Cherry production in Italy began in earnest following the sharp decline in the price of silk after the 1st World War; local farmers began chopping down their mulberry trees whose use had been two-fold, the wood to act as vine supports and the leaves sent to the silk worm factories. Farmers now began planting fruit crop trees especially the lighter red amarelle cherries that are tasty dainties compared to some of the sumo cherries I’ve been offered state-side.
Raiano has been putting on its unusual one-day sagra since 1939, and it’s become so important on the Italian stage that cherries get sent to this town from all over for tasting and grading, 390 masl sitting north of Sulmona in the Peligna Valley. Formerly a Roman settlement known as Radianum, the town has been rebuilt over the centuries following nearby earthquakes, and the cherry festival is just one way for this small town of 2700 inhabitants to celebrate their historical agricultural roots together artistically, culturally, and with the sweetest of fruits formerly reserved for the wealthy.
In the afternoon, the cherry procession gathers with over a km of floats that contain locals and particularly children dressed up to the nines in the style of times gone by. You really feel that the town and its surrounding villages get a genuine kick from entering into the spirit of the event, and any sense of bashfulness in dressing up goes right out the window and grins galore rule the day proving quite infectious. At this time of year in the local area the gorse is in flower and its bright yellow flowers garland the floats and perfume the air with their musky coconut fragrance.
There is naturally lots of opportunities to taste and the great thing is that cherries are good for you, with lots of free-radicals, so there is no reason not to get stuck in. There is a gourmet market with local suppliers out in force, and one particularly good stall selling home-made ice-cream whose fruit flavours were some of the best we have tasted in Italy, quite delicious. Local bands playing a mixture of rock and local folk music in the evening kept things moving apace.
Raiano Cherry Sagra Date: – First Weekend in June
For more info: Sagra delle Ciliegie Raiano