We heard about a lively and unusual fair (translated as “the fat ox fair”) in Piedmont, and sent our Italian specialist, Simona Piccinelli to check out this amazingly popular event near the Barolo wine country. Simona´s notes-
Ever since 1910 (although there is evidence that ox markets and fairs were held weekly from as far back as 1473, and in 1635 when Duke Amedeo The 1st gave permission to the Carrù village to have its yearly fair), the Fiera del Bue Grasso in Carrù has been an irresistible event- a living mix of local traditions, excellent food, competition, good wine, colorful people from bull breeders to bull buyers, markets and emotions. So we couldn’t miss it this year, although we did arrive late due to the heavy snow…
The village of Carrù is located in the supremely picturesque Langhe wine region (home of Barolo and Barbaresco) and borders the area – 10 villages – where Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG wine is produced from the local indigenous grape “Dolcetto”.
Every year, the second Thursday before Christmas, the competition takes place. Only the specific breed of Piedmont Fasson oxes are admitted and the prizes (especially a hand made ornamental drape called gualdrappa) are given to the best one by a jury that includes veterinarians, butchers, breeders. Once the winner is declared, there is a parade to show him: this year his weight was 1300 kilos !!
The aim of the fair is to safeguard and promote the Piedmontese breed of cattle and to give consumer protection guarantees. To be called a bonafied “fat ox”, the ox must be Piedmont Fasson, castrated when 2/4 months old, adult (with all the teeth in his mouth, which are 8), born and bred in the Langhe region, slaughtered when older than 4 1/2 years old. By being castrated, the ox gets stronger, so in the past these animals were used for work (they were called the “Langhe tractors”) and then when old enough, they “retired” and they were fed for some months in a special way to make them fat and to make their meat soft and delicious, ready for Christmas. There is also an auction before the fair takes place.
The fair starts at 5AM and you can find people already lining up in front of the restaurants, waiting for their opening at 6AM, to get their bollito misto and tripe as breakfast, like the tocau did in centuries past. The tocau was the servant who arrived very early to the market and touched the oxen with special sticks (from the Italian verb toccare, to touch).
We had our fabulous lunch at one of the institutions of Carrù: Il Moderno restaurant where we spent some time with an old breeder that taught us some tips about oxen (did you know that you can recognize the year of birth from a cattle’s name? All the animals born in 2004, for instance, must be named with L, in 2005 with M, and so on).)
We started with some local classic starters: insalata russa (literally Russian salad, it is made with potatoes, peas, carrots, tuna, mayonnaise), carne cruda (raw meat), capunet (deep fried cabbage leaves stuffed with beef). Then the first courses: tripe soup (usually, I am not crazy for guts, but this one was terrific) and ravioli del plin (stuffed ravioli, plin being the local term for the “pinch” you do when closing them). And finally the king of the day, bollito misto alla piemontese!!! It is made from seven kinds of meat: the original recipe calls for scaramella, tenerone, (see # 17 and 19 here), tail, head, tongue, head and small cotechino. Tt is served with seven traditional condiments: bagnetto verde, bagnetto rosso, mustard, horseradish, d’aviè (with honey), cugnà (cooked grape must) and sea salt.
Want to cook this delicious dish on one of these cold winter nights? Here is the recipe.
Orientation Map of locations mentioned (click on it to enlarge):