Have you ever heard of the word “metato”? Its literal definition is a place used for drying chestnuts, which are piled on racks and exposed to a moderate heat for a certain length of time. It consists of two floors; on the lower one there is a fire to keep humidity at bay, and the upper one is where the chestnuts are stored long enough for them to dry.
The process involves lighting a fire, which is left to smoulder and produce smoke in order to dry the chestnuts; the fire must be kept burning for over 30 days, while on the upper floor the chestnuts are turned over so that they dry out evenly.
After this long process, the dried chestnuts were then taken to a mill to be ground, thus obtaining precious chestnut flour.
The use of “metati” is an ancient and fascinating tradition, and is typical of a culture unique to mountain areas; a tradition which reminds us of the immense value of the chestnut, a food which – thanks to its high nutritional value, given its high sugar content – has for centuries been one of the main sources of nourishment for mountain communities.
Here in the Modena Apennines, the chestnut drying-houses or “metati” in Fanano and Montecreto, are definitely worth a visit, and are stops on this one-day itinerary.
The first stop in this itinerary is reached by an easy path which leads from Fanano as far as the Madonna del Ponte Waterfalls. To get to the path, you walk through the main square, Piazza Corsini, towards the Church of Saint Sylvester, and, leaving the church behind you, cross over Via Badiola, passing by Villa Monari and Villa Severi. Here you will find signs for the “Madonna del Ponte”, a wonderful little waterfall formed by the Fellicarolo mountain stream.
Turning right, you start to walk up towards some “metati”. In the first of these, you can see some beautiful wooden sculptures made by the Fanano artist Gionata Orsini.
From the second “metato” you head towards the famous “Orma del Bue” (The Ox’s Footprints), which is linked to an ancient legend.
From there, continuing down the CAI (Italian Alpine Club) trail no. 411, you get back to the Madonna del Ponte bridge and back on to the tarmacked road, arriving at the Oratory of Madonna del Ponte: here you will be able to admire the charming little hamlet that surrounds the oratory, dedicated to the memory of Fanano’s emigrants.
Leaving Fanano in the afternoon, take the road that in just under half an hour’s drive will bring you to Montecreto, and more precisely to the Parco dei Castagni (Chestnut Park), which, besides being a “magically” natural space, is home to an old chestnut drying-house. The park embodies all of the ancient essence of the village: work and toil, and the almost unchanging passing of the centuries, but also beauty and man’s ability to shape nature, respecting it and improving on it at the same time. Work that can today be rediscovered by visiting the Ancient “Metato” (chestnut drying-house) and the “Belle Addormentate” (Sleeping Beauties) Mill, brought back to life and once again functioning, often the focal point of festivals and gatherings, keeping traditions alive and passing them on to the new generations. A curious fact about the name of the mill, undoubtedly in keeping with the fairy-tale atmosphere inspired by the park: it derives from the two millstones that are inside, which “slept” on the bed of the river Re for over one century.