to the dry compact ground at the bottom of the ponds which also gives them their golden hue. That’s why the « golden hump tench of the Poirino plateau » became a D.O.P. (protected designation of origin) product and a Slow Food presidium. However the production is very limited as their growth is very slow - it takes 2 years to reach 100 gr, the edible size - and they don’t tollerate high density breeding. Giacomo is practically the only professional producer of the area and he sells his product in a transformed form: fried or « in carpione » (marinated in vinegar and white wine).
« Business are going great » says Giacomo. « My product is sold to Michelin Star restaurants and it’s present in Eataly shops around the world. The demand is always exceeding the quantity that I can produce. Lately I received requests from Saudi Arabia and China ». This interest from quickly developing countries is not surprising. According to the 2016 FAO report The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture « inland waters have a tremendous potential now, and even more so in the future, to contribute significantly to adequate nutrition for a global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 ». One thing is sure: with this ongoing population growth, those of us who reject the vegetarian option will have to diversify the protein sources beyond the usual selection of meat and fishes, even including insects. The environmental cost of breeding cows, porks, sea breams and salmons for an increasing population of animal proteins eaters can’t be bared much longer. The breeding of tenches instead has a very low impact on the environment as they mainly feed on the microorganisms present in the ponds. Diversification has another benefit: it preserves the biodiversity of the species and the outliving of local practices and traditions, like those related to the tench of the Poirino plateau. Therefore another thing is sure: by 2050 probably we will not all be eating insects but most likely we will know what a tench is.