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The fairytale of the charcoal burners

L’arte secolare di produrre carbone, un lavoro vivo e contemporaneo

The centuries-old art of producing coal, a still living and contemporary work

They are called  "men in black", but no fear, they are the last charcoal burners of Massa Trabaria, who still work in the traditional way in the production of coal and charcoal in Borgo Pace. An activity that is disappearing and that it is handed down only thanks to the experience and wisdom of the old charcoal burners: in fact there is no "recipe" for making coal and it is not required use of technological tools. Only personal and previous generations experience can generate the best product under the steaming ”cotte”. The charcoal burner is certainly an endangered craft, but thanks to the strong local tradition that has led some young people to approach this work, it is still possible today to see the large piles of wood being consumed slowly under the characteristic smoke.

A custom that has accompanied summer days, in the surroundings of Borgo Pace, for centuries, especially along the valley that leads to the hamlet of Parchiule (link parchiule).

The process that allows to have charcoal of such an excellent quality is long and hard, and as all ancient and genuine things it respects the cycles of nature.

In autumn and winter the woodcutters collect wood along the slopes of the Alpe della Luna forests and in summer the charcoal burners begin to work, arranging the wood around central poles that act as a flue in a large pyramid-shaped structure.  These large structures that take the name of "cotta" can reach up to two and a half meters height and can contain several quintals of timber. The charcoal burner then covers the “cotta” with mud and straw, warring to put the embers in the center: now the most delicate step begins. The combustion is controlled and regulated by the expert hands of the charcoal burner who knows when it is necessary to tame fire by checking that it does not cause damage, or create, where needed, some openings to facilitate the oxygenation. This process can last up to 15 days and, at the end, with a large rake it is possible to separate the discard and to collect the finished product, a charcoal of excellent quality, odorless during combustion and which maintains its calorific value for a very long time, ideal in the kitchen. .

The fascinating work of the charcoal burners has been carefully told by the photographer Tonino Mosconi in his book "La Favola dei Carbonai".

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