Hundreds of gastronomic events take place across Italy in summer. We have selected three of the most mouth-watering ones.
Summer in Italy means blue sky, scorching sun, sapphire sea, verdant mountainsides…and food, glorious, delicious, mouth-watering food.
July and August see literally hundreds of sagre (festivals) up and down the country, devoted to anything from beans to mushrooms, from thick, juicy steaks to soft ravioli bursting with aromatic herbs, from wild boar sausages to the rather more acquired taste that is donkey salami.
A host of events is likely to take place wherever you are going to in Italy, so the best way to discover them is to ask the locals for nearby sagre they recommend. However, if you are a serious foodie, we have picked three that deserve a dedicated trip.
Fiordilatte fiordifesta, Agerola, Campania
Set between sea and sky above the Amalfi coast, Agerola hugs the Monti Lattari slopes like a horseshoe. It is a pretty village of old churches, whitewashed houses, jaw-dropping views—and soft, velvety, candid fiordilatte cheese.
Agerola is the capital of fiordilatte, a mozzarella-like cheese made with cow’s milk.
Fiordilatte is common throughout Italy, but here it comes in many different shapes—the classic round ball, tiny ciliegine, and even a lush plait, or treccia, which is usually small in size but was once made by five local cheesemakers in a Guinness-worthy version measuring more than 68 metres and weighing more than 427 kilos.
Every year, the town celebrates its fiordilatte-making heritage with a special food festival, Fiordilatte fiordifesta. Fiordilatte obviously takes centre stage, with tastings, cheesemaking demonstrations and fiordilatte-based menus. However, there is room also for Agerola’s many other yummy offerings—creamy ricotta, compact scamorza, smoky provola, a sweet caciocavallo stuffed with butter, and the pungent, intense Provolone del Monaco, a DOP cheese made with the milk of the endangered Agerolese cows.
You’ll also find bacon, sausages, twice baked bread, rustic wheat and rye loaves and soft, coarse salami cured with white wine. Even better, you can taste many of these specialities together in such dishes as the flavour-packed paccheri del Monaco (paccheri pasta served with fiordilatte, smoked provola, aubergines, porcini mushrooms and Provolone del Monaco), sumptuous aubergine parmigiana Agerola-style (with aubergines, fiordilatte, tomatoes and provolone) or the refreshing caponata agerolese (made with rustic bread, tomatoes, basil, fiordilatte and olives).
Fiordilatte fiordifesta takes place from 1 to 4 August. For more information, visit www.fiordilattefiordifesta.it (in Italian only).
Sagra del tortello alla lastra, Corezzo, Tuscany
The sagra del tortello alla lastra brings together the best of Italy in a single festival—a genuine village atmosphere, dancing along cobbled streets lined with ancient stone houses, and, as a backdrop, the leafy woods and verdant mountains of the Foreste Casentinesi National Park. And of course, the delicious tortello itself.
But what is the tortello alla lastra? As with many Italian foods, it is a product of frugal ingenuity, a rich filling of eggs, potatoes, cabbage and/or pumpkin, flavoured with parmesan, pecorino cheese and nutmeg and encased in a thin layer of pasta dough. All this is cooked not in a pan of boiling water, as traditional Italian pasta dishes are, but on a slab of slate. This is because, in the past, many villagers spent much of their time away from home as they followed their sheep to higher summer pastures, and cooking on a stone was probably easier than bringing along pots and pans.
Invented at a time when meat was scarce and housewives had to make do with vegetables, the tortello has now become a culinary treasure whose exact recipe is jealously guarded in the village. The sagra celebrates it with three days of music, street dancing, juggling, clowns, fireworks—and of course glorious food. Tortelli are cooked alla lastra but also boiled in water and served with meat sauce, or sage and butter. All this precedes fried ravioli, polenta, roast pork saddle, sausages, chips, beans and, this being Tuscany, tart and Vinsanto.
The Sagra del Tortello alla Lastra takes place from 14 to 16 August 2009. For more information, visit www.corezzo.it (in Italian only).
Féhta dou lar, Arnad, Valle d’Aosta
Tall trees, a verdant mountain glade, a cluster of wooden chalets brimming with flowers and embroidered fabric—and piled high on wooden shelves the white, pink-streaked slabs of lard.
Arnad, in the Aosta valley, has been making lard for centuries—written records dating to 1763 already show that the local castle owned some doils, chestnut-wood moulds used to cure the lard—and it vies with Tuscany’s Colonnata for the title of Italy’s lard capital.
In Arnad, lard is intensely flavoured with mountain herbs. Pork meat (from pigs fed only chestnuts and vegetables) is layered with salt, water, herbs and spices, and cured in the doils for at least three months. The end result is soft, mouth-melting, lightly sweet slices, with notes of garlic, rosemary and bay leaf.
The festival explores the taste of lard in all its nuances through a number of Slow Food-run evening workshops that at are a foodie’s delight and a dietician’s nightmare—but hey, you live only once.
Among others, there are a lard and cheese evening where a comparative tasting of lard from three producers precedes potato gratin with lard, fontina and cotechino salami, leek soup, a goat’s cheese tasting, and local biscuits, all washed down by four local wines; a ‘land of lard’ workshop where lard is served with honey and brown bread as an opener to a feast of polenta and bilberries, mountain salad, cabbage soup and fritters, all served with local wines; and a pork and beef evening with lard and salami tasting, roast ham, mountain salad, ox tail cooked Arnad-style, a cheese tasting, and of course local biscuits and wines.
And if this weren’t enough, the festival also has lard tastings throughout the day, plus street dancing, theatre performances, photo shows and lots of sport events (presumably to burn off some of the calories). The Féhta dou lar takes place from 26 to 30 August. For more information, visit www.festalardo.it (in Italian only).