CORTE MAINOLDA, A MANTUAN SAGA

The Mainolda story in Sarginesco is a complex and multi-layered one, but it all began here, where Angelo and his seven brothers were born, exactly one hundred years ago. During the war, Angelo ended up in a war camp hospital where he helped out in the kitchen and made himself so useful that he ended up spending the whole war there. Once he returned home, he became a pork butcher, but he was also a farmer, as one needed to have multiple skills in those days, and the whole of the Stuani family was sharecropping at the Mainolda. Years later, Angelo and his brother Giuseppe married two sisters. Angelo was milking a cow in the stables when his daughter Lina was born. As soon as he heard that it was a girl, he kicked over the milk bucket and spilled the milk. Despite this, him and his daughter developed a special relationship, as she always showed a rather virile temperament.

But then, totally unexpectedly, the sharecropping contract wasn’t renewed, and eight brothers along with their families were out on the street. In the chaos that ensued, the family scattered, looking for different solutions. There was a bread and wine retailer for sale in Curtatone. It was 1942 and two brothers, with their sisters and their children, travelled those ten kilometres to start a new life. Giuseppe would sell bread, Teresa would keep everything clean and in order. Angelo and sister in law Rita were in the kitchen, and they were so good that the new place soon filled up. During the war, hunger was bad and their first clients were carters, the ancestors of today’s lorry drivers, who duly took over a few years later. At school Lina had a school mate, Gregorio, who was downgraded to a lower class by a teacher, zia Rosa, who also happened to be his aunt. Aged 17 she met him again at a party in Sarginesco by his gramophone. This is an instrument that he still keeps, as the two youngsters married and she moved to Sarginesco. A two way journey, on the same roads. Here Raffaella and Pierangelo are born and Gregorio farms other people’s land.

But Lina isn’t one to sit down knitting in front of the fireplace. When his uncle Giuseppe decided to get his brother and wife out of the kitchen and give it to others, her father called her back to Quattro Venti. She didn’t hesitate, and went straight back. Dad and the children stayed together with zia Rosa in Sarginesco. Zia Rosa, the teacher, also had a sad story to tell: her husband was a mining engineer and owner of the Corte Mainolda, but things between them hadn’t worked out, and she went back to her parents, an independent and proud woman. Aged 60, she now looks after the children and – once widowed and heir to the engineer, they will inherit the property from her, ironically.

Back to our story: Lina never set foot in the kitchen: her place is behind the drawer, which fills up and sometime empties according to the nature of the times. When her father died in 1964, she dealt with her loss in her own special way: the following day she organises her daughter’s birthday party as if nothing had happened. Little Raffaella was 10 and grew up observing her grandfather’s manoeuvres in the kitchen. She too adored him and was so influenced by him that she became an excellent cook. The genes have been generous within the family, and even Pierangelo inherited this special talent, even though he learned that a little later. After inheriting Corte Mainolda from Zia Rosa he farmed the land, helps out his father and started a family. When Lina needs a hand in the kitchen, he chances to help and slowly learns the trade by observing. His farming though takes him away. Years of patient work to send children to University, and then the dream: opening a restaurant by himself, maybe together with a boutique B&B. He has the space, and the ability to build one. Father and son are once again working together, same as always, to restore, paint and furnish old spaces that feel like home.

Today, three years after opening, this family quartet plays in harmony and everyone uses his talents to make a holiday or a dinner truly unforgettable. What guests don’t know is how much love and passion for family cooking have flowed in the past 100 years to achieve this goal. Now they know!

by Mara Pasetti

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