What is it, habit or tradition? As September rolls around again, the gourmet calendar draws us to Cannara and the Onion Feast that is making this small town famous all over the world. The “Onion Feast”, a feast to …cry for, certainly deserves to be seen at least once in a life-time. Once, these preparations were made for the people of Cannara and of the neighbouring Umbrian towns, but for some time now the winds have changed and onion-lovers willing to brave tears of joy come from much further a field. Cannara lies ensconced in the hills, a stone’s throw from Assisi, along the Cantico Wine Road that leads from Spello to Assisi, Cannara and the nearby town of Torgiano. The microclimate of this area is ideal to grow onions: sandy soil and humid. No special treatment, just a hoe and lots of water. “This year is not one of our best – Carlo Sirci, an onion producer, explains – the heat and drought will reduce the quantity but the quality is excellent and that is very rewarding”. And what about the feast? “We are ready for the great feast – continues Sirci – and ready to help our friends, old and new, enjoy the usual thirty thousand kilograms of Cannara onions, be they red, gold, white …”.
So, what was once a poor-man’s meal, today adorns an entire town and becomes its main …tourist attraction. With their roundish shape, their intense red skin and yellowy-white flesh, they are harvested at the end of July, hung up to dry and then arranged in plaits or bunches (mazzocchi), with the help of scarsa, which is a fibre that is gathered along the ditches, dried and then wet so it can be plaited. Plaiting the onions is part of the attraction during the feast, with the women of Cannara busy showing off this art along the streets of the town. And then at table, in the taverns: the “Cipollaro”, the “Giardino Fiorito”, the “Cortile Antico”, the “Taverne del Castello”, the “Pescatore” and the “Cacciatore” that offer onion flavoured salami, pizza with onions, onion soup, lasagne with onions, onion flavoured sausages, boar with onions, onion pie. Red onions are sweet, easy to digest, good even raw with a pinch of salt in the palm of the hand and a slice of bread baked in a wood-fired oven.
Carlo Sirci’s La Cipolla
Via della Corte vecchia - Tel. 074272141
From producer to consumer. Here, the plaits are made with Cannara onions and garlic by Carlo Sirci himself, one of the most staunchy supporters of this poor product par excellence that is making this small Umbrian town famous all over the world.
Where to eat
The restaurant and wine cellar belonging to Ernesto Parziani offers the true tastes and fragrances of Cannara. “Perbacco” is situated in the centre of town: it is cosy, well furnished, with the tables placed all round the large fireplace. On the menu, especially at this time of year, onions are plentiful but always used wisely and usefully: crostini (toasted bread) with onion spread, spaghetti Perbacco (with anchovies and onions), panzanella (bread salad) with red onions. The deserts are home-made, daily. The choice of wine offered is more than satisfactory.
“Perbacco” - Via Umberto I°. Tel. 0742720492. Cannara. Open evenings only.
Where to sleep
On the Collemancio hill, the Hotel “Il Rientro” offers a warm welcome and meticulous management thanks to the Porzi family. Their hotel opens out onto a beautiful terrace, while indoors, it offers a fireplace for grilling, a wood-fired oven for pizzas and a dozen rooms, all very comfortable and furnished in a rustic style. The pressed olive oil is their local produce.
Hotel Il Rientro - Loc. Collemancio via S. Stefano, 31 - 06033 Cannara (Pg) Tel. 074272420 Fax 0742720218. Excellent price, breakfast included: 35 euro for a single room, just under 60 for a double.
Not to be missed
Collemancio – It is a stone’s throw from Cannara and it really is worth finding the time to discover. It is not just one of Cannara’s hamlets, it is the most beautiful one, with its magnificently situated Castle, known to date back to 1224 at least. It has solid walls with a sheer drop below them, a robust fort protecting the gate to the hamlet on which the emblem of Collemancio is sculpted (a tower overlooked by a fort with flat-top merlons) and two parallel main streets that cross it. The lowest of the two streets leads to the main piazza, the true heart around which the ancient town developed, with the single-nave Saint Steven’s Church and the 14th Century Palazzetto del Podestà (Town Hall), that once also hosted the prison. At the beginning of the summer, Collemancio livens up for the “Three Days to Discover Nature”: nature walks, berry shows and the opportunity to taste dishes belonging to the local traditional cuisine. The Collemancio locals offer wine to all visitors to the castle: an earthenware tankard purchased at the entrance gives visitors the right to help themselves to the wine barrels placed along the streets.