The fall is probably my favourite season. The weather is mostly pleasant, the countryside is really beautiful with the leaves changing colour on the trees, the mists in the morning, the sun low on the horizon, and the hot pink cyclamens in bloom; the air smells of firewood and the earth of rain!
Another remarkable part of the fall in Tuscany is the wealth of delicious seasonal products: chestnuts, porcini mushrooms, white truffles, the new olive oil, and vino novello (the new wine) are all autumn products. For meat lovers, this is also the time of the year when you can eat fresh game, since the hunting season is open. Wild boar, hare and pheasant meat is quite easy to find if you live in a rural area.
In my village, there is a chestnut grove known as “i castagneti“, which is the village park. Generation after generation, all the children growing up in the village spend their first years walking and playing in this park.
I have many fond memories of my childhood years, when my great-grandmother or my grandmother used to take me to the park on our way home from the school bus stop. In the fall, we would always look for chestnuts. I remember how much fun it was breaking husks with my feet and removing the chestnuts, trying not to prick myself with the thin brown thorns. Trying to take the skin off the small chestnuts was not as much fun, because for the most part they were just wild chestnuts, and not the delicious large ones called “marroni“. Only few of the trees in the park produced that type and it was quite hard to find them, because obviously we were not the only ones engaging in this activity.
A great place to pick chestnuts is Monte Amiata: there are some amazing chestnut groves up there. They are an “Igp product” (Indicazione Geografica Protetta – meaning that this is a product found only in this area). They are eaten roasted and boiled. Chestnut flour is used to make cakes, pasta, gnocchi and a delicious dessert called “castagnccio“, similar to a thick pudding with pine nuts, raisins and rosemary. There is even a brewery near Castel del Piano producing chestnut beer called La Bastarda Rossa (literally “the red bastard”)!
Chestnuts are typical of many other areas of Tuscany, such as Garfagnana, Casentino, Mugello and Lunigiana.
Interesting resources on the topic:
- Tuscan chestnuts and chestnut flour
- Nutty about chestnuts
- Castagnaccio recipe – Tuscan Chestnut Cake
Mushrooms and truffles
There are many types of mushrooms, but the most valued type is “porcino“. Mushroom picking season is the fall, although in some areas, if it rains enough, it is sometimes possible to find them in the late summer as well.
Mushroom picking is a regulated activity in Italy. You need a license that is generally obtained after attending a course. You also need to be 14 or older.
It is extremely important to know the different types of mushrooms, because some can be very toxic.
Generally “only” a maximum of 3kg (6lb) of mushrooms can be picked at one time. No tools can be used for picking, and mushrooms must be placed in wicker-type baskets to ensure that the spores are disseminated as pickers walk through the woods. Using bags is illegal.
Truffles are very expensive as they are very hard to find. They grow underground and you need trained dogs (or pigs!) to find them. In Tuscany two towns are especially famous for truffles: San Giovanni d’Asso in Val d’Orcia (Siena area) and San Miniato, near Pisa. They host two important fairs dedicated to Tuscan white truffles: Mostra mercato nazionale del tartufo bianco in San Miniato and the Mostra mercato del tartufo bianco in San Giovanni d’Asso, also home to a museum.
Other interesting pages dedicated to truffles:
It is possible to go truffle hunting (we can help you arrange a day trip dedicated to truffles).
Here are a couple of articles dedicated to this incredible experience: