“I want to be Pope!”
About 20 years ago Enrico Russino had a brainwave while driving. Capers instead of aubergines, herbs instead of oranges. This could be the answer to all his problems. The agronomist knew he had to find a way of rescuing his family’s business from the threat of mass production of vegetables and fruit. Competition was already well in place and financial pressure was clearly going to become unbeatable in this line of work in Sicily. ‘Most of these businesses will never develop any further,’ says Mr Russino and still today he is convinced of his theory, ‘to do that would need courage and an innovative idea’. These two factors Enrico possessed. His parents and brothers and sisters were quickly convinced by his idea to convert the family business of growing vegetables and fruit to that of one focused on the cultivation of herbs.
Back to the roots
So the Russino family began to concentrate on discovering their Sicilian roots and that of the traditional cooking from the island. An area of which was greatly influenced by various reigns over the past 3,000 years. This is why even today there exists in Sicilian cooking elements of Greek, Roman and Arabian styles. Moreover, ‘wild plants and herbs play a central role in our cooking.’ This made it feasible for the Russinos to plant and produce specialised herbs, however, Enrico stresses, ‘we don’t just view these herbs as being a decorative part of a kitchen garden, but that of playing a major role in the native natural environment.’ And so the caper branch which grows quite happily in the cracks of the stone walls so often found in Sicily is now a central point of the business. Using capers and just a few of the native herbs the Russinos began to create their own products which they delivered to restaurants throughout Sicily. But it didn’t stop at that, ‘today we plant over 200 different kinds of herbs.’ From thyme to rosemary, sage to lavender and curry plant.
A successful idea
That this was the right decision for the Russino family to make can certainly be seen from a business point of view. ‘We don’t only deliver to restaurants in Italy and Sicily,’ but private people worldwide have become aware of their production line and frequently visit their on-line shop to place orders. These are no longer just herb and salt mixtures which made up the basis of the line at the beginning of the business. Today, the Russinos offer under their own label ‘GliAromi’ homemade pasta sauces, pasta with various herb flavours and other regional locally based products. Besides this financial aspect, the Russinos put great value on maintaining the knowledge concerning the Sicilian herb tradition. Guided tours of the plantation allow the visitor to gain valuable knowledge about the important native herbs. ‘About 2,500 students from all over Italy visit us to learn about our culinary inheritance.’ Said the proud Sicilian. Even more tourists are learning about the business’ existence and come while on holidays to get a quick insight into the world of smells and tastes the island has to offer. Even though Enrico guides a large number of the tours, you can still feel the great enthusiasm with which he and his family all those years ago led them to a new start. And to answer the question where will his family business be in five year’s time, he laughs, ‘Today I am just a priest, but I want to be Pope.’