The Garfagnana and Middle Serchio Valley is rich in woodlands, centuries-old chestnut groves, hills and mountains tinged with a thousand colours 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 savour 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 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. Walking through the village, it's possible to admire not only the historic drying room called the metato and the charcoal cellar, but also the views that open onto the woods and the Apuan Alps, surrounded by greenery.
There's 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 colours 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.
Other places, on the other hand, allow you to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle and at the same time contribute to the protection of centuries-old chestnut groves. In Cerasa in Pieve Fosciana, the Unione Comuni Garfagnana has launched an initiative titled "Adopt a chestnut" together with a farm. Adopting allows you to participate in the harvest and above all to enjoy its fruits: it includes a quantity of both fresh and dried chestnuts, excellent flour, and other tasty welcome products.
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).
Even the feasts and festivals that brighten the villages are an opportunity to enjoy traditional dishes that enhance this fruit. Among the many events in October is the "October Fair" in Castiglione di Garfagnana and the "Festa della Castagna" in Careggine. In November, the "Chestnut Festival" takes place in Lupinaia, a hamlet of Fosciandora, while there are also events in December, such as the "City of the Chestnut" in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.