A perfect day for me is a day out with perfect clients, like this one last spring. I got up at 6.00 am to drive to Lucca in the rain to pick them up, not my idea of a perfect start to the day. But there they were, a little early, at the meeting point, smiling despite the grey clouds and drizzle. The couple climbed into my dirty car (Italian car washes aren’t silly enough to wash cars in the rain even if they would get repeat business the next day). I was relieved to find out they were both raised on farms.
We headed back up the Serchio River Valley from where I’d come, passing Sesto, Valdottavo and Diecimo, names derived from Roman times because the villages are six, eight and ten Roman miles from Lucca. We passed the 11th-century Devil’s Bridge and I recounted the story of how it got its name. Through Gallicano, past Alvaro Ferrari’s fields of biodynamic eight-rowed corn, by-passed Castelnuovo, touched Pieve Fosciana and halted for a coffee and croissant at a bar in Villeta, all the while the cloud folding low around the mountains which the couple couldn’t see at all. Nevertheless they exclaimed enthusiastically about the villages huddled beneath the cloud and the glimpses of green on the hillsides. We were talking all the while, getting to know each other. They wanted to know what brought me to Lucca, and I wanted to know all about them. They’re on their honeymoon. Donnacha (pronounced don-a-ka) is Irish and Kristy Australian. Donnacha took six months sabbatical from work in Scotland to travel in Australia and is still there, desalinating water. Kristy teaches kindergarten.
Back in the car, through San Romano to Piazza al Serchio and then right, up the shortcut (scorciatoio in Italian — I love the sound of the word) to Petrognola and Paolo Magazzini’s bakery. By now I knew they lived in rented accommodation with hardly any garden, but undeterred they grew vegetables and herbs in pots and were hoping to have a smallholding one day, just enough for their own subsistence. I told them about my orto (vegetable patch).
I led them behind Paolo’s house and down to the bakery in the cellar, where Paolo greeted us and began the Garfagnana potato bread lesson. He only speaks Italian but is a great communicator and I translate when necessary. Since his enthusiasm for his work is infectious, Donnacha and Kristy soon had their hands in the dough.
By the time the loaves were resting on the handwoven hemp cloth to rise, Paolo was enjoying himself so much that he suggested an additional impromptu lesson, farro pasta.
Paolo cultivates farro, which here in the Garfagnana is a more primitive species of wheat than spelt.
The pasta finished and spread on the table and the loaves in the wood-fired oven, we headed down to see Paolo’s beef cattle and were rewarded with a newly born calf.
Back to the bakery to take the crusty loaves from the oven.
Then it was time for a home-cooked lunch prepared by Paolo’s wife, Daniela. Lunch wouldn’t be complete without a tasting of farro beer made by Paolo’s neighbour, Roberto Gianarrelli. Since the micro-brewery produces several varieties, there’s a perfect one to pair with Daniela’s bean and farro soup and another to go with the farro pasta and ragù.
On the way back to Lucca we stopped at Ercolano Regoli’s water mill, where Paolo takes his farro to be ground. As we left the mill, a rainbow arched over our perfect day — no pot of gold at the end, but instead, a field of young farro. By July it will have turned golden and will contribute riches to the pockets and diet of the local people.
Thank you Kristy and Donnacha for your wholehearted enjoyment and appreciation of the artisans of the Garfagnana.
Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won’t find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.