A number of people posted comments on social media or wrote me offline after I posted the above photo a few days ago, taken in Montello (Veneto).
One note came from Michele Fino, professor of food law and policy at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Piedmont), whom I met for the first time this weekend in Asolo (I enjoyed talking with him immensely; more on that later).
“Did you know,” he wrote on my Facebook, “that according to Local traditions, wild strawberries are edible if the fruit [faces down] at the soil [while] the ones that [face up toward] the sun aren’t?”
His concern was echoed in a more stern warning by Los Angeles-based Italian wine professional Diego Meraviglia, who noted: “Careful, that ain’t a wild strawberry. That’s a ‘fragola matta’ [crazy strawberry]. It’s toxic… duchesnea indica… The difference is in the shape and the fact it has no yellowish seeds on the skin but those tiny protrusions. The red is bright and it grows upwards (wild strawberries grow downwards).”
Diego grew up in the Italian Alps, he wrote, where both wild strawberries and “mock strawberries,” like this one, are common.
As it turns out, the berry I photographed wasn’t a wild strawberry (fragaria vesca) but a false strawberry that was purportedly brought to Italy from China around 1800.
The good news is that I didn’t eat it!
By all accounts, while it’s not poisonous, it’s not pleasant on the palate.
Posting in a hurry from Brescia this morning as I prepare to head out for tastings and vineyard visits in Franciacorta…