Every fall, tons of festivals, known as sagre, pop up in towns across Italy, celebrating everything from wine to chestnuts to truffles.
We love sagre: They’re a fantastic way to taste local foods, direct from the producers, all while exploring an off-the-beaten-path (and unfailingly beautiful) small town. And you can’t get much more special than a truffle festival, like the one we just visited in Gubbio, a hilltop town in Umbria.
Truffles, known as tartufi in Italian, are mushrooms so rare and unique-tasting, they’re a delicacy that can set you back hundreds of euros per kilo. Of the two kinds, white truffles and black truffles, white are considered the finer delicacy. Right now is the season for white truffles. In the winter, black truffles—and black truffle festivals—will start popping up.
You don’t have to be a foodie, or even like truffles, to enjoy a festival like this one. First of all, they’re free to enter. You can wander among the stalls, tasting everything in sight. Or at tasting events, you can pay a nominal fee, like 5 euros, to get a plate of various meats, cheeses and other local delicacies. Whether you buy anything is completely up to you.
Along with whatever food they’re officially celebrating, most sagre also have other local foods on offer; the Gubbio festival was no different. A number of locations had tent after tent of non-truffled specialty products, from taralli from Puglia to specialty cheeses from northern Italy. Compared to what they’d be in an Italian market—and definitely to any import food shop back in the States—the prices were great. And, of course, seller after seller enticed customers by offering tastes and samples, meaning that a stroll through a tented area practically provided a meal.
Then, of course, there were the tartufi tents. Walking in, we were bowled over by the overpowering, earthy smell of so much truffle in one place. And, while we couldn’t shell out 500 euros for some of the nicer truffles, there was something for every price range, from smaller, uglier truffles that were a fraction of the cost, to truffled sauces, honeys, pates, and even a truffle-and-gorgonzola mix, for 5 euros and up.
There’s nothing like tasting Italy’s traditional foods and buying it right from the hands of the farmers and artisans who produce it. Nor is there a much more “authentic” experience than doing so among so many Italian families and shoppers, many of whom also came from nearby towns and cities just to get some specialty shopping done. And since most of these sagre are in gorgeous, off-the-beaten-path towns, they’re also a fantastic opportunity to see a new place in Italy.
The kick-off truffle festival in Gubbio may have ended, but if you want to visit a truffle festival, you have lots of other options! They include:
Still in Gubbio, the festival continues with “Il Mese del Tartufo” (the Month of the Truffle) from November 1st until December 10th, with events centering around different truffle-related products and other Umbrian specialties.
Until Nov. 13, there are continued events at the granddaddy of all Italy white truffle festivals, the International White Truffle Festival of Alba.
From Nov. 4-Nov. 6, Umbria’s Città di Castello hosts the Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco.
On Nov. 5-6 and 12-13, there’s the “Tartufesta” in Carbonara di Po (an hour from Ferrara or Verona), including tastings of such Mantuan delicacies as risotto with truffle, pumpkin tortellini with truffle, and truffled carpaccio.
On the last two weekends of November (Nov. 19-20 and 26-27), the 3rd Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di Campoli Appennino takes place just 50 minutes from Rome in Campoli. Those two weekends also see the Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo di Valtopina in the Umbrian town of Valtopina, near Assisi and Perugia.
On Nov. 27 in Casteggio, an hour’s drive from Milan, is the 27th Edizione della Fiera del Tartufo e Miele (festival of truffles and honey).
From Nov. 25-27, Muzzana del Turgnano, near Udine, hosts the Fiera del Tartufo Bianco Pregiato a Muzzana.
From Dec. 7-8, the town of Sigillo near Perugia, Umbria hosts a Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco.