Nougat Festival

 

The town of Cremona is mostly known as the “world capital of lutherie” thanks to its connection with Stradivari and its disciples, but that’s not all there is to it. In the typically food-oriented mindset of Italians, Cremona is also the place to go to eat the best artisanal torrone. That is a nougat made with egg whites, honey and toasted almonds, using a Sixteenth century recipe that remains unchanged to this day. While there are many types of torrone (soft and hard, chocolate-coated or not, with or without citrus fruits, or including other types of nuts), the traditional Christmas treat is usually as simple as possible.

An early form of torrone was also the bridal gift for the marriage of the Sforza and Visconti families in 1441, and this celebration is what inspired a nine-days yearly event called Festa del torrone (meaning ‘torrone festival’), which attracts about 250,000 visitors to Cremona with its program of over 150 sub-events about food and wine, culture and entertainment. The main protagonist is of course traditional IGP (short for ‘geographically protected certification’) torrone, an artisanal preparation requiring about eleven hours of work, excellent ingredients and a talent for working each one of them at the exact temperature required for them to blend correctly. Official statistics say that each year visitors buy more than 60 tons of the treat during the festival.

The festival itself offers several highlights. The most famous is probably the historical reenactment parade of over 150 artists dressed in Renaissance clothing. It actually begins in Milano as it did six centuries ago, and reforms in Cremona to bring dancers, jugglers, musicians, jesters and more through the ancient streets of the town. The parade also announces an archery tournament between the champions of various local cities, but strangely that is far from being the focus in a country where such reenactments are an almost daily occurrence. Much more unique are instead two other aspects of the festival. One is the ‘Golden Torrone’ award presented to prominent Cremonese people during an extremely elaborate street show whose theme changes every year (in 2014 it was Multimedia, in case you were thinking Italy is too much into its own past). This is however nothing compared to the other attraction: the free show closing the festival with a Cirque du Soleil-style performance. And if all of the above isn’t enough for you yet, just remember that Cremona is also the hometown of mostarda (pickled fruit) and an excellent type of salami…