Celebrating Halloween in Italy with costumes and trick-or-treating is becoming more popular each year. They have imported the American “Halloween” through television, pop culture and films only recently. Italian children don’t shout “trick or treat?” they shout “dolcetto o scherzetto?” after knocking on neighbors doors dressed as little witches and goblins. This “new” event precedes the traditional Italian Holidays of All Saints Day (Ognissanti) and All Souls Day, November 1st and 2nd respectively. Italians honor deceased family members on these annual holidays by visiting their graves, placing flowers and offering prayers.
In a town known more for its Perugina Baci chocolate treat and educational institutions, Perugia’s Fiera dei Morti has been in progress since medieval times. Written evidence of its existence dates back to the year 1260 when it was called the “All Saints Fair”; however, it’s been called the “Fair of the Dead” since the 1700’s. It is considered one of the most important fairs in the area and was started to exchange agricultural livestock and products before winter arrived but has developed into over 500 vendors selling local crafts and sweets. You can find everything from housewares to clothes to spices in stands found in the Pian di Massiano, Piazza del Bacio and the historical center.
The festival Runs November 1st – November 5th. If you are in the area and recovered from your chocolate hangover acquired at last week’s Eurochocolate festival make sure to try local specialties “Beans of the Dead”, Torta al Testo (traditional bread of Perugia) and the tibia shaped cookies known as stinchetti made especially for I Morti.
Since 1958 the last weekend in October is marked with pageantry, camaraderie, competition and food in the southern tuscan hilltown of Montalcino. I attended the Sagra del Tordo (Feast of the Thrush) in October, 2011 and was not disappointed. From the first drumroll and blasts of trumpets, through the parade of about 150 locals and the archery competition, there wasn’t a dull moment. It is evocative of hunting traditions of the past when hunters and falconers would go into the woods, bring back their spoils and everyone would feast, noblemen and commoners alike.
Surrounded by the golden, late fall sunshine and colorful leaves that mark autumn in this region we established our place on the parade route and watched as participants paraded through town making various stops along the way to the fortress. It was the first (and only) time I have ever been up close and personal with two ghostly Chianina bulls; they dwarfed me as they walked past pulling a cart, I don’t even think I came up to their shoulders! The Chianina produce the Bistecca Fiorentina, a massive steak served throughout the region and Italy.
Montalcino is split into four neighborhoods (quartiere) each with their own tribal colors: Borghetto (white and red), Pianello (white and blue), Ruga (yellow and blue) and Travaglio (yellow and red). During the celebration two archers from each quartiere compete in an archery competition. The losers suffer insults and jokes of the winning team for the next year. Each quartiere also has a food booth in the main park “Giardini Impero” outside of the Fortezza serving several courses of food; you can pick and choose what you buy from each and eat at the picnic tables provided. The food is great, inexpensive and best of all, local. Let’s not forget, this is the home of the famed Brunello di Montalcino, a hearty Tuscan red that’s produced with 100% sangiovese grapes. Try the wine at one of the food stands or venture into one of the many tasting rooms located around town and at the Fortezza.
Truffles and wine are gems of the Piemonte region of Italy. From the end of September thru mid-November events are held in Alba to honor the White version of these prized tubers. This festival is in its 85th year and is jam-packed with events. If you’re looking for an experience combining food, wine and folklore, you will not be disappointed.
Alba is in the area of the Piemonte known as the Langhe; displays at the festival boast not only the excellent truffles and wine but the cheeses, egg pastas and sweets common to this area. During the festival there is a truffle market at Cortile della Maddalena each weekend where you can smell and buy truffles from reputable vendors. The truffles are hunted by dogs who smell and scratch just under the surface to alert their handlers to their find. Truffles are not cheap and are used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
The Alba International Truffle Fair is as entertaining as it is tasty. Food and folklore events are scheduled each weekend to fill your belly and your spirit. The folklore events started September 26th with The Investiture of Podesta; participants in medieval costumes re-enacting tributes to the Lady of Alba and the Podesta (magistrate who governs the city). On October 4th the medieval theme continued with a donkey palio, the “Palio degli Asini”, run by the 9 districts of Alba in a traditional mock of Asti’s horse palio. This weekend each district will transport you back to medieval times with games and re-enactments staged throughout.
The highlight of the weekend is the “Baccanale del Tartufo”; each district uses the truffle theme to develop a delicious menu unique to them. Review the menu and pick which of the 9 districts whets your tastebuds and partake in a truffle themed dinner (the menu is posted below). To learn about the other events and tastings offered this weekend and though mid-November at the festival click on the link below and select “Calendar”. Mangia bene!
The 37th edition of the Rassegna dei Cuochi (Festival of Chefs) returns to Villa Santa Maria in the Chieti Province of Abruzzo this weekend. Known as “La Citta dei Cuochi” (City of Chefs), this town has produced chefs turning out delicious dishes around the world for heads of state and mere foodies alike. This is no surprise since its home to the highly touted cooking school Istituto Alberghiero Villa Santa Maria.
On the second weekend of October each year, chefs return to this village to meet, perform cooking demonstrations and of course, enjoy the food. The event is paired with religious celebrations this evening in honor of Saint Francis Caracciolo, patron and protector of all cooks in Italy. The weekend program lists several cooking demonstrations in the afternoon and evening with booths setup for food tasting and local products.
Two of the highlights of this festival are the Saturday night feast and the competition for chefs. On Saturday night at 8:00 PM there is a large dinner served on what seems like a mile of tables in the Old Town. On Sunday, fifteen chefs are invited to participate in a competition juried by foodies from around the world. Winning this competition gives the victor a prestigious entry on their resume and a substantial cash prize.
Bardolino is a municipality northwest of Verona in the Veneto region and located on the eastern shore of Lake Garda. Starting yesterday, the town is hosting a 5 day festival dedicated to grapes and wine. The festival is in its 86th year, is well organized and easy to find. Stands serving food are open from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM each week day and 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday. With stands serving various pastas, meats and cakes there is something for everyone’s tastes. Musical acts performing each afternoon and evening range from folk music to country. There are guided tours and historical parades on the weekend and a fireworks display at 11:00 PM on Sunday October 4th. While in town for the festival check out the old city walls dating to the 12th century, the medieval crypt in the Church of San Severo and the Museo Sisan which is dedicated to bird hunting and fishing of the Lake Garda region.