food / travel

From Tuscany, Secrets Of The Most Delicious Egg In The World

A dozen Paolo Parisi eggs can cost you 20 euros. But it's a small price for the finest Italian chefs, who can taste the difference when an egg comes from a hen fed on goat's milk.

"This egg knows more than the others"
"This egg knows more than the others"
Michele Brambilla

USIGLIANO DI LARI — A fried egg is simple enough to make, and hardly something to write home about. But if it’s one of Paolo Parisi’s eggs, and he cooks it for you himself, “it’s worth three Michelin stars,” says Aimo Moroni, a top Milan chef.

Parisi heats the oil and puts just the white of the egg into the pan. As it changes color, he scatters parmigiano reggiano on top. Then he puts in the yolk to cook for 30 seconds with high heat, and then some ground pepper. Finally it’s time for tasting — but no plates or silverware. I dip a slice of bread directly into the iron pan, and I am also allowed to use a spoon so as not to miss any delicious bits.

The result depends on the skill of the chef, but also clearly on the quality of the egg. “An egg is an egg,” some may say. But over the past few years, Italy’s best restaurants have hyped up their dishes, using Paolo Parisi eggs in carbonara, mayonnaise or tiramisu.

Parisi, 57, is from Genoa but has lived for more than 30 years in a farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside near Pisa. He has an imposing stance, a great white beard, six children, and slightly hermetic tendencies. He doesn’t watch TV or read the papers because he is convinced that his refuge in the hills is the best thing in the world.

“Too much information misinforms you,” he says.

The story of this King of Eggs is one of initiative and can serve as a good lesson to anyone: Economics is important, but so is loving your work. The son of a doctor, Parisi began to study medicine, but was stopped by a revelation. “I suddenly realized that I would only start to enjoy life at 40.”

This seemingly minor existential crisis would indeed change his life forever. “It was a small failure and it was somewhat therapeutic when I went home and told my parents that I wasn’t going back.” He set off with a friend for Africa, which they toured in a van for a year, before returning to work as a waiter and spend much of his free time experimenting with drugs.

He would eventually return home to begin “a normal life.”

Paolo Parisi — Photo: Facebook page

“I went back to Genoa and I felt like I had been reborn with a clean mind and a healthy body,” he says. “But I had to find a job. So I thought that if I was to spend 80% of my time doing something, it better be something that I enjoy. I saw people who worked just for the money, people who fight traffic on the highway or cram themselves into a ferry every day. It’s a social sickness — humans are absurd.”

Smartest egg

Only a few professions came to mind as Parisi sought work: singer, actor, artist. “But, in the end, they weren’t for me. So, I chose sales and worked at that for a while. I liked the idea of going around, organizing my own time, but most of all I liked that I earned what I sold.”

Parisi convinced his father in 1981 to buy the farmhouse in which he now lives. It was ready in 1984, and he went to live there after he was married. “I realized that I really loved nature and the countryside,“ he says. “We were living there when there wasn’t even heating — for four years we slept with seven quilts covering us!”

He began what is known in Italy as “agriturismo,” or agricultural tourism, and started making goose salami, and then different kinds with the famous Tuscan Cinta Senese pigs. “At a certain point we were number one for the Cinta Senese salami. And that bothered me — when you’re at the top, the only other direction is down.”

So, Parisi set himself a new challenge: to be the best egg producer. And this is where he hit on his singular idea. “I got some Leghorn hens, which are the most prevalent in the world. Then, since I also had some goats, I thought about giving the milk to the hens. The result was amazing: snow white eggs with rich egg whites and creamy, soft yolks.”

So the legendary Paolo Parisi egg was born, and its creator began to sell it in supermarkets — his ideology is quality products for everyone. But, of course, there’s an obstacle. “My eggs are an absurd price,” he admits. He sells just one for 88 (euro) cents, but in shops they can be up to two euros each.

“But, you know something? People should think about this: Chewing gum costs 85 euros a kilogram, which is more than prosciutto. A carton of six of my eggs costs 9 euros, sometimes less. And you can cook them in so many ways.”

Today, Parisi has 2,000 hens who produce 1,000 eggs daily. If you ask him what’s special about the eggs, he’ll tell you this: “I could give the spiel about protein, Omega 3, water quality, and so on. But the real truth came once from a child who ate one: ‘This egg knows more than the others.’ ”

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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