You’ll see elderly Agostino and a young assistant roasting chestnuts and grilling sausages over an open fire, just after you pass through a medieval arch. A sure sign you’ve found the Festa del Vino e delle Castagne (Wine and Chestnust Festival) of San Martino in Colle, tiny castle-village near Perugia. For nine days in early November, San Martino’s festival (37th edition this year) celebrates roasted chestnuts and the new wines and there’s no better place for such a celebration: after all, a much-loved Italian saying, “San Martino, San Martino, castagne e vino,” links St. Martin to chestnuts and wine. In Umbria, on November 11th, the feast of St. Martin, rural families gather to savor with bated breath – “how will our wine be this year?” – the new wine with chestnuts roasted on wood stove tops.
At this festival, chestnuts starred: some visitors simply enjoyed roasted chestnuts and vino rosso while seated around open fires, chatting. Many had a pre-chestnut hot sandwich: roasted sausages sliced and slipped into la torta, the Umbrian hearth bread, perhaps topped with wild chicory and Swiss chard sautéed in garlic and olive oil. My “festa companions” (from San Francisco) were “foodies” so we were set to try tastes of everything. That meant starting our food adventure with tastes of torta with sausages and torta con barbozza (razor-thin, transparent slices of pork cheek), both accompanied by a robust vino rosso.
And then into the food tent where we ordered just about everything on the menu, ready to share tastes of all the dishes.
Before our dinner, Victoria (California foodie and owner of a top Italian restaurant) and I visited the kitchen where volunteers were cooking up the goodness. Peppa was plucking pheasants for the pheasant-stuffed ravioli (highlight the following night) and nearby, Ezio handled the gnocchi. Smiling retired baker Giovanni (“for over fifty-years, I baked from midnight to 8 a.m.) baked the torta bread and Rita split open torta slices which would be filled with sausages or prosciutto or barbozza. Romano sliced barbozza and prosciutto with arthritic hands (“I”ve been doing this butchering work since I was seven. Pain-killers help me…”).
Back in the food tent, young volunteers served up the indescribable goodness: chickpea/chesnut soup, homemade gnocchi with Umbria meat sauce, bean soup with pigskin, mixed greens of spinach, Swiss chard and chicory sautéed in garlic and olive oil and – this may not sound appetizing but…che buono! – coratelle con la torta (lamb innards with torta). Desserts? With chestnuts, of course. Two tasty tarts.
We left satiated – and wondering if we should return the next night for the pheasant ravioli…
Read more about San Martino celebrations of chestnuts, new wine
Read about another wonderful food festa near Perugia
Read about another festival celebrating autumns flavors
Read about the Assisi celebration of olive oil – and other autumn goodness
In November, Chestnuts Star Near Perugia
Read about a wondrous Tuscan chestnut festival
Read about a sagra near Perugia starring peperoncino