Italy is of course known for many things, perhaps most prominently is their food. It’s hard to deny the global appeal of Italian cuisine, especially from the North of Italy where fats and fruits, grains and grape collide. So, to say one has found the best food festival in Italy is a pretty tall order. Well, hope you’re hungry because order’s up.
If you venture deep in the heart of the Emilia Romagna region, where the Taro river cuts through the green valley, there is a small ancient town there that is waiting to welcome you. Usually tranquil and subdued in the summer it transforms and throws a unique world class festival complete with running children, roving minstrels, and colorful street vendors all here to celebrate one very special thing: The porcini mushroom. This is when you realize you have found Borgotaro.
The porcini here is extremely special. It grows all through the valley where the carbon rich land and pristine Chestnut forests give it a unique, rich, woodsy flavor. It is such a perfect storm of ideal conditions that the shrooms from this region have been given the prestigious PGI denomination, meaning they are protected basically because they are a national treasure. Which explains why so many foodies flock here to marvel at this mushroom, which you can buy extremely cheap in bulk, or, even go collect yourself which is a sublime treat.
While this festival definitely celebrates the mighty porcini, it also celebrates the ridiculously abundant local delicacies this region of Italy has to offer. Dried frutti di bosco, artisan chocolates, vibrant produce, rich local cheeses, and of course mountains of cured meats since this is the famous “fat belt” of Italy, and home of the superior Chianina beef, the Wagyu of Italy.
In Borgotaro the purveyors are so proud of their product they almost accost you with samples; mozzarella ladies have a very welcomed long and generous pour, and sulumist slice prosciutto with the precision of a surgeon. Just watching this beautiful ballet that happens as the cheesemonger gives birth to Parmigiano wedges from its mother’s wheel borders on the divine. These artists know they have the goods, and love celebrating these treats every year.
Borgotaro is famous for something other than the Porcino: Steckli’s. A bakery opened by a Swiss family in the 1920s ,they are famous for their “Amor” dessert; a lighter than air wafers that hug a sweet buttercream filling which somehow never last more than a couple of seconds on a plate.
Add in some good friends, sunshine and a place to sit and eat, and you basically have a recipe for heaven, especially if you can hold a golden angle in your hands. Yeah, that’s a fried fresh porcini and it will ruin all future finger foods for you.
At dinner time all over the town you can smell the sweet perfume of roasted meats. Sausages, ribs, and of course the infamous Fiorentina steak. The town floods the square and you find yourself noshing on some piping hot panzarotti, as the music infects your body. The Lambrusco flows freely and before you know it another parade comes through town, a grilled meat parade. Cooked to perfection and sizzling hot, you pass it among friends to dig in deep, Soon the singing starts, the laughing continues and you suddenly realize that you are having a bone liking good time.
Of course such a fantastic day can only end one way, with a giant dance party in the center square. A flood of giovonotti now rule the streets. Glasses in hand, they listen to club bangers all night long, singing and dancing while enjoying the long, warm Italian night. Borgotaro is undoubtedly a very special place which is why from every month from June to September this little town has something going on. Some little festival to celebrate the magic this region has known for centuries. From food, to hiking, to history, to nature there is such an abbondanza of goodness here there is no wonder why they call it the “fat belt”. One can easily grow fat off the love this beautiful little town can provide.