The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Remembering the Festa del Tacchino

Posted on | November 24, 2014 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

386845_10150404091932746_1447547647_nRiding shotgun in an old truck with Marco Sassetti, general manager of the Il Palazzone estate on one late November afternoon, I was privy to a conversation between him and an old friend.

Dove vai?” his friend asked, shouting across the narrow dirt road. Where are you going?

Festa del tacchino!” Marco responded with a chuckle, and even I with my limited English had to laugh. What else would an Italian call Thanksgiving but the “Turkey feast”?

308276_10150404094157746_1607559015_nIt’s tough to be an ex-pat on national holidays. In late November 2011, I was in Montalcino, in Tuscany, where I lived for just short of two months stretching from just before Halloween to early December. I had been staying at this ramshackle seventeenth-century villa rented by Lauren Cicione, an Italian-American who’d rented it and then unexpectedly found herself working in Piedmont, and I got to experience the glory of the tiny town of Montalcino as late fall crept towards winter. I watched the leaves on the trees and on the vines turn gold and fall off; I felt the air turn crisp and then cold.

National holidays elicit nostalgia. The fourth Thursday in November creeps up on the calendar, and just about every American will find his or her tongue twitching for cranberries. There are no cranberries in Italy. Cranberries are a purely American thing. Turkeys originated in Northern America, but while they are flightless birds, they have managed to make the leap to Europe. Still, they are strange to Italians. Italians are not big on turkey, and, really, it’s difficult to make an argument about why they should be. Turkey, removed from the warm fuzzy feelings and the accouterments has little to recommend it. Thanksgiving celebrates the mythic roots of America, after all. How could it be anything but foreign to Italy?

The year I was in Italy, Thanksgiving came and went—it was just another work day for Italians, after all, but on the following Saturday, Lauren pulled together a Thanksgiving feast for about three ex-pat Americans and a sprawling company of twenty or so Europeans, most Italians. The table groaned under a huge toddler-sized turkey, sides both traditional (stuffing, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, gravy) and not (pasta, risotto, sautéed wild mushrooms, polenta). There was copious wine, mostly Brunello, as you’d expect, and the Italians drank freely—I think “tacchino” is an acquired taste. There were pies too; they looked and tasted a bit like they’d passed through a long game of recipe telephone on the way to their creation. I was thankful for it all.

As this Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself thinking of that festa di tacchino, the ragtag bunch of people gathered at a villa perched on the side of hill trying to recreate a meal that was alien to most of them. We spoke no fewer than five languages at that table, but it didn’t really matter. The company was gracious, the food was abundant, the wine was excellent, and we were united in gratitude.

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