Across the gastronomic conglomeration of delight known as Italy, food is the holiest of holies, and celebrated as such with the events known as sagre, which translates literally to “sacraments”. These sacraments of food are not rarefied, ecclesial affairs, but rather rompous town celebrations akin to a country fair, where local delights like marinated eel, roasted boar, and truffled everything replace fried dough and cotton candy.
Most sagre revolve around a specific local food item and is celebrated when that ingredient is harvested or is at the peak of its season. The ingredient is then used in multiple triumphal dishes to revel in the community’s delicious bounty. These events offer a great opportunity to see rural towns at their down-home peak of excitement. You can generally count on finding some carnival-type games, a peppy old-fashioned band, and a good portion of the town’s population chowing down and waltzing around the temporary dance floor or piazza.
Not to be missed, of course, is the food, which is generally served in heaping portions on casual plastic plates with a nice carafe of the local wine. What the experience lacks in regular restaurant refinement, it more than makes up for with the authenticity of the food served, and the chance to see the exuberant congeniality of small town Italian life.
In Lazio, the famous olives of Sabina are being pressed into the first oils of the year now, and with this event comes the sagra to celebrate it. The medieval town of Nerola is famous for the quality of its extra virgin olive oil, and for the jovial one-day fete that heralds the new harvest every February. Situated on a high mountain ledge, the town is centered around the impressive Castrum Nerolae and is topped by the imposing twelfth century Castrello Orsini. The tradition of growing olives and making olive oil here dates back to even before these venerable wonders, all the way to Roman times.
At the sagra, the menu is filled with the fresh flavor invigorating the local cuisine: bruschetta with olive paste, pasta and fagioli with raw olive oil, and carne alla brace liberally basted in EVOO. The freshly pressed oil is at its peak, and used to perfection by this knowing community who will kindly welcome you into their celebration, as long as you like to eat and you like to dance.