A typical end of summer event in small towns all over Italy is the “sagra,” or town fair. Each sagra is dedicated to one food or another–examples include the “Sagra of the Onion” in nearby Canarra or the “Sagra of Prosciutto”–though oftentimes these sagre are a modern-day invention, more for fun for locals and to draw some tourists than a continuation of an ages-old tradition.
San Martino (Saint Martin’s Day) is different. Rural Italians’ agricultural rhythms were closely tied to a calendar with many days upon which you had to do one thing or another. San Giovanni (Saint John’s Day, June 24th) is the when you have to pick unripe walnuts and make nocino, a walnut liquer. Saint Martin’s Day was when, on the other hand, it was time to decant the mostly-fermented new wine from one cask to another. Italians celebrated by drinking a bit of the new wine (vino novello) and eating roasted chestnuts. This festival falls on November 11th but is celebrated for a whole week in the town named after Saint Martin, San Martino in Colle.
Umbra Institute students participating in the Food Studies Program had the opportunity to visit the sagra held in San Martino this past week. After taking a bus fifteen minutes outside of town, they were met by local resident and chef Michele Brustenghi, who had invited the students to dinner with him, his wife, his daughter and his brother. Students ate a variety of local dishes, including polenta with sausage, pasta with a wild boar sauce, and grilled veggies. After dinner students walked up into the medieval core of the small town and enjoyed jazz music and chestnuts with the locals on the main piazza.