Festival della Sagre Astigiane- Asti, Italy
One aspect of the festival that takes placed over the first weekend is the Festival della Sagre Astigiane– the expo that showcases the food and wine from the towns that compromise of Piedmont. We were fortunate to be visiting the Piedmont area when the Sagre was taking place and it is still one of our most cherished memories!
The transformation of the Piazza del Palio is jaw dropping- the parking lot in a matter of hours becomes a village. The horse race also takes place here and an even more extreme make over occurs as dirt is imported to make a proper track.
Over 40 stands populated the “villaggio gastronomico“, bustling with activity and hundreds of people scattered in between. Each stand represents a town in the Piedmont region that demonstrates their “best” food as determined by competition at the local level and this festival crowds a wining town every year. Over 80 different traditional specialties can be found for over 300,000 visitors to try- and that’s not including the wine!
As we navigated towards the food stands, we noticed many people were sporting lanyards that had a “pocket” at the end for a glass of wine- a wine pocket, a “tasca del vino”. A hands free approach for everyone to enjoy their food and wine at the same time- brilliant. We were quite hesitant at first but that changed quickly when we saw the majority of patrons with one.
Our first stop was at stands #10 Montechiaro and #11 Cortazzone for risotto con tartufo (risotto with truffles) and tagliatelle all’uovo con tartufo (egg pasta with truffles). In addition to the food, we got our “tasca del vino” and wine.
The risotto and pasta we had was mouth watering. Both dishes we topping with fresh shaved black truffles. The pasta was insanely fresh- you could taste the immense difference from typical pasta dishes back home.
Stand #28 Revignano- Bunet della nonna (hazelnut dessert- Piedmont loves hazelnuts!) and Zabaglione al Moscato d’Asti (lady finger cookies with a liquid mixture of wine, egg whites, and sugar for dipping and sipping- absolutely incredible)
#32 Rocchetta Tanaro- Rustica ai formaggi (we expected a cheese plate, but it was a cheese pie- flaky crust) and Friciulin (frittelle) di patate (like a hash brown or tater tots), wine was only 1 euro!
#35 Montiglio Monferrato- Rolata di coniglio con funghi e polenta (rabbit!)
And I haven’t even mentioned how inexpensive everything was! Mostly everything sold at the festival was between 1 and 5 euro with very few items above that price point. A glass of wine was commonly between 1 and 2 euro. The festival is volunteer based so it helps keep the operational cost low and the profits up for the vendors. Profits (as we understand) get reinvested in the town. A win-win for everyone!
Day two of the festival started us at #36 Casabianca- Polenta fritta con gorgonzola (creamy and funky).
#20 Cessole- Frittelle salate alla campagnole for nine ovens that made savory pancakes in cast iron pans (huge portion and incredibly salty)
#22 Moncalvo- caramel panna cotta (our first English speaking stand attendant! He just got back from Cleveland and excited to have international travelers in Asti for the festival)
Our first stop at the return of the festival later in the day was #11 Cortazzone for that tagliatelle con tartufo that I had been craving since the night before- so incredible. Since we hit items we were mostly familiar with last night, we decided to be a little more adventurous.
#1 Isole d’Asti- Frittura di lumache (fried snails)
#19 Quarto- Rotolo al cocao con nocciole (fudge log with hazelnuts)
#39 Corsione- Torta di mele (apple bread) a packaged loaf we took back and ate for breakfast the next day
I did not even discuss the parade that opens the festival! Over three thousand people from all the towns around Piedmont participate in a recreation of list in the 19th and 20th century. Every year there is a theme for the villages to focus on and often lead to reenactments of farm life, religious rituals, harvesting, and other important facets of life. Our favorite was the immigration to America production. Enjoy some of the images below:
Everything about this weekend long festival was perfection. With very few Americans present, we were often asked why we would travel to Asti of all places for this. To us, it is exactly why we travel to have these authentic experiences and it was clear that we hit the jackpot of all festivals. Dedication to tradition has been one of the qualities in our Italy travels that has been consistent and admirable. It is such a pleasure to experience these wonderful events!