Seeds of Italy
An Italian story
Paolo Arrigo, through his company, Seeds of Italy, is the importer for Franchi Seeds in Bergamo, a seventh generation family seed company. He has written a book “From Seed to Plate” regularly gives fifty talks a year, voted Slow Food UK Person of the year in 2019 and is a multiple RHS medal winner.
But how did this all this success happen ?
Here is Paolo’s incredible story….
Antonio Carluccio (founder of Carluccio’s) and Paolo at The Chelsea Flower Show
When I was thirteen I played truant from school with a classmate. We hid out in Chorley Woods, and during that day I found two beautiful porcini mushrooms. I couldn’t just leave them so I took them home. Every bit of me knew that if I did this I would get found out, yet a mysterious passion within convinced me it was still the right thing to do. Well, it wasn’t every day that I went to school and came home with porcini mushrooms, so I was rumbled. This story really highlights Italian life, even in Britain, because on the one hand I got a hiding I will always remember, but on the other hand we had porcini risotto for dinner, which I ate with pleasure while twitching around on my sore bum on the chair and with great satisfaction, because I had found the porcini! I knew my dad was secretly proud of me, certainly not for playing truant but because I had done a very ‘Italian’ thing.
Probably no coincidence then that I sell vegetable seeds – I started Seeds of Italy by accident. I wanted some Italian seed packets to sell in our family deli in West Hendon. So I went through my seed box in the shed and I had twelve different Italian seed brands, but only one had both some English and a picture on the packet. Fate had fortuitously guided me to the Franchi seed brand, which is the oldest family-run seed company in the world and one of the most respected. They still commission the vast majority (over 90 per cent) of their own vegetable seed locally in Italy rather than buying it from the lowest bidder.
Anyway, I had no intention of distributing these at the time and was happy to be the only deli in the UK with a range of Italian vegetable seeds! Then a friend, who also owns a deli, asked where I got the stand and whether he could have one. Only then did a lightbulb switch on. I originally intended offering the seeds only to Italian delis – it didn’t even occur to me at that point that garden centres sold seeds. The seeds were stored in my garage, where I had installed a portable aircon unit to keep the temperature down in summer; a far cry from our warehouse unit now. My first seed order came to £250, which I borrowed from my dad, who thought I was mad.
Way of life
It’s tempting to say that it all started with a seed stand but as with so many great Italian food stories, it started at home. In Paolo’s case with a grandmother preparing food seasoned with love and taking the time to talk to her grandchildren about dinner.
It is often said that Italy is not a country, it is a way of life. A large part of this way of life is food and all things related. Shops and offices close for lunch between one and four, bars sell more espressos than beer, and a good night out is judged by what and how much you ate, rather than drank – although Italians drink well too !
If you buy a flat in Milan, it will come with two things – a garage, because you drive, and an allotment, because you grow.
That’s – punto e basta!
Italian dishes tend to be uncomplicated, often of peasant origin, but using the freshest and most genuine ingredients.
These ingredients are so important that most Italians will still shop daily for their produce in bustling markets brimming with unshelled borlotti beans, tomatoes of every shape and size and meaty peppers almost as big as rugby balls, and in shops that offer salami and regional meats of every description, cheese counters that fill an entire fridge, olives, dried pulses and wonderful breads. But priority is always given to whichever vegetable is in season in the orto, or veg patch.
Paolo is proud that he runs a seed company that started, and continues, with food.
Seeds of Italy is more than just a seed company.
Not only do they stock 800 seed varieties from Franchi Sementi seeds of Italy, they also sell preserving equipment, garden tools from Rome, perfumes and soaps from Florence and Italian ingredients you won’t find in any store!
Seeds of Italy are also retailers of professional wood burning Pizza Ovens which are made in Florence using Italian materials for authentic results.
The premises in Harrow double up as an Italian delicatessen on Saturdays where you can source a wide variety of Italian food products and where you will receive a warm Italian welcome.
Italy from seed to plate, quite literally.
Paolo in action
Our business friends
The company believes success is generated through surrounding yourself with the best people and in our long experience of working with Sterling Grove Accountants I can honestly say that they are the best firm of accountants and business advisers that we have known.
Sterling Grove Accountants are delighted to have worked with Seeds of Italy for over twenty years.