Trevi, Letting the Celery Lead!
We let the celery lead on a late October Sunday in Trevi. After all, we were there for the celebration of the renowned sedano nero (“black celery”) of Trevi, one of fifteen or so IGP products of Umbria (Indicazione Geografica Protetta – indicating a product which may be grown ONLY in a specifically restricted area). On the way into the medieval piazza of Trevi, heart of the festival, you’ll pass a colorful jamboree of booths selling everything from small toys to chestuts and walnuts to colorful sweets to wild boar salami to braided Cannara onions. You can taste your way into the main piazza, stopping at the booth of honeys to try one with ginger or another with hot red pepper. Nearby, the cheese vendor offers tastes of aged sheep’s milk cheeses (what a pairing with the honey!), another stand offers nibbles of wild boar salami and at the next booth, you can taste the just-milled olive oils of the Trevi hillsides.
But keep going, heading on through the arch into the main piazza, following the enticing smell of grilling Umbrian sausages. Volunteers man the grills, forking loops of grilled sausages, testing to see if done and ready for the rolls which other volunteers are slicing. Head of the slicing teams is an elderly gentleman in elegant suit and tie, the president of the Pro Loco of Trevi (volunteer tourist bureau).
Some visitors munch sausage sandwiches while strolling past the stands under the piazza porticoes, where the area farmers sell bunches of the prized celero nero. Livio proudly sits behind his celery bunches, gnarled hand on his cane, ready smile as he tells you about his half-century of cultivating the Trevi area celery.
Next year, his wife tells us, the Sagra della Salsiccia e Sedano Nero festival will be dedicated to him. For Livio and his fellow sedano nero farmers, the cultivation follows a treasured ritual. The seeds are planted during a waning moon in the fifteen days before Easter, best if on Good Friday: the “burial” of the seeds brings the generation of a new life, the Resurrection.
At the other end of the piazza, a brass band adds a festive musical note to the celebration of celery and the foot tapping moves quickly into dancing, young people following the lead of the trumpet-playing band leader. Stephanie and Megan – there with me to feast on celery – joined me in dancing with the locals as Diane did a video of us. And then celery continued to take the lead: we headed to the medieval taverna of the Matigge district for dinner with celery as leitmotif. We started our feast with bruschetta al sedano and we’re still trying to figure out the secret ingredient: perhaps the finely-diced celery was enhanced with sheep’s milk ricotta? Crostone followed: a thick crust of local bread with a grilled sausage/celery topping.
Next culinary enticement: the festival “signature dish”, celery Parmesan. We skipped the gnocchi with celery and the pasta with fava beans and pork cheek, opting for the beef filet with a red wine sauce and celery garnish and wild boar stew (seasoned with celery, logicamente!). Pinzimonio followed, the perfect “palate cleanser”: celery stalks dipped in olive oil, salt and pepper whipped together. The end? Not quite: we had to try the dessert of panna cotta (a cream pudding) topped with a tasty topping of – you guessed it – celery.