CHIAVARI, Italy – It was another one of those OMG moments when I walked out the door last Saturday to find the Mercantino dei Sapori e delle Tradizioni in full swing along the porticoed streets of old Chiavari.
|Take a Little Proscuitto from Prato|
It was a foodie’s paradise. Looking down the row of stands all I could see were cascades of caciocavallo cheese, stacks of salumi, chunks of grana padano piled one on top of the other, mountains of giant round loaves of crusty Pugliese bread, bottles and bottles of olive oil and wine and cute bottles of balsamic vinegar and it went on as far as my eye could see.
|and a little caciocavallo from Cilento|
I had seen an advertisement for the Mercato while walking around Chiavari last week, but I had no idea it would be as vast or as good as it was. The brochure advertised it as a food and wine event of regional products from all around Italy. Apparently it’s not the kind of market that just anyone can sell at, you have to be a producer of good quality products that meet the criteria of quality, authenticity and territorial origin, and you have to be approved by the National Association of Sapori e delle Tradizioni.
|a little grana padano from Lombardy,|
What that means for us, the consumers, is that we come face to face with the people who actually produce the products they are selling and they are selling the best of what Italy has to offer. The Mercantino dei Sapori is similar to the Slow Food Movement in that it promotes local artisan food products, but because you do deal directly with the producers it is, in my estimation, one step better.
|a little porchetta and salami from Tuscany,|
I think what surprised me the most was to find food stuffs from one end of Italy to the other. I figured there would be foods from Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont, and there were. But there was also so much more.
|don't forget the sbrisolona from Mantua|
To begin with there was sbrisolona from Mantua that looked so crumbly and buttery it could easily make you forget that Mantua was where Romeo went to buy poison so he could lie forever with his beloved Juliet. Then there were the chocolate bars from Modica that brought back memories of a great weekend I once spent in Sicily visiting Modica and Noto and Siracusa and eating the most delicious food I had ever tasted. It was on that trip that I finally understood why they used to think that tomatoes were fruits, they were that sweet in Sicily.
|rice from Piedmont,|
And it just went on and on. The stacks of salumi of Toscana conjured up all the great dinners I’ve had in rustic Tuscan trattorias with bottles (and bottles) of local red wine and even the taralli, those crunchy biscuit like curls from Puglia brought back memories of a great trip to Bari and Lecce that ended with me falling completely in love not just with Puglia but the Pugliese too. It was like re-living my travels through Italy.
|a little something from Calabria,|
But that was only the beginning. There was also Ligurian olive oil, old time handmade pastas, honey from the mountains, nut bread and brown bread and sacks of rice from Lombardy and Piedmont and bags of all types of spices too. There were over 40 stands and everyone was eager to talk about their products, as well they should for they really are the best Italy has to offer. I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are, those of us who live here, to be in such a special place with such a variety and abundance of really good food, it is a place like no other.
|And a proud farmer from Cuneo -|
The best part is it was not a one-time thing. The Mercantino will be back in Chiavari the last weekend of every month from now until November. I already have my list made up of what I want to buy because I know once I hit that market my mind is going to go traveling again and I’ll completely forget what I’m supposed to be doing. But that’s OK, even if I just walk around and look and smell and take a taste of this or that and whatever, it will be time well spent.