After two days of digging into Pontremoli’s culinary culture, turn your sights (and tastebuds) on tiny Zeri, just 30 minutes away by car. Saving Zeri from small-town obscurity is its famous zerasca, a mid-size lamb native to the area, where regional isolation has helped keep its characteristics untainted. The meat is tender and on the sweet side, with a distinct, punch-packing fragrance. You’ll see it prepared in stews, fried, roasted in the oven with potatoes, or grilled, and nearly always savored with a glass of local red wine.
Vegetarians and lamb skeptics need not skip Zeri, although dainty eaters might: the town is also renowned for its beans and potatoes. The former is an endangered tradition, since only a few familial farms now cultivate the “fagiolo con il grembiule” (“apron bean”, noted for its speckled black and white appearance).
On to the tubers: here they’re top-notch, a source of local pride since 1777, and highly impacted by the local altitude. Hobbyists still produce three varieties of the patata di Zeri—red, white and what are affectionately known as “zale” yellow potatoes.
Mulazzo and Podenzana
Piggyback Zeri with a day split between Mulazzo (40 minutes from Zeri by car) and Podenzana (around a 35-minute drive from Mulazzo).
Dedicated foodies will no doubt know about the savory cold cut mortadella di Bologna and its Tuscan cousin mortadella di Prato, but the kind from the Lunigiana may have never lit up your radar. It’s a rich, U-shaped salami, made from pork thigh, back and shoulder meat, with a bay leaf at its center and a sharp, seasoning-heavy scent. Generally produced between December and February, it’s heavy on the pepper and spices and typically eaten after no fewer than 40 days of aging. Stock up on some or just indulge in an ample tagliere (a traditional Tuscan sampler platter, on which this meat will surely make an appearance). An ideal tagliere in this neck of the woods will also contain caciotta della Lunigiana, a yellowed-white, bovine milk cheese produced year-round, or a regional pecorino best alongside some pear slices (and washed down with wine, of course).
Save room for a simple specialty when you get to Podenzana: panigacci is a type of round bread, unleavened, cooked in the special terracotta testi. They’re are crunchy and usually served alongside salumi – cured meats and cheeses. Popular as a street food, they have the versatility of crepes, sometimes served sweet with honey, marmalade or hazelnut, or filled with prosciutto, mortadella or cheese for a pick-me-up.