In many small Italian towns, where traditions and customs have changed little over the centuries, food remains an important part of local culture as well as daily life. And outside the markets and village stores, residents often celebrate local products on a grand scale—not only taking pride in their own specialties, but dedicating entire festivals to a single food.
A perfect example? The Sagra dei Tarallucci e Vino, beginning April 28th, held each year in the Puglian town of Alberobello. The festival celebrates distinctive Southern Italian snacks called taralli, and the smaller tarallucci—as well as the wines they’re paired with. The ring-shaped crackers, with the crunch and texture of a breadstick or a hard pretzel, can be either sweet or savory. Tarallucci made with anise seed, peperoncini, or black pepper are often served in baskets alongside wine or before meals with antipasti. A sweeter version, perhaps with lemon or almond, might accompany a dessert wine.
Why all the fuss over a tiny biscuit? In much of Southern Italy, these crackers are the unchallenged snack of choice—more common than, say, potato chips in the United States—and hardly a glass of wine appears without them. Though an everyday staple, however, they are taken very seriously. Proper tarallucci are boiled, then baked—almost like a bagel, though much smaller and drier. Their dough is made with “00” flour and high-quality Pugliese olive oil, another matter of local pride. And despite the tradition associated with their production, the crackers can convey any number of flavors—leaving room for creativity.
While tarallucci may not be exclusive to Alberobello—indeed, they’re among the most ubiquitous grocery staples of Southern Italy—the annual festival is a perfect example of just how strongly an Italian town might care about what it perceives as local specialties. To others, tarallucci may be just a snack; but in Alberobello, they signify far more—a local identity.