Ciapinabò festival of Carignano

 

Jerusalem artichokes aren’t exactly what you’d first associate with Italy – not even if you are Italian, especially given that in that country they are known by the Turkish name oftopinambur. Another name for the tuber is however ciapinabò, a dialect word from the Turin area. Why is that? Turns out that the agricultural area off the former capital city was one of the earliest adoptive homes in Europe for Jerusalem artichokes when they were first introduced from the newly-discovered Americas. The vegetable had in fact been a staple of the local diet for centuries, until it was superseded by other cultivations. For a long time it was harvested only as a marginal ingredient of bagna cauda, the garlic-based dip which is another symbol of the Piedmont region.

Ciapinabò reappeared in Italian markets only around 1980 and they are still considered somewhat exotic in the boot-shaped country. The tuber however is very appreciated by some for its medical qualities more than for its taste: Jerusalem artichokes naturally reduce insulin dependency in Type I diabetes patients, not to mention a number of other alleged beneficial properties they are attributed. Topinambur are therefore consumed raw or in countless ways, including flours. It is this use that boosted the economy of the village of Carignano – and the citizens paid the favor back by creating a whole Ciapinabò Festival. Held on the second weekend of October, the festival is of course an occasion to sample dozens of ciapinabò-based dishes offered by many specialized street stalls. It is however also an opportunity to celebrate the farming culture of Carignano, so its program is filled with uncommon events such as a sheep-shearing contest, a practical course in cheesemaking that starts with the actual milking of cows, and visits to the local farms. Other events are more normal: song and dance shows, local artists’ exhibitions, sports contests and an award for the largest ciapinabò of the year – but no attraction can ever best the bagna cauda extravaganza that makes this festival so curious.