Autumn in Tuscany – food and community

I have decided to treat 2020 like a child who is behaving badly to get attention and so I’m ignoring it. It will not be counted on my calendar (a rather good decision seeing as I have a scarily big birthday coming up in a few weeks), I will not pander to it in anyway. With this in mind, I share my favourite elements of Autumn here in Tuscany. Autumn in a normal, well-behaved year.

After a long summer of sun and warmth, I enjoy the novel feeling of chilly morning air and of needing a jumper for the first time. Autumn here in Tuscany produces a stunning array of colours in the countryside, as all the leaves turn red and orange and chestnuts lay scattered on the ground. The real joy of Autumn here though, are the Sagras – food focused events that pop up annually in the towns in our area. 

I think I’ve pretty much been to them all now, including a wine themed one, with local producers providing tastings and a grape treading and barrel carrying race which was great fun to watch. A curious side note was that many men were dressed in drag, complete with wigs, leather and bare bottom cheeks – we never quite got to the bottom (pun intended) of why this was, but it certainly added some spice to the atmosphere.

One of the more successful events is in Monterchi. This charming hilltop town holds a ‘Sagra della polenta’ every September. Tents go up, tables and benches are positioned inside them  and the community gathers. Hundreds of people get together every evening to eat. Huge vats of polenta are prepared along with various “‘sughi’ (sauces) to go on top. Fires are lit, to grill salty, Tuscan sausages that pair perfectly with the plain, toasted bread. Fried wild mushrooms, are my favourite along with ciaccia fritta (fried bread). My theory is that if you pair this treat with red wine, the heart is protected, I’m aware there maybe be flaws to this theory, but I’m sticking with it, it’s only once a year. 

Caprese Michelangelo, famed for being the birthplace of its name sake, is equally well known for its DOC (Demoninazione do Origine Controllata) registered chestnuts, holds an annual Sagra to celebrate these toasted treasures along with a host of other locally produced foods. To wander around this beautiful hilltop town in Autumn is a lovey thing to do in itself, but throw in some food stalls and let’s just say you won’t need to worry about what to eat for dinner later on…

And then there’s Anghiari, where you get what I like to call the double whammy of food festas. It starts with ‘I Cento Gusti dell’Appenino’ (one hundred flavours of the Appenines). Each nook and cranny of the town, from cantinas to medieval walkways becomes a pop up shop, showcasing locally produced delights, from cured meats and cheeses to honey, beer and wine. I did my first ever balsamic vinegar tasting (who knew it was even a thing) at one of these stalls and never realised it could be such a mouth-watering experience. 

The tents that go up along the medieval wall remain in place, ready for the next joyous event, which is ‘Le festa di San Martino e dei Bringoli’.  Now there is a saint in there, but the main focus is the bringoli. Bringoli is Anghiari’s traditional pasta. It’s like spaghetti but thicker and heartier. During the festa you can buy it raw, ready to cook at home or you can grab a table and eat with friends and enjoy it with a meat or mushroom sauce and a bottle of local wine. My kids always head straight to the fire pits to get some toasted bread, drizzled with oil and topped with grilled sausages. 

What the local food festa’s highlight though, is the truly incredible sense of community in these parts. They are not targeting tourists, they are planned and put together by local people for local people. It’s a key part of the rhythm of life here and something I look forward to immensely and never tire of going to, even though as a vegetarian there’s often very little for me to eat! Being vegetarian in Tuscany, now that’s a blog in itself… 

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