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Snails at S. Pietro ad Palazzuolo

Monteverdi Marittimo, Tuscany.

I first ate snails at S. Pietro in Palazzuolo in a huge old farmhouse following a torrential downpour. The main course was cinghiale as we discussed with the farmer’s family whether this was the site of the fabled monastery founded by a Pisan noble, Walfrid in the mid 8th century. Deep in the Colline Metallifere it seemed improbable until Giovanna Bianchi excavated vestigial traces of a great Benedictine house that then moved in the 11th century to a point close to the village of Monteverdi.

The Romanesque ruins of the great abbey church have been recently restored and in the little hilltop village a small museum has been created. The little museum, largely funded by our EU project, nEU-MED (through Siena and AUR) is accessed with a tessera from the Info Point (by the Municipio). The new museum is a little jewel (with coins and sculpture), telling the story of the lost monastery and its extraordinary landscape. It is the perfect excuse to find so much more here.

The village still has a touch of grandeur. Do not be deceived by the ordinary looking alimentaria 25 metres from the museum. Inside is a cave lined with shelves like a shepherd’s baraca. In the half-light, the hundred of cheeses are only vaguely clear but their aroma is overwhelming. Was this metaphorically speaking what brought Walfrid to these hills long ago?

The alimentaria owns the trattoria in front of the municipio the Pettirosso, and here, not surprisingly, cinghiale and cheeses are profiled offerings. As a millennium ago, such treasures draw pilgrims. Today it is Belgian, Dutch and French tourists from farmhouse vacations all over this forest. The cosmopolitan atmosphere on the dining terrace resembles a great pilgrimage centre. Some will stay for the festa remembering Walfrid.

The Colline Metallifere and its hidden villages like Monteverdi are some of the most evocative places I know in Italy.

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