Fulvo? Formentino? Frumentino? ... What the F?
Because the Cane Corso is an Italian breed — like you needed reminding — much of the breed jargon is carried over from its mother tongue.
Chances are you have already encountered some Italian terms in the writings of the breed’s various experts, including the most revered one: Dr. Antonio Morsiani, who wrote the first standard in 1987.
This article addresses three such terms, all beginning with the letter “F”: fulvo, formentino and frumentino.
Let’s start with fulvo.
Fulvo is customarily translated as “fawn.” Most dog people take that to mean a light blond or buff color, similar to the light shades one sees in Bullmastiffs and Mastiffs.
But a look at the root of the word tells a different story.
The Latin word fulvĭus translates to “reddish-yellow,” “tawny” or “amber colored.” The photograph below of a fulvous-headed tanager (a family of neotropical birds) illustrates that the word also encompassed red tones, not just blond ones.
A fulvous-headed tanager, demonstrating that the word fulvo encompasses red tones as well as buff ones.
In the original standard, Morsiani nods to this spectrum of color by mentioning three kinds of fulvo: fulvo chiaro, “clear,” or light fawn; fulvo cervo, or “deer fawn,” which we know better as stag red; and fulvo scuro, or dark fawn.
So, fulvo means a range of colors, from the lightest blonde to a richer, tawnier red.
Fawn, or fulvo, puppy.
Understanding that most fanciers would not have such an expansive concept of the term “fawn,” the Cane Corso AKC standard lists this color spectrum as “lighter and darker shades of fawn, and red,” which covers the entire spectrum intended by fulvo.
One caveat, however: “Red” in this case does not mean a deep red verging on brown. That would bring us into Dogue de Bordeaux territory.
Now, let’s look at formentino and frumentino (sometimes expressed as fromentino). None of these words appears in the current AKC Cane Corso standard, nor was either even mentioned in the original one of Morsiani. Yet formentino, in particular, is used with great regularity to describe a certain dilute color in the breed.
Since some readers may not be entirely clear on what is meant by dilution or dilutes, here is are the basics:
Dilutes are animals that have inherited two copies of the recessive d allele, or gene, one from each parent. This gene affects how the depth of color in the coat is expressed. Think about what dilute means in our everyday life: A mother who dilutes the juice in her toddler’s sippy cup is watering it down. Similarly, a dilute dog has his coat color watered down.
Morsiani described only two correct colors with their corresponding dilutions, and only one pattern, for the Cane Corso in his original standard, which still holds true today. Those colors are black and fawn (which we now know can range from buff to red), and the pattern is brindle, which means black stripes over a base coat.
When black is diluted, the coat color lightens to a blueish-gray. The Cane Corso standard refers to this diluted black color as gray. The depth of the gray color can vary, from light gray to lead gray to slate, terms that were also used in Morsiani’s original standard and are retained in the current Italian standard.
A gray Cane Corso is simply a black dog that carries two dilution genes.
When a dog is a dilute, his coat is not the only thing that is lightened. His pigment — including his nose, lips and eyes — is affected, too. So a gray Cane Corso (which, again, is a black Cane Corso that carries two copies of the dilute gene) cannot have a black nose. Instead, the nose is gray. Similarly, he cannot have dark brown eyes; instead, they are expressed as a more metallic color.
Compare the gray dog at left with the black one at right. Note that the gray dog's dilute-colored nose might appear black until it is compared to a truly non-dilute dog. In most cases when trying to determine a dark-pigmeneted dilute, the eyes will be the "tell": A dilute can never have the warm brown tones of the black dog at right. Instead, there is more of a smoky, metallic cast to the eye color.
Even if they carry the genes for it, black Cane Corsos cannot have a mask — or a visible one, at least — because black on the muzzle on a black dog can’t be seen. Similarly, if a black dog is brindled — that is, overlaid with a pattern of black stripes — the brindling is not visible because it is black on black.
The same applies when a black dog is a dilute — that is, gray. His black stripes and his black mark become gray, and they blend in with the diluted black coat, which is also gray.
Even though their markings are not visible, black or gray dogs that are genetically brindled and/or masked are able to pass these traits on to offspring.
Formentino, At Last
The other Cane Corso color that can be dilute is fawn. This is the meaning of the term formentino, which is heard so often in the breed:
A formentino is simply a dilute fawn.
Identifying formentino dogs can sometimes be tricky, especially on lighter-colored fawn dogs. Dilution takes the warmth out of the coat, so that it appears to be flatter, with a sort of smoky, metallic cast. Think about the color of a brown paper bag: That is what dilution on a lighter-colored fawn dog might remind you of. Imagine a deeper color of that brown paper bag, and that gives you an idea of what a dilute red dog would look like.
Dilute, however, does not mean brown.
As with the gray dogs, dilute fawns, or formentini, cannot have black noses. Their pigment has a blueish-gray cast to it as well. However, some dilute noses are such a deep shade of slate gray that they almost appear black. In those cases, the eyes are usually the biggest giveaway: Since they are genetically incapable of having brown eyes of any shade, formentini, just like their gray counterparts, will have eyes with a metallic blue or yellow tint to them.
Because fawn Corsos have black masks and can be brindled, those black markings will turn gray on formentino Corsos. So a “gray brindle” Cane Corso is really a dilute brindled fawn.
A "gray brindle" Cane Corso is in reality a dilute fawn dog with very brindle markings. When the brindling is very heavy, these dogs are sometimes referred to as "reverse brindle." That is not because the stripes are of a different color, but rather because the brindling is so heavy as to make it appear that the black (or in this case, gray) stripes are the base color, and the fawn base color appearing to be the brindling. In truth, this is still a fawn dog with gray (that is, diluted black) stripes.
All Wheat, No Chaff
That leaves us with the final F word: frumentino.
A stellar formentino bitch. Note the nose color is so dark some might mistake it for black. But her gray mask, dilute eyes and metallic cast to her coat attest to her dilute status.
Formentino and frumentino (which is sometimes expressed as fromentino) mean the same thing: a dilute fawn Cane Corso. The words are derived from the Italian word frumento, which means wheat.
The meaning of frumento is clear in this hand-lettered World War I poster, which reads: "Meat, wheat, fat and sugar ... Eat little of these foods because it needs to go to our populace, and the troops of ITALY." Pictured is King Vittorio Emmanuele III, who later abdicated after World War II. His great-grandson is the well-known Neapolitan Mastiff breeder Umberto Gasche. Author's private collection.
Chances are you will only encounter the word frumentino in reading older Italian texts, as it is not in common usage among modern breeders today.
If you do, a significant caveat:
In the past, frumentino and, occasionally, fromentino or formentino, were used to describe fawn dogs. In the early years of the breed, frumentino literally meant any dog whose color reflected the color of wheat. And of course, wheat can be many colors, depending on how mature it is, from the pale flaxen of the new sprouts to the richer red of the mature plants, heavy with seed and ready for harvest. So in the early years of the breed, all these F words were used interchangeable to refer to wheat-colored dogs, regardless of whether they were dilute or not.
In their book Il Cane Corso, authors Fernando Casolino and Stefano Gandolfi use the word frumentino to describe non-dilute dogs such as this young male, Ares del Dyrium. But times and terminology have changed, and today this dog would be described as fulvo, or fawn.
But language evolves, and today, fulvo (that is, fawn) has come to mean any non-dilute dog, covering the full range of wheat color, from buff to red, and formentino/furmentino/fromentino now refers to any dilute dogs of that same color spectrum.
And now we’ll end with another Italian F word:
Special thanks to Massimo Inzoli and Nicola Mille for their input and consulation on this article.