The Garfagnana and Middle Serchio Valley is rich in woodlands, centuries-old chestnut groves, hills and mountains tinged with a thousand colors in the autumn season. Chestnuts are most certainly among the best products at this time of year, both for its culinary uses and for its history, as well as the beauty of the woods where it grows. In the past, the chestnut tree was also called "the bread tree", by virtue of its essential role for the survival of the populations of these rugged valleys (it was once one of the few sources of income and livelihoods). Here are 3 ideas to get to know and savor this fruit so loved in the past and still present in the local food and wine tradition.
The Chestnut Museum is located in the enchanting and historic village of Colognora, in the Municipality of Pescaglia. Originally entirely dedicated to chestnuts, it now also houses a room dedicated to the musician Alfredo Catalani, whose family was from Colognora. In addition to this room, the museum consists of two sections: the first focuses on the use of wood, told through specific workshops, with insights into the various professions, places and working materials. It's possible to admire a pertica (rod) or frusta (strap) used in carpentry that are about 250 years old. The second section concerns the alimentary use of chestnuts and includes a themed collection that is unique in Italy. Here, the various tools related to this food tradition are exhibited, starting from the grafting of the chestnut, pruning, harvesting, drying, "beating", milling and conservation of flour.
There is an enchanting place in Villa Soraggio in the municipality of Sillano Giuncugnano called Prato Maleta. With its large chestnut trees, a walk in autumn in this place is a must to revel in the fairytale atmosphere created by the colors and light. Here, you can also find a small village with charming houses, where shepherds in the past spent nights on the mountain pastures. Prato Maleta can be reached either by passing through Villa Collemandina and the village of Corfino, or from Castelnuovo Garfagnana following the signs for Sillano.
Throughout Garfagnana and the Mid Serchio Valley, it's possible to buy chestnuts (it's not possible to pick them in the chestnut groves because almost all of them are private) in the various typical shops or taste the various dishes of the osteria. Order your mondine (known as roasted chestnuts, chestnuts cooked on the fire in a special pan) or the ballocciori / ballucciori (chestnuts cooked in water and boiled) or one of the specialties prepared with the famous chestnut flour D.O.P. (called di neccio) including pasta, polenta and traditional desserts such as Castagnaccio, necci con i testi, frittelle with ricotta or tullore (dried chestnuts cooked in milk).