Tracking Down Tuscany’s Last Mill

June 19, 2014 / Local Interest
Loro Ciuffenna, Tuscany

The colorful stuccoed houses of Loro Ciuffenna seem stacked like multi-colored children’s blocks along the gorge flanking the Ciuffenna River flowing below. If you cross the bridge spanning the river – lined with flower boxes holding cheery pink and red geraniums – and then head down a twisting cobblestone alleyway skirting the river, you’ll come to an old wooden door, half-open, a rickety chair in front of it. A collection of black and white photos pinned to the door tell the story of the mill inside. Look down to your left and you’ll see the Ciuffenna River below this ancient sandstone and brick mill that clings to the rocky face of the river gorge.

Bridge view
Myriads of colors of Loro Ciuffenna houses
THE old stone and brick mill hangs on the steep river banks
Old wooden door, rickety chair, the photos

Walk in and you’ll meet living history, sinewy 89-year-old Beppe, the last mugnaio (miller) of Loro Ciuffena’s early twelfth-century water-powered flour mill, the only one of its kind in Tuscany still operative. Though no longer milling wheat into flour (a broken axle ended the grinding life of that ancient millstone), Beppe still opens the water to power the millstones grinding corn into flour for polenta and the one grinding chestnuts into chestnut flour. 

Beppe tells Pino his stories
TUscany's last miller

When I asked him if he was the son of a miller, he grinned telling us, “No, I married una mugnaia.”  Pino asked him if he had fallen in love with the mill or with the miller’s daughter. He’d lost his heart to Nunziatina, not the mill. But when her father took ill and then died, her family was desperate. “Come faremo a vivere?!” (How will we survive?) Beppe offered to take over the mill. “Benissimo!”, the relieved Nunziatina agreed, adding “but you’ll have to marry me first.”

IMG_8902
Colorful stucco

Payment for the grinding of the corn, wheat and chestnuts could be made in cash or more often, con baratto (in trade), by leaving a portion of the flour produced to the miller who could then sell it. For every 100 kg.s of flour produced, 10 kg. would be il baratto. (Still today, most of us pay the milling of our olives into oil con baratto, i.e., leaving some of the oil at the mill).  

A widower for nearly twenty years, Beppe spends his days at the mill: “I’d rather be here than in the bar playing cards,” he told Pino as he tugged on the chain to open the water below, setting the huge millstone in motion to ground the corn flour.

Beppe opens the water to grind corn flour

Beppe, il mugnaio di Loro Ciuffenna, keeps alive a slice of Loro Ciuffenna history.

After him, who?

After Beppe, who-
Leaving Talla and heading to Loro Ciuffenna

Colorful houses seem stacked up

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

27 Responses to “Tracking Down Tuscany’s Last Mill”

  1. Another wonderful glimpse into daily Italian life that slowly succombs to extinction. I can only hope that the surviving generations soon realize their culture and way of living will forever change and be lost if as you imply, if no one steps up. Always enjoy your notebook contributions and my daily Italy insight! Can’t wait for my next visit, mille grazie.

    Reply
    • Matt Cappiello

      Anne’s wonderful real life accounts are always terrific. She makes them come to life so you feel like you’re their experiencing them yourself. And Pino is becoming a star contributor in his own right.

      Reply
  2. Rosemary

    How wonderful Anne! Loved the story and the photos. I hope Beppe finds someone to replace him! Bella citta!

    Reply
  3. Ann Waggoner

    We have stayed in Loro Ciuffena. Man

    We have stayed in Loro Ciuffena many times in a guest house called Casa Dimora which overlooks the gorge. I have taken that pathway many times and never found the door ajar. Hopefully I will meet Signore Beppe in September when we return.

    Reply
  4. Kevin Crocker

    Anne, I loved this. I love this vignettes. Such wonderful glimpses into rural life. I can never get enough of it and alway spook forward to reading more. So enjoy time with you and Pino, either in person, or through your writing.

    Reply
  5. Anne, thank you for this story. We have a mill that looks so similar inside near where I live in Sicily. It was closed for years and now has been re-activated by an enthusiastic duo. They also grow their own antique-style grain, and the place has become very popular with restauranteurs and others. I hope some younger folks take up the task if Beppe ever decides to retire. The old mills in Italy are treasures.

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  6. Janice Peters

    What a lovely story and photos. Mi sento la mancanza d’Italia!

    Janice Peters

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  7. Sandi spector

    I should have know this note was from Annie R even though the location is Tuscany vs Umbria. Annie, please write a book (no, you already have!… a wonderful collection of your stories)

    Reply
  8. Louise Montalbano

    Anne, we have a binder of your IN writings and so many places to yet visit and now this one. Definately, a place to explore and take in what is still available to us of the old world lifestyle. Thanks so much.

    Reply
  9. Janice

    Thank you Anne for showing us these historical places and customs. You have to put your stories together in a book.

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  10. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks to all for comments…..appreciated.
    Who’s Pino?
    The reason I’ve spent all these years in Italy: my husband (and often “il mio compagno di viaggio” – and companion in adventures)

    Reply
  11. Katie Larsh

    What beautiful photos and description of another world! We are anxiously awaiting our trip in September!

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  12. Mary Cappiello

    Another great find and story for us, Annie. We always look for your articles and your equally wonderful pictures that accompany your notes.

    Reply
  13. Stephanie

    Another vicarious field trip with you, and this time Pino was along! Beautiful gem of a town. Your photos are so clear it isn’t difficult to place myself there. Touching story of Beppe’s life. I do hope someone will step in and continue the legacy. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Who is Pino? Just the sweetest man you could ever meet who is the perfect vision of “true Italian”! And cooks oh so yummy fresh anchovy !!
    I met so many locals during my stay in Italy that feared a future of their legacy not living on. That the youngsters were not interested in carrying on their ancestors businesses. So sad. Of all places….Italy MUST remain intact!!
    And oh Annie….I’m SO impressed with ur photography these days!!

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  15. John Perides

    Anne, you constantly find interesting topics and people to share about in ItalianNotebook. Thanks for the colorful insights of priceless people. I look forward to learning more about Beppe when we break bread on October 25th at your table. I never considered grinding chestnuts into flour before I read this story. Lei ha toccato il mio cuore.

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  16. Paul & Janet DeCelie

    Wonderful town. We stayed at La Ferriera, a converted iron mill on the river, now a wonderful small hotel, in late Sept., Oct. of 2009. A bit hard to find but worth it, convenient to exploring small villages in Tuscany.

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  17. Jan Johnson

    Wonderful story Annie – we have to capture as many of them as we can, before its too late.

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  18. With a great grin of recognition, I so enjoyed this post. Years ago when I was taking artists to paint in Tuscany we drove the road to Loro Ciuffenna on our way to Arezzo, stopped, picniced and strolled around drawing in this magical village. Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  19. Denise Pedersen

    What a great story – the photos are amazing as well!

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  20. Susette

    Love the article Anne! A lovely story and sad that few people want to carry on traditions. But who knows, times are changing and maybe the old traditions will make a comeback! I hope so!

    Nice to see a pic of Pino!

    Reply
  21. marianna

    Hello Ms. Anne, Wonderful story and such lovely photos! Everything you post touches my heart. Much love to you and your dear Pino.

    Reply

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