It was a beautiful sunny day, a mid-winter day I spent going around on Montagna Pistoiese (Appenine Mountains in the area of Pistoia, Tuscany) shooting videos and interviewing people attending at traditional jobs and handicraft.
We first visited Catinari maitre chocolatier lab, where he melts imported chocolate trasforming it into any shape and taste of pralines, chocolate stiks, Easter eggs…..and also he produces his own chocolate from Sao Tomé chocolate beans: that was the experience! Tasting a 100% chocolate just pressed and eaten! And then talking to Mr. Catinari was great as well, listening to his personal story and understand how much he loves chocolate and his job.
Mr Catinari is originally from Montagna Pistoiese, but emigrated in Switzerland in 1954, there he learnt the art of chocolate production and “styling”, and after 20 years decided to come back to Italy, exactly in Agliana, where he now still produces is fantastic chocolate!
After visiting Mr. Catinari lab, we drove up to the mountains to reach S. Marcello Pistoiese. We (the cameragirl and I)had to shoot an interview with a local shepherd and a woman farmer producing unique cakes we call “necci”.
We first went to the shepherd farmhouse, in a little valley at the bottom of the village of Piteglio, famous for the ancient Castruccio Bridge. The farmhouse of Stefano Innocenti is on a sunny layer of this mountain, there you really think you are in another world. I talked to Stefano about the way he produces his cheeses, “raveggiolo” (a kind of fresh cheese” and “ricotta”. His production is totally organic, and it is only available for people calling at the farmhouse or in the nearby grocery shops. We talked about lifestyle, what means being a shepherd in 2009, he said it is very hard, harder than it was for his parents and grannies, and if you keep on living like that is only because you have a passion for it. A passion that you experience when tasting Stefano and Paola (his wife, attending at cheese preparation), you won’t forget it!
Driving a little bit more up on the mountain I reached Lucia farmhouse, Agriturismo L’Alberaccio, I can say one of the few real agriturismo in Tuscany. Animals were running free in the yard, ducks, chicken, dogs, welcoming you home. Together with fantastic Lucia, who was preparing the fireplace to cook “necci” in a very old fashioned way, never seen before anywhere else, even though also in my Lucca neighbourhoods necci are prepared.
She lighted the fire with tiny wooden branches, then she put “testi”, a kind of thick dish made with local special stone, where necci paste is directly melt. Necci are a kind of “pancake”, made with chestnut flour and water, you mix it until obtain a smoth paste that you can pour on testi, actually not direclty, first you put some chestnut leaves on the testi, then you pour the necci paste. Chestnut leaves must be picked after the first August storm, then dried hanging at the windows…As soon as the heaten testi touch these leaves, a intriguing smell of wood comes out and carries you back in time…Then you finally pile one layer of testi with chesnut leaves and necci paste, then another same layer of testi, chestnut leaves, paste……smoke comes out while the strong heat cooks necci, which you can taste after few minutes..
First you take off leaves, then you put some ricotta in the middle of neccio and then roll like a “taco” and it is ready to eat. The fillings are different, but this is the most traditional way of tasting necci…
While doing all this, Lucia told me stories coming from the past, she said she likes to prepare necci and keep traditions alive not only to amuse her guests, but also because in this way she feels like her mum, granny, aunts are still alive, going around in the old stone house, living according to nature rythms, mountain pace, authentic rural life….and this is what you exactly feel after a day going around in these little pearls of Montagna Pistoiese………