Gathering Chestnuts in Castel del Rio
In Emilia-Romagna, every town — EVERY town — has its own famous specialty food.
In Castel del Rio, it’s the marroni, or chestnuts indigenous to this region.
So how did we experience the marroni? We gathered them ourselves!
Le Selve is an agroturismo complex in the mountains above Castel del Rio. Agroturismo is a tremendously popular holiday concept in Italy — you stay at a farm or vineyard, you enjoy the countryside, you dine on specialties from the farm or vineyard, often harvested that day, and if you’d like, you can help out with the work on the farm.
Le Selve has a dorm-like building for people to stay in, and they get to harvest the marroni on the hills — either by squeezing them out of their prickly covers (this is best done with gloves or shoes) or by picking up the ones that have fallen out.
So the eight of us got out onto the hill, red mesh bags in hand, and began competing to see who could gather the most chestnuts!
Soon, however, the competitive spirit wore off and we simply traipsed through the hills, enjoying the fresh air and the idyllic views of the Apennines.
There was a family with a baby gathering the marroni as well, and it reminded me about how agroturismo in Emilia-Romagna is a great option for cheap family holidays. It gets kids away from the TV and into the outdoors, and it gives families tasks that they can all work on together — not to mention fantastic food!
Here’s a video of us gathering the marroni:
In the end, it was Christine of Die Lilies who won the contest and whom we quickly declared Queen of the Chestnuts.
Nicholas bowed down to worship her.
And following our time gathering chestnuts, we headed into the tiny town of Castel del Rio and enjoyed a lovely lunch at Gallo Ristorante — including veal topped with marroni.
Once the marroni are roasted, just like ordinary chestnuts, you peel back the shell and find a warm center that just melts in your mouth. It’s divine, whether accompanied by a dish or just served on its own.
Castel del Rio was the smallest and probably the least known of the five towns we visited in Emilia-Romagna. But people come for the Chestnut Festival in mid-October, which we had to sadly miss, as it was during the Truffle Festival in Sant’Agata Feltria. You could do both in a day if you were ambitious!
Make sure you go and eat plenty of marroni for me!