Inside Salone del Gusto, Italy’s Artisanal Foodie Mecca


Clockwise: whole prosciutto from San Daniele on display; a band of two accordions, a guitar and a hurdy-gurdy (the bearded man on the right was making animal puppets out of a hankerchief to entertain the kids); a self-service milk truck parked outside Salone del Gusto; Puglian women stringing cherry tomatoes by hand

After a long morning of seminars, I was sipping a glass of Left Hand beer, when the sound of drums and horn began thundering down the hall. It was Macedonian folk ensemble Akud Mirce Acev, beating a lively rhythm and whipping a crowd of Asians into a frenzied dance. Heads bobbed, cameras flashed, women in hanbok dresses waved their arms in the air. Just another day at Salone del Gusto.

Salone del Gusto is an international food fair and celebration of the artisanal producer, on a decidedly not small scale. In the exhibition rooms of Torino’s Lingotto Fiere, 65.000 m² of space will encompass 910 exhibitors from 17 Italian regions and 46 countries. In 2008, the fair attracted 180.000 visitors and I would guess that this year’s show attracted just as many, if not more attendees. The event is a combined effort of Slow Food and the city of Torino, and as you might expect, the environmental impact is minimized through the use of ecofriendly materials. For instance, the flooring for the stalls is made from Ecomat material, made from the residual pulp left from olive oil pressing mixed with new and recycled polypropylene.

In these grand halls, traditional food products and wines are showcased from all over the world. Grass-green newly-pressed olive oil from Umbria. Perfumed Madagascar vanilla beans. Hot, crackling Tuscan porchetta. Cold glasses of Dogfish Head beer. Wait a minute, that’s not international, it’s American! As it turns out, the only American products at Salone del Gusto were beers at the American Craft Brewers Association stand. I spent some time chatting with “beer wench” Ron from Lagunitas Brewery, and it was nice to see familiar names and bottles for a change.

Of course, the bulk of the fair featured Italian products, some of which are highlighted below:

Gargantuan boulder-sized cheeses were a common sight at Saone del Gusto. This one was wrapped in rope for easier transportation. Loaves of bread from Alta Murgia (Puglia) typically have a wide-brimmed hat and golden crust.

Traditionally, panettone is eaten around the Christmas holidays, but there is never a bad time to indulge in a piece of this cake-like brioche studded with raisins, candied fruit, hazelnuts and almonds. It is sometimes topped with caramelized meringue. Pictured above is an enormous 5 kg panettone from Gilber, but you can also pick up adorable 500 g ones for personal consumption.

Among the many colorful figures wandering the fair, I spotted this intrepid chef walking around on stilts, leading a parade of small children behind him.

Confections abound in Italy, and one of the most popular sweets is torrone, a nougat with nuts that is often sold by street vendors and at festivals. The torrone made by Faccio melts in your mouth, and contains only sugar, egg whites, honey and hazelnuts.

Finally, I spotted a beer-bottle xylophonist at the Verallia glass bottle stand. The featured performer was Dalibor Matesa, a talented musician from Croatia, who has designed and constructed his very own beer and wine bottle xylophone. He has been playing for 14 years, and welcomes the opportunity for further gigs in Italy or elsewhere in Europe. In the following concert for “well-tempered bottles and pianoforte,” he performs the first movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in D:

A caveat: the crowds can be brutal at Salone del Gusto, particularly around lunch time and on weekends. For a less harried experience, try to arrive in the evening or on a weekday. Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of jostling and a madhouse of warm bodies and cacophonous shouting. If you are able to attend on Monday, the last day of the fair, you will be able to take advantage of discounts as merchants try to move their goods before returning home.

The next edition of Salone del Gusto will take place in October of 2012. Currently, admission runs €20 for a one-day pass or €60 for the entire 5-day event, and Slow Food members receive a 50% discount.

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