My sister is visiting. She doesn’t eat vegetables! But she likes cheese. So a cheese based lunch was in order. We headed half hour northwards to Osteria Vecchio Mulino in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. It serves cold platters of local food: meats, cheeses and farro dishes of the Garfagnana.
It always has an especially large mortadella!
The first visit here is slightly baffling to know how to order. There’s no menu and not much food ‘on show’ in the deli counter. It would be easy to look in and notice only the bar and the shelves of items for sale. We’ve worked out that it’s best to just ask for a mixed plate (piatto misto) and for me as a veggie a mixed plate without meat (senza carne) and we get a taste of whatever there is that day. Here’s what we got today.
The cheeses were all local pecorinos but each very different due to how long each had been aged. Some had a honey, balsamic or jam on top. One was rather too aged even for me, the really dark wrinkly one.The meats were salami, prosciutto crudo ham, pancetta and of course mortadella, and a smoked fish.
There was pickled zucchini, pasta salad and farro salad. Farro is a speciality of the Garfagnana, it’s a wheat grain similar to spelt, used mostly on soups and salads. And a really lovely fresh tomato foccacia.
Afterwards a stroll around town to choose our ice creams. Castelnuovo is dominated by its fortress, dating from the 12th century the Rocca Ariostesca is named after the poet Ludovico Ariosto who was governor from 1522. Now it houses an archaeological museum. Restoration work was essential due to damage in WWII so it has quite a neat appearance.
Castelnuovo is the principal town for the Garfagnana. The Garfagnana is a beautiful area of forested mountains with the Serchio river running through, between the Apuane Alps and Apeninnines in northern Tuscany. The area is excellent for walking or scenic drives and there are many charming villages. The market on a Thursday morning is a good time to visit as the town is at its most bustling and it’s a good reminder of past times, this market dates back to medieval times and you can still get an idea of the crucial role a market town like Castlenuovo played in local economies.
The town still fulfills this role in many ways. People from the surrounding remote area still come here for their shopping and also it acts as a showcase for the speciality foods of the area with many enchantingly quaint food shops. Plenty of other places to eat too, the tables under the loggia of this trattoria caught my eye.
Plenty of gelaterie too. We choose ‘ Fuori dal Centro’. Fig and walnut and Vanilla and raspberry for me!
Osteria Vecchio Mulino is on via Vittorio Emanuele 12 just as you enter Castelnuovo from Lucca direction. The website is worth a look and has a collection of local recipes. http://www.vecchiomulino.info
From Bagni di Lucca – 28km, 1/2 hour by car, 25mins by train.
From Lucca – 46km, just under an hour by car or train, 1 hour 40mins by lazzi bus.