Growing up in New England autumn for me became synonymous with carving pumpkins, apple picking, the warming sun and low hanging gray skies, and the crunch of golden yellow, deep ruby, and tawny orange foliage under my feet. The later is one of the few things I miss most about living in Connecticut.
Now that I live in Italy, for me autumn calls to mind the aroma of roasting chestnuts, the musty damp smell of cellars as grapes ferment into wine, and the earthy aroma of truffles. The seasonal imagery and sensations are very different here. Given that food is such a large part of the culture and that Italy has so many gastronomic delicacies, towns and villages up and down the boot celebrate local seasonal specialties with food festivals. This is one of things I love most about living in Italy.
Last weekend I attended Tartufesta, a festival honoring the most supreme of Italian delicacies – the tartufo, or truffle. The festival is free for the public and takes place in the town of Sasso Marconi, about 20 minutes outside of Bologna and easily reachable by train. It was wonderful to be able to spend a relaxing afternoon in the countryside (something that unfortunately I don’t get to do very often) nibbling and tasting my way through the market.
Tartufesta happens every year and focuses on the “white truffle of the Bologna hills”, although there are a few producers from other regions of Italy, such as Tuscany and even as far as Calabria and Sardinia. Producers proudly display their truffles, oddly shaped black and white spheres, which seem unassuming to the naked eye. As you move closer to take a sniff, however, you realize that this is not just any mushroom. I have written in the past about truffles because I do love their earthy, musky and often times pungent aroma, but it is something that one might have to become accustomed to. Truffles come with a hefty price-tag as well as they are sold by the gram with white truffles generally being regarded as superior, and thus more expensive than the black ones.
Truffles can be included in many dishes but its aromas and flavors are best exalted, in my humble opinion, when freshly shaved on tagliatelle (egg noddle pasta).
While the truffle is the definite star of Tartufesta, there are also other eno-gastronomic treats to tantalize your tastebuds. Cheeses, cured meats, breads, jams and marmelades, honey, olive oil, roasted chestnuts, sweets, and who can forget wine are all there for the tasting. Producers invite you to sample their product and are eager to explain why it is the best. Many of the cured meats, cheeses, and spreadable truffle sauces or truffle oils can be sampled for free, while a glass of wine costs a mere 1euro. In addition to food and wine the festival also features stands with lovely handicrafts.
If your appetite is not curbed with the tastings and you’re hungry for more, in the centrally located piazza two agritourisms, L’Isola del Gusto and Il Tartufaio, have set-up a restaurant of sorts where you can grab a table and feast on truffle dishes and other typical delicacies from the Apennine area of Emilia Romagna.
Italy is strewn with so many wonderful ly hidden and yet often times overlooked corners. Discovering them by indulging your senses in gastronomic traditions is just one of the many ways to open yourself up to the wonders of the country and get off the beaten path.
There is one last weekend to enjoy Tartufesta – November 1 and 2. For more information please visit their website Tartufesta or the official webpage of the Emilia Romagna tourism board. For train times to and from Sasso Marconi, please visit the Trenitalia webpage.