Italian Cultural Day at Mill City Farmers Market: "Mi Piace!"

Yes, the fair is still going on, and summer's last long weekend is upon us, but there's another event that takes place this Saturday that deserves some attention, too. The Mill City Farmers Market invites us to enjoy Italian Cultural Day, when peak produce such as heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs, and specialty products such as artisan olive oil will be highlighted. Throughout the summer, Mill City has hosted themed days that revolve around products and foods that complement the season, such as the recent picnic fest, or celebrate their growers and vendors, like the Native American and Hmong Cultural Days. Now, in partnership with the Italian Cultural Center, the flavors of Italy will take center stage with cooking demonstrations, live music, and a bit of history.

Taste of Italy

Kicking off the day’s festivities is a cooking demonstration with Chef Nick Schneider featuring Andrea Scarpa, who will be preparing two classic dishes from his native Piedmonte region -- bagna càuda (warm dip) and cipolline sott’aceto (pickled onions).

Also on hand will be Josephine Mangano of Valli dell’Etna Olio di Oliva, who will talk about her artisan olive oils crafted from olives grown on her family’s groves on the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna. Such is the quality of Josephine’s specialty product that she is one of very few vendors granted exemption from Mill City’s strict "produced locally" policy. But take note: Valli dell’Etna Olio di Oliva is available at Mill City only once a month, so with the market’s season coming to a close on October 6, now may be the time to pick up a bottle or two. To dress some heirloom tomatoes now at their peak, blend Josephine’s olive oil with some herbal vinegars made by the youth interns of the East Side Garden Corps, who grow and sell their produce as part of a project with the youth and healthy foods advocacy group Community Design Center of Minnesota.

While sampling olive oils, vinegars, and Piedmontese dishes, enjoy the sound of arias as vocal students from the Minnesota Opera serenade market patrons with Neapolitan ballads and selections from Italian operas. Finally, feed the mind by visiting the Italian Cultural Center’s booth to learn more about Italy’s rich history and culture, especially given Minnesota’s strong connection to it.

Italians in Minnesota

While most people are familiar with the region’s Scandinavian immigrant history, the story of Italian settlers in Minnesota may not be as well known. Although the numbers who settled in this region were a fraction of those in the large enclaves of the East Coast, Italians established their presence in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But by far the largest community of Italians in Minnesota is found in the Iron Range. Lured by jobs in the mines, they settled in towns such as Ely and Hibbing, where they established their own communities alongside those from Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. The contributions of Italian settlers and their fellow immigrants to Minnesota are a valuable part of the state’s social and economic history, but they also gave quite a bit to the food culture as well.

Taste of the Iron Range

Along with Slovakian potica (walnut or poppy seed sweet bread) and Cornish pasties (meat pies), Italian porketta is part of the trio of well-loved Iron Range dishes. A tender, juicy pork roast seasoned with garlic, fennel and other herbs, it’s often served as a sandwich and is easily found in eateries in Northern Minnesota.

It’s a bit more scarce in the Twin Cities, so your best bet for tasting this succulent and flavorful dish is to purchase a pre-seasoned roast. Fraboni Sausage, a Hibbing family company generally credited with popularizing porketta beyond the Iron Range, sells the roast by mail while closer in, Tollefson Family Pork, which sells at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, also has a fresh version. The sandwich pictured here was made with porketta prepared by Mackenthun’s Sausage and Deli in St. Bonifacius, but if you’d like to try your hand at making the roast yourself, check out this simple, good and tasty recipe from Beth Dooley using Fischer Family Farms heritage pork.

The Mill City Farmers Market will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through October 6.



Tracey Paska is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty who also writes about the complex, confusing and fascinating connections between food, culture, and society on her blog Tangled Noodle.