Spring in Bologna, Italy: Sagra dell’Asparago

Carpaccio Asparagi Verdi di Altedo IGP e champignons Valentina al balsamico "Dodi" con scaglie di parmigianoThis past Sunday, we drove up with a friend to the Sagra dell’Asparago (asparagus festival) in Altedo just north of Bologna.  The festival celebrates Altedo’s crown crop: Asparago Verde di Altedo IGP.  The region’s asparagus is one of the EU’s Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) products (known as Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) in English).  The IGP label basically guarantees that a product is at least partially manufactured (prepared, processed OR produced) within a specific region.  This guarantee goes along with the French concept of terrior, initially used in reference to wines, which is the concept that the special set of characteristics of a place will impart distinct qualities to the end agricultural product.  As I searched the web to learn what makes Altedo’s asparagus distinctive I saw descriptors like “free from fiber”, “delicate taste”, “tender”, and “slightly bitter”.

At the sagra we had a tasty meal chock-full of asparagus at the festival’s pop-up restaurant, aptly named Ristorante Tuttasparago.

Ristorante Tuttasparago - Sagra dell'asparago

Ristorante Tuttasparago – the festival’s restaurant

Here’s what we ate:

Carpaccio Asparagi Verdi di Altedo IGP e champignons Valentina al balsamico "Dodi" con scaglie di parmigiano

Carpaccio Asparagi Verdi di Altedo IGP e champignons Valentina al balsamico “Dodi” con scaglie di parmigiano (Raw Asparagus and mushrooms with balsamic vinegar and parmesan shavings)

Risotto ai Turioni Verdi di Altedo IGP

Risotto ai Turioni Verdi di Altedo IGP (Asparagus Risotto)

Gramigna Andalini con ragù e Asparagi Altedesi IGP

Gramigna Andalini con ragù e Asparagi Altedesi IGP (Pasta with ragù and asparagus)

Polpettine con salsa agli Asparagi di Altedo IGP

Polpettine con salsa agli Asparagi di Altedo IGP (Meatballs with asparagus sauce)

Stinco al forno con Turioni Verdi di Altedo IGP

Stinco al forno con Turioni Verdi di Altedo IGP (Roasted pork shank with asparagus)

For dessert, we shared a slice of plum cake with bits of asparagus baked in. Also on the menu was eggs with asparagus, good ol’ steamed asparagus, asparagus cheesecake, gnocchi with asparagus, lasagna with ragù and asparagus, and more.

We were happy we arrived at the restaurant just before it opened at 7PM, despite being initially embarrassed to arrive at that hour (most Italians don’t eat dinner before 8). We were one of the first groups to arrive, but a line quickly formed behind us. After we were seated, we filled out an order form and then brought it up to a table at the back of the restaurant to place our order and pay. We noticed the line forming as we were deliberating our choices and luckily managed to jump on line before it got long.

After dinner, we stopped by Piazza della Pace and managed to buy some IGP asparagus to take home (and strawberries too) before the vendors packed up for the night.  We were told the sagra runs throughout the week, but the fruit and vegetable vendors only sell their goods in the piazza on Saturdays and Sundays.

After attending the festival, I am curious to research the EU PGI classifications.  I am left pondering how much the standard promotes high-quality products and how much of it is a marketing scheme (I imagine it’s a bit of both).  The asparagus we ate on Sunday did seem tender, but I haven’t eaten enough good asparagus in my life to make any definitive claims as an asparagus connoisseur.

Checking out local sagras is a great way to spend a lazy evening or afternoon and a great way to soak up the local Italian culture: there’s bound to be good food and good people watching.  If you’re nearby, the sagra runs until this Sunday, May 25th. Check out the event program here.

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