21 October 2008

Sagra del Tartufo

It's October again already and Emilio and I felt drawn back to the Sagra del Tartufo in the Langhe area of Piedmonte. We had enjoyed the same festival last fall in the tiny town of Mombercelli, and decided to do a little follow up "research" this year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the sagra, allow me to introduce you to these local festivals in Italy that celebrate a rural area’s gastronomic specialty. They resemble small-town’s county fairs, but are dedicated to the area’s favorite food, and usually involve an inexpensive or free mass meal. There is the Sagra della Rana (frogs), Sagra del Porcino (porcini mushrooms), Sagra della Lumaca (snails), Sagra del Pesto, Sagra del Pane (bread), the list is endless. If Italians eat it, you can bet there’s a sagra for it, probably several.

We rolled up our typical one hour late, so only briefly bumbled about the morning market, tasting wines and chatting with various trifolau (truffle hunters) about their work and listening to their trifolau gossip:

"Ahhhh si. I see you've been talking to Giuseppe. Si si.. Giuseppe's great at getting truffles... But only when he BUYS them... Hahahhahaha!"

When the clock struck one o'clock we headed toward the community center gym... We've practically become locals after visiting the village just once before, and we felt we knew are way around. We were seated in the same room as last year, served by the same waitress who remembered the strange foreign girl who didn't eat meat (read: poor me, only eating half of the 7 courses!).

After several glasses of delicious piedmont wine, I was feeling right at home and decided to go check out the kitchen. I just had to see it. This is a 7 course, seated lunch for 460 people, all prepared and served by volunteers, no food service professionals involved. Now that I was a local, I figured
 they'd let me right in and check out the scene. And of course they did, not because I was a local but because they thought I was a big shot journalist from America and Milan. They'll be talking about this for years. I dragged Emilio with me and put him right to work tripping over the town's grannies as they slaved over the stoves, asking them to pose for various shots.

Back at the table, the menu continued:
- Salumi and toasted bread with Lardo
- Beef tartare with truffle flakes
- Roasted bell peppers in a tuna sauce
- Chick pea soup
- Veal roast with spinach
- Fried egg with truffle
- Peaches with melted chocolate
- Grappa

By the time we reached the grappa, things were getting really friendly. By now we were best friends with the waitress and I decided the only thing missing was a bit of music. Last year the local marching band (composed of 5 old men) played in our dining room, but I hadn't spotted them yet this year. I excused myself momentarily and sloshed down to the courtyard, where they happened to be passing by at that very moment. I introduced myself and was feeling even more of a celebrity when the trombone player burst out, "Hey! I remember you! Last year you were blonde."

They had been headed toward the main piazza for their next "gig," but with an ounce of pleading I dragged them to our dining room to play us one song as an end to the meal. They cheerfully piped out a jaunty Italian folk number that accompanied us all the way home.

All photos by Emi, of course.

1 comment:

Nisa said...

LOVE IT!! I'll pass on the tartare but sign me up for the whole experience! Perhaps I'll do a blog post on the culinary adventures in the grad school library...crusty bags of almonds from the bottom of a backpack, soggy apples followed by a slosh of water from the nalgene bottle (hey-it's been washed once or twice!). Do you want to trade places?