Rebecca attended an hour-long focaccia-making class the other day at a local fair. She mixed the ingredients while listening to a lecture on yeast. Then she kneaded, learning about the importance of temperature and moisture during raising. Finally, she shaped a focaccia, while being told about baking different kinds of breads. She left carrying her focaccia carefully with both hands, as if it were a precious crystal.
We have seen a slow but clear shift in the scope of the local fairs since moving to this part of rural Italy a decade ago. When we first arrived, most fairs were eating events (sagre), where locals would put up stands and tables with benches, and cook and sell typical local dishes: the snail fair, the eggplant fair, the sagra of the raviolo ... These events, which still take place every year, attract many tourists, who enjoy the chance to dine on regional foods in a regional setting.
Since then, a new kind of fair arose: more like promotional events than merely culinary ones, occasions where local and regional producers could offer samples and sell their wares - cheese, oil, preserves, wine - with the intent of making new contacts and new customers.
These days, we're seeing a third evoluton in fairs in our area: instead of just focusing on local dishes and products, fairs are becoming educational occasions as well, featuring events where visitors can learn hands-on how to use some of the local products to make typical dishes.
It's a new trend that probably has to do with Italy's deep economic crisis, and, more positively, with the growing attention to the issue of quality in the food we eat. More and more people, in fact, want to know where their food comes from, and whose hands are preparing it.
Slow Food and other associations support this trend, and help organize educational culinary activities at produce fairs where visitors are taught how to, say, make Ligurian focaccia or gut & cure Mediterranean anchovies. These activities are often aimed at children, and are wonderful opportunities to learn skills and traditions that, in turn, promote local, quality foods – while learning how to prepare them. An important – and tasty! – new trend.
Rebecca took her class and her new baking skills very seriously, and began her own baking proselytizing campaign. Fist, she showed me how to make focaccia (obviously, some times the best teacher isn't a parent). Then she taught her dollies. I think Slow Food would be proud of her - because when you teach a child, you really teach a community.