29 November 2009

Fiere e Pioggia...

Canelli hosts two major fiere (festivals) in Autumn: the Fiera del Tartufo and the Fiera di San Martino.

The fiere are held approximately 3 weeks apart in November.

This year, we had pioggia (rain) on both days. This was extremely unfortunate, especially given that we have only had 2 days of rain in the whole 60 days we've been living here.

Both Fiere are marked by mercati (markets) in the streets of Canelli.

The Fiera del Tartufo celebrates the famous and rare white truffle, which is only found in southern Piemonte and is on the wish list of every reputable chef in the world.

As you can imagine, there is a strong focus on food and it's market stalls sell cheeses, salamis, pane, pasticerrie and biscotti. The prized truffles are hosted on stalls located in a large covered area in the manufacturing facility of Gancia, the area's largest producer of wine and spumante.

And this location isn't short of atmosphere. There are musicians dressed up in medieval costumes who mingle in the crowd and play old Italian folk music. The air is heavy with the smell of special cheeses such as the piccante that is fermented in Barolo grape skins. And of course there is the all-prevading scent of the truffles themselves.

Most stalls sell both black and white truffles but they are always few in quantity. Only about five to ten are visible on each stall. As I walk past one stall, an enthusiastic young man pushes two white truffles at me. I lean over to smell them but he keeps waving them at me clearly inviting me to hold them. I take them, delighted to have the opportunity to see, smell AND feel these exquisite treasures of cuisine. The little lumps are about the size of a golf ball. They are heavy, cold and knobbly. I bring them up to my nose and inhale. As a damp pungent aroma wafts into my nostrils, I quickly understand why some people say that these truffles 'carry the smell of the earth itself' and others say they are the 'diamond of the kitchen'.

Yesterday, I talked about dogs and men with guns. Well, sometimes we have dogs and men without guns walking up our valley. Our neighbour tells us that these men are truffle hunters. Their dogs have their noses glued to the earth, desperate to pick up the smell of truffle. This is understandable, given that white truffles are worth approximately USD 3,000 per pound. Truffle hunters can be extremely protective and will not normally disclose the location of truffles that they have found. I like to think that there are truffles growing by the thousands on our land. How I would find them I don't know but given my story about guns yesterday, I'm not sure it would be a wise thing to try...

As the host of the main displays, Gancia takes the opportunity to promote its products by offering free flow spumante.

And, of course, it is not difficult to lose the entire day in such hospitality...

The Fiera di San Martino celebrates the itinerant labourers and immigrants who have tilled the fields of this farming community for centuries.

It's markets sell clothing, shoes, hats, belts and bags. There are also stalls that sell ethnic goods and handicrafts from South America and Africa and 'fast food' stalls that sell Farinata (a pizza shaped thing made out of chick peas that is cooked in wood fired ovens) and deep fried pastry that is eaten with a light dusting of icing sugar.

Not quite the same atmostphere as the Fiera del Tartufo...but still meaningful and enjoyable...especially when you finish off with a Campari Rosso e Soda!

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