Food Festivals in Europe
Food festivals are a way of life for the European countries. Each country has its own culinary tradition which is showcased in a host of events throughout the year. The love of food and the culture of the region is celebrated in these festivals. There are chef demonstrations, cooking classes, competitions and workshops. Piazzas and streets turn festive and sometimes there are accompanying music events. Visitors get to indulge their taste buds in some unforgettable experiences.
Festivals range in variety from general regional gastronomy, to specific ingredients, to beer and wine.There are too many for all of them to be included, so here I am writing about some of them celebrating seasonal produce or a particular dish.
Country wise Food Festivals:
Food festivals in Italy:
The Battle of the Oranges festival has its origins in the 12th century in a rebellion by the townspeople against an evil tyrant. Each year, the residents of Ivrea divide themselves into nine squads of aranceri (orange throwers) and dress up in battle attire. Over the three days of the festival, they hurl oranges at each other, attempting to ‘kill’ the other teams. Around 500,000 pounds of oranges are used in the battle, making it the largest food fight in Italy! Established in 1808, the colourful carnival attracts over 100,000 visitors who witness or join in the battle in this beautiful, medieval town.
The Lemon Festival is dedicated to the wonderful oval lemon of the Sorrento peninsula called ‘Femminiello’. For more than 40 years now, the festival, over 3 days, has offered visitors the chance to taste the typical Sorrento products based on this citrus fruit like lemonade, cakes with lemon cream, jams and sweets.
Along with the gastronomic experiences, there are many entertainment events, walks among lemon groves, a local crafts market and tasting tours.
The Napoli Pizza Village festival is the biggest and the most famous pizza festival in Europe. Naples, being the birthplace of pizza, deserves the honour of holding this huge event. Some of the world’s most talented pizza masters converge on the city and create artisanal pizzas in competition with the local Italian pizzaiolos. They are then served on long tables for the visitors to taste. Around a million tourists attend this celebration over ten days, which is held on around 30,000 sq m area along the beach in Naples.
The celebration also features a host of cultural events such as music concerts, conferences, competitions and pizza making workshops.
Since 1999, this 4 day festival has been held yearly in the historic center of the beautiful, ancient town of Foligno. It is solely dedicated to Italian starters such as soup, pasta, polenta and gnocchi. Gluten free varieties are available too. Starred chefs offer a tasting menu of first courses with prestigious wines. Some of them present their own innovative interpretations. Each Taverna and some main squares become a Tasting Village like Truffle village, Gluten-free village, Risotto village etc. Visitors can taste these first courses from all regions of Italy and can buy the products from numerous street stalls.
Aside from the culinary experiences, there are live demonstrations by international chefs, cooking courses for tourists, exhibitions and live entertainment.
Fiera del Riso is the most important fair in Italy dedicated to rice and risotto. Isola della Scala is often called the ‘city of rice’ as it has been the center of rice production in the Veneto region since the 17th century.
Chefs from various regions of Italy prepare risottos in different ways reflecting the aromas and flavours of their own lands and traditions. The festival dates back to 1967 and the most famous variety of rice at the event is the local variety Vialone Nano Veronese. There are more than 150 exhibitors and around 500,000 visitors attend the fair. Hundreds of recipes of risottos are served for tasting and culinary contests offer a wonderful opportunity to learn from the masters.
The Alba Truffle fair is an international showcase for Italian haute cuisine. The white truffle of this region is a status symbol and sometimes referred to as ‘white gold’ on account of its high value. It is a rare species and one of the world’s most highly prized fungi, the ‘king of mushrooms’.
The heart of the fair is the Truffle World Market, the best place to appreciate and buy the truffles of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato region. On weekends, national and international chefs along with the local chefs share their gastronomic creations. Alongside, there are cooking shows, sensory analysis of truffles, truffle hunting tours and wine tastings.
The area around Cuneo is one of the main chestnut producing regions of Italy. The festival is held to celebrate the chestnut harvest season. The quality of these chestnuts has made the festival very popular amongst tourists. Around 25,000 to 30,000 kilograms of roasted chestnuts are eaten during the fair! Other famous Piedmont specialities are also served at the food stands.
The Milan Coffee Festival is for coffee lovers and those working in the coffee industry. Apart from thousands of visitors, there are baristas and bar owners, coffee roasters and equipment manufacturers. Visitors can enjoy free coffee tastings, demonstrations from world class baristas and delicious street food. Some cafés offer courses in latte art, cold brewing and mixology.
Food festivals in France:
The Fête du Citron is an event organised by the town council of Menton to celebrate the production of speciality lemons and other citrus fruits in the area around Menton. The festival’s first edition was in 1934 and it is now the second most popular event of the French Riviera after the Nice Carnival. It attracts more than 200,000 visitors from France and abroad in the duration of a fortnight. Around 180 tonnes of citrus fruit is used including lemons and oranges. Several metres high fruit structures and floats are created with great imagination and displayed throughout the city. Guided tours to the farms are available and jams and limoncello tastings are offered in the shops.
The International Cheese and Wine fair has been held every year on Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter) weekend in Coulommiers since 1967. It celebrates regional and national cheese and wine specialities. More than 65,000 visitors enjoy the 4 day gastronomic display by around 350 exhibitors. There are tastings, competitions and exhibitions to entertain the people.
The Strawberry Festival is a celebration of a strawberry mania which has overtaken the beautiful village of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne for more than 25 years. It is held on every second Sunday in May. In the market on the medieval streets, the local producers sell delicious strawberries freshly transported from the fields. The cafés and restaurants join in, creating all kinds of culinary delights, from traditional cakes to haute cuisine.
A giant strawberry tart, made every year, has earned the village a name in the Guiness book of World Records. Visitors can have a slice after 4.00 pm!
Every year on the last weekend of July, the town of Gourin celebrates the Crêpe festival. Buttery, paper thin crêpes are served to all with much fanfare amidst traditional music and dancing in this picturesque town. The popular event is now in its 29th edition. A world competition for making the largest pancake is part of the festivities.
Collobrières is a picturesque village and the chestnut capital of the region. For 37 years, the Chestnut festival has been held at Collobrières on the last 3 Sundays of October. There are many exhibitors and thousands of people attend the event. During the festival, visitors can taste and buy chestnuts in all sorts of preparations. There are roasted chestnuts, preserves, cakes, pies and the famous candied chestnuts sold in the market.
Food festivals in Spain:
The Trujillo National Cheese fair has been held annually in the first week of May for 34 years. Cheese makers promote and sell their artisanal produce at the stands set up in the beautiful Plaza Mayor de Trujillo. Thousands of visitors who attend the fair can taste more than 300 varieties of cheeses. They are made from goat or sheep milk. During this time, many restaurants in Trujillo make menus in which cheese is the main ingredient from the first course to the dessert. There are wine and beer stands too accompanying the cheeses.
La Tomatina is the biggest food fight festival in the world. Its origins can be traced back to 1945. It is held on the last Wednesday of August annually in the small town of Buñol. Thousands of people from all over the world descend upon the town to participate in the fight. Their ammunition is more than 40 tonnes of tomatoes. At a fixed hour, tomato laden trucks roll into the streets and the locals riding in them start throwing the tomatoes onto the people below, who in turn gather them up and get into their own massive fights! This is one of the craziest, most colourful, messy and crowded events in the world.
Every year, in the last week of August, the famous Cider Festival takes place in Gijón,the heart of cider production in Asturias. There is an apple and cider market, booths serving apple desserts, exhibitions, contests, pouring courses and free tastings.
But the most unique part is the world record for ‘simultaneous pouring’ that is broken every year on the famous Poniente beach. Thousands of Asturias bottles are raised in unison, thousands of glasses are held in the other hand, and then the cider is poured simultaneously to create the record. The participating cider producers give away more than 30,000 litres of cider!
Fiesta del Pimiento takes place on the first Saturday of August each year since 1978 to celebrate the nationally famous small, green pepper of Padrón. Hundreds of kilos of peppers are fried, sprinkled with sea salt and served with bread, to the thousands of visitors to the fair. They have a piquant, peppery taste that is quite mild. These peppers are served as tapas in the whole of Spain.
The Martos Olive festival, held since 1980, is a celebration of the start of the olive harvesting season. It pays tribute to the olive trees and the growers of the region. It is held over a few days at the beginning of December culminating on the 8th with a homage to the Monument to the Olive growers. After that, the Martos oil mill masters extract the first oil of the year using a manual screw press. Around 25,000 visitors attend the festival each year and indulge their culinary taste buds in Jaén, which is known as the world capital of Olive oil.
Food festivals in Switzerland:
Festichoc is the largest festival in Switzerland dedicated to chocolate. It is organised annually for 2 days in the town of Versoix on Lake Geneva. More than 30 chocolatiers from all over the country exhibit and sell their delicious treats. Simple slabs to elaborate chocolate statues are on display and free sampling is allowed. More than 50,000 chocoholics attend the event to indulge their sweet tooth and enjoy the accompanying festivities.
The Cheese Market takes place every year on the 1st Sunday in May in the heart of the medieval town of Gruyères which is known as the cheese capital of Switzerland. Many local prairie and alpine cheese producers and others from the surrounding region showcase their culinary skills at the market. The numerous visitors get to enjoy free tastings. Restaurants offer traditional cheese dishes while live entertainment including alpine horns, create a festive atmosphere.
Food festivals in Germany:
Germans love their white asparagus and they celebrate its harvest during spring every year with festivals in the various asparagus growing regions. Beelitz is one of them and is also known as ‘asparagus city’. Spargelfest is held over 3 days on the first weekend in June. Visitors can eat the vegetable preparations at the stands or directly at the farms surrounding the town.
The Onion Festival is a 3 day annual event on the first weekend in October. The festival was first held in 1653 in the historic town of Weimar. Onions of different kinds are exhibited and sold in all their glory, plaited together in the traditional way with dried flowers of various colours.
An imaginative onion based menu is created and served to the 350,000 visitors. A lot of performances and a city run are organised too as part of the celebrations.
Food festivals in Greece:
Elassona produces around 30% of all feta, which is Greece’s most favourite cheese. The Cheese festival, held over 3 days bi-annually at the end of September, offers the visitors a chance to taste the different types of feta made by skilfully combining traditional and modern methods. A large exhibition, live feta making demonstrations and cultural events are a part of the event.
The Pistachio Festival of Aegina was created in 2008 to promote and support the cultivation of the unique pistachio well known as the ‘Aegina Pistachio’. More than 20,000 visitors who attend the 3 day event are able to taste the sweet and savoury creations and can buy some unique products. The pistachio ice cream and the liqueur are especially worth having.
The Greek honey and bee products festival is the largest of its kind in the country. More than 70 honey and bee products producers from across Greece participate in the festival. It is held every 2 years and is very popular. Visitors have the opportunity to taste rare varieties of honey, honey inspired dishes and enjoy live demonstrations by chefs.
No matter which country and the time of the year one is visiting, attending some of these festivals would make a great culinary journey!