Ohio: Ahead of its time (or, Food Festivals in Italy)

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?!”

More about this, ummm… unique… advertisement later

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).

Germantown? Pretzels.

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

Danielle at the Bierfest in Valdivia, Chile

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.



  1. Your mom & Wil played at a Radish Festival near Defiance OH – can’t remember the exact city. We happened to be visiting friends and they were in the same area. We went with our friends and our boys got to get on stage. Blake was maybe two at the time…

    1. I can’t believe I forgot about the Radish Festival!! Thanks for the reminder, and a big kiss to Blake for his polka skills.

  2. Wow – this is a great and thorough post – love it! And thanks for the shout-out! I actually have a link to your blog in a post as well, but it hasn’t been published yet (I have like 5 in the hopper). I think you’ll find the truffle festival much more festival-like than the stalls in Piazza della Repubblica.

    1. Egads – wait until Thursday night when you get to laugh at our BIG mistake at one of those stalls this weekend…

      1. Now you’ve piqued my curiosity…not even us stranieiri would make the mistake of popping an entire truffle in our mouths thinking it was a sample….can’t wait to hear what it was…. A giovedi!

  3. Interesting blog on the various food festivals. A good way to learn about the local culture while having a gastronomic adventure!

    1. Sally, I even made a special effort to attend “Turkey-Rama” in McMinnville before we left Oregon because I know I won’t get those disgusting but oh-so-delicious carnival French fries for awhile. Talk about a gastronomic adventure. :o)

      And by the way, a very Happy Thanksgiving. We meant to go to the Internet cafe and call you and my parents, but we forgot they close kind of early. We enjoyed your e-cards.

  4. In St. Petersburg, FL, Wil & I took in a Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Festival. We gorged on pierogies, cabbage rolls, and borscht and danced it off with plenty of polkas & waltzes.
    Thanks for the reminder of that fun day at the Radish Fest, in McClure, OH, Teresa! Blake was the star of the show!

  5. Mmmmm… pierogies and cabbage rolls and borscht! Lucky you.

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