Coeliac’s visiting Lunigiana will be delighted to know that, in Italy, despite all its pizza and pasta, it is relatively easy to follow a gluten free diet. Italians have a high awareness of wheat intolerance. Children are routinely screened for it, and coeliacs receive state allowances for wheat-free food. Italian food manufacturers are famous for the variety and quality of their gluten-free products, which are widely available in the big supermarkets. It is impossible to believe that you would find yourself in a restaurant that did not understand the implications of serving wheat to a coeliac.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate your way through Lunigiana’s food world.
Gluten-free specialities from Lunigiana
DOP Chestnut Flour
Lunigiana’s DOP chestnut flour is gluten-free, so look out for pattona, a type of bread made from chestnut flour, water and salt and cooked in a wood-burning oven. The pattona is wrapped in chestnut leaves, which imparts a special flavour. It is served with cheese, particularly ricotta, salumi and even honey.
A special chestnut flour variety of Lunigiana’s panigacci can be found in the Podenzana area, although most panigacci are made from wheat flour. Panigacci is a type of flat bread made over a fire in a terracotta mould or testi.
Beware of chestnut flour breads and pasta that may also contain wheat flour. These include the Lunigiana speciality Morocca bread, which is made mainly from chestnut and potato flour, but also contains a small amount of wheat flour, and lasagne bastarda, which is made from both wheat and chestnut flour, hence the adjective ‘bastarda‘.
Barbotta is not that well known, but it is often found on a plate of mixed Lunigiana antipasti. It is made from corn flour, cheese and the sweet onions from Treschiettto. The traditional way of cooking it is using the terracotta testi of Lunigiana coated in butter. Sometimes, the traditional recipe is not followed and bread crumbs are added to the mixture, so do double-check.
All the chocolate produced by Pontremoli’s innovative chocolate maker, Stainer, whose products are famous around the world and are sold in shops such as Harrods in London, is gluten free. It also manufactures pre-mixed dessert ingredients for coeliacs. Stainer outlets include the Pasticceria degli Svizzeri in Pontremoli and the Lunigiana Amica shop at Terrarossa Castle, as well as delicatessens, pastry shops and other speciality food shops.
Farinata is a speciality from nearby Liguria, but is also found in Lunigiana. It is a type of flatbread made from chickpea flour and cooked in a wood oven. Look for shops advertising farinata, which can also be found in shops and restaurants selling pizza.
Other gluten-free food from Lunigiana
Some of the best local food is naturally gluten free. Porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, lardo from Colonnata, DOP honey, Bigliolo beans, spalla cotta from Filattiera and other pork charcuterie, Zeri lamb, caciotta and pecorino cheese, binotto and rotella apples, not to mention the local extra virgin olive oil and wine.
Off-limits to coeliacs are torta d’erbi, all the local breads and flat breads with the exception of pattona, testoroli, the speciality cakes of Lunigiana such as spongata and amor, and farro, which is a grain similar to spelt often used in salads and soups.
Where to buy gluten-free groceries in Lunigiana
Most supermarkets carry some gluten-free products, although you might have to have a good look around before you find them. They are often on the shelves with similar non-gluten free products, but they may be in a section of their own. Look for the term ‘senza glutine’ and the Italian symbol for gluten free, seen here on the right.
Coop has its own gluten-free label. Its extensive range includes gluten-free bread, foccacia, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pasta, assorted flours, frozen pizzas, baguettes and pastries, puff pastry, beer and more. The smaller supermarkets will only carry a limited range so head for the nearest big store, which for Lunigaina is ipercoop in Sarzana.
The chemist shops also carry gluten-free products but their range is limited and much more expensive than the supermarkets.
Where to eat gluten-free food in Lunigiana and nearby
It is possible for coeliacs to eat in most restaurants as long as they discuss their condition with the staff before ordering to ensure there is no hidden wheat in any of the dishes. Restaurants are used to dealing with customers’ allergies, so don’t be put off trying new places. Most will even cook your gluten-free pasta if you take it along to the restaurant.
The Italian Coeliac Association lists restaurants, gelaterie and B&Bs that they have verified as offering gluten-free food. Look for this symbol.
Below are restaurants in Lunigiana that are known to specialise in gluten-free meals, but don’t feel you have to restrict your restaurant visits to these places. Obviously, menus vary over time and restaurants change hands, so do check before making a reservation.
- Da Giovanna, Via Bettola, Tel 0187 414117
- Per … Bacca, Piazza Cavour 9, Tel 0187420637
- Al Vecchio Tino, Monte dei Bianchi, Loc. Germalla, Tel 0585 97733
- Abramo, Via Provinciale 23, Tel 0187 439388
- Hotel Mirador, Via del Gaggio, Tel 0187 410064
- La Gavarina d’Oro, Via Del Gaggio, Tel 0187 410021 (gluten-free panaggaci)
- Ca’ Del Moro, Localita Casa Corvi, Tel 0187 830588
- Pizzeria Kinemove, Via Veterani delle Sport 12, Tel 0187832581
Villafranca in Lunigiana
- Il Tempo Ritrovato, Via del Borgetto 10, Filetto, Tel 0187 494366 (farinata pizza)
- Locanda Gavarini, Via Benedicenti 50, Località Mocrone, Tel 0187495504
- C’era una Volta, San Terenzio, Piazza Cavallotti 3, Tel 0187.971382
- La Rosa Canina – Agriturismo Loc. Monti Branzi 16, Tel 0187 966719
- La Barcaccia, Via Molinelli 6/8, Monterosso, Tel 0187 829009
- Il Gambero Le Grazie – Via della Libertà 143 , Tel 0187 798023
- Arribabà, Via San Bartolomeo, Tel 0187/620533 (pizzeria)
- Bacetto,Via Muccini 14, Tel 0187 624002 (pizzeria)
- Il Giardinetto del Mauri, Via di Molini 112, Tel 0187 624002 (restaurant & pizzeria)
- La Fenice, Via Mazizne 46, Tel 0187 622941 (pizzeria)
Resources for coeliacs visiting Italy
- Associazione Italiana Celiachia – official site of the Italian Coeliac Association. Includes lists of recognised gluten-free restaurants and other establishments. They have an iPhone app and you can also find them on Facebook
- Mangiare Senza Glutine also provides lists gluten-free establishments. It offers an app a variety of phones – see the links on its website
- Downloadable card to show at restaurants that explains, in Italian, what you cannot eat
- Non Solo Glutine – a website dedicated to all things gluten-free in Italy.
A coeliac’s guide to gluten-free Lunigiana appeared on Ciao Lunigina on 8 November 2012. All rights reserved.