Mentioning the word ‘harvest’ in relation to Italy travel, immediately connects an image of rolling, vine-covered hills of the Bel Paese. But let’s not forget that Italy – despite its minuscule size in proportion to other Mediterranean agricultural areas – grows infinite variety and number of crops besides just grapes.
Think of the olives, citrus and other fruits planted all along Italy’s coast (80% of the country is surrounded by water, where the climate is milder and these plants find ideal soil and weather conditions). And what about wheat and other grains cultivated in Italy? The Italian peninsula is one big vegetable patch that runs from the foot of the Alps, all along the “boot” down to its volcanic and fertile southern regions and islands. The harvest is therefore a much bigger affair.
Harvest season in Italy, in my mind, starts in summer when crates upon crates are filled daily with dirt-caked tomatoes. Could it be that the traditional Italian custom of pommarola (home-canning tomatoes) started not so much in order to store the flavors of summer for the months ahead, but rather a clever way to dispose of the bushels of tomatoes (in myriad varieties, shapes and sizes) the Italian soil is capable of producing every summer? Next up, starting as early as September and as late as mid October, according to area, comes the grape harvest, the vendemmia.
Grapes are grown in each of the 20 regions of Italy and there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation. The vendemmia is therefore a massive annual activity, carried out all over the country.
Mid-November is the yearly appointment with the olive harvest, during which thousands of varieties of drupes are picked and immediately rinsed and crushed to make precious olive oil. Vegetable gardens and orti scattered across the Italian territory are in full bloom, with greens and other vegetables ripening to perfection, patiently awaiting to be pulled and dug up.
In the central-northern, woodsy regions, the Fall is also time for hunters and expert trufolai to unleash their dogs for Italy’s truffle season. That’s when precious buried cream-colored tubers – redolent of soil, humus and love – emerge from the undergrowth, ready to be delicately brushed off, sold at exorbitant prices and then sliced in gossamer petals over risotto, fried eggs and… well, anything really.
With the end of Autumn, chestnuts, and other nutty gifts herald the arrival of Winter. As the end of November winds ruffle the pages of our calendar, the first juicy citrus fruits, like oranges, clementine and tangerines will be ready for the taking.
The breadth of the term ‘harvest’ in a country like Italy is vast. The best part? Throughout harvest season, small intimate and both large-scale events give participants a break from the hard work. Italian towns annually organize food festivals and village fairs known as sagre, that showcase the area’s crop, and provide one more reason to celebrate around a table.
Do you participate in your area’s harvesting activities? Would you be interested in learning more about local agriculture and directly from our trusted Italian growers? Email us at Casa Mia!
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.