Italy in the fall is known for food festivals. Ken and I were anxious to attend one or two, especially since Tuscany seems to love wild mushrooms as much as Oregonians. (And we missed chanterelle season!)
We made some half-hearted attempts to look some up when we transferred from northern Italy to Florence, thinking we might stop in a town while we still had the car. We didn’t find anything along our route, so hadn’t given it much thought since.
Recently, I had coffee with a woman from New Mexico whose blog I’ve begun following (I knew she was the real deal when her first question was, “by any chance do you have any green chile with you?”), and she mentioned all the food festivals around Florence. I must have looked at her like we haven’t been walking around the same city for the past month, because while she’s seen all the festivals, I’m now thinking, “THOSE were the food festivals?!”
And then it hit me: of COURSE those are the food festivals. I don’t know what I expected, but it had just never occurred to me that they’re the same thing every Midwesterner grows up with. In Ohio, every town of more than 10,000 people has identified its mascot food and holds its own annual food festival. Usually they’re based on Ohio’s traditional agricultural roots with most towns hosting some version of a strawberry, sweet corn, tomato, apple/apple butter, pumpkin, zucchini, bean, potato, honey, or melon festival. But some towns go out of their way to showcase a food that’s unique to their locale for one reason or another:
Albany grows the Ohio Pawpaw on its trees.
At Marion’s Popcorn festival they honor a former large employer in the town.
Wilmington celebrates its claim to have invented Banana Splits.
Bucyrus? (that’s byoo-SIGH-russ, not BUCKy-russ) Bratwurst. (I don’t know – I think they just need an excuse to grill.)
Geauga County? Maple syrup.
West Jefferson? Ox Roast (3 TONS of round roast and a local secret recipe… mmmm).
Cleveland? Garlic (complete with garlic ice cream).
Ashtabula? the Wine & Walleye Festival (it may not be salmon and pinot gris, but it’s all local stuff!)
Of course, Ohio’s not unique in the Union. In any state you’ll find innumerable opportunities to guzzle at beerfests, slurp at wine tasting events, gorge on ribs & BBQ, polka at Oktoberfests, acquire cutesy things at Swissfests, attack plates of crawfish at Cajun parties, and break bread with the local Italian club or Greek church.
Food festivals are everywhere, come to think of it. Last year, on our trek to the Patagonian region of Chile with my sister and her family, we stumbled upon an Oktoberfest
complete with sauerkraut, cerveza, and Chileans dressed in liederhosen playing polkas that sounded more like mariachi. (It’s not completely random: lots of Germans live in this part of the country.)
All of this to get back to that bizarre poster at the beginning of the post. My New Mexico friend has graciously armed me with information about a famous Truffle Fest less than an hour from Florence. So, weather permitting, we may have to go have a look at the town whose claim to fame is the best (and biggest ever collected) white truffle in the world.