On August 15th, the national bank holiday of ‘Ferragosto’, and for about a week later, Piazza Aldo Moro in the centre of Crema is filled with huge, crowded dining tables, accompanied by orchestras and musical groups in the evening. Gourmets and every kind of tourist, some local and others from much further afield (the British and Germans are particular fans), can’t wait to try the showpiece of Crema cuisine, our sweet ‘tortelli cremaschi’.
From evidence collected, it has been calculated that more than 3000kg of tortelli are served during the Tortellata Cremasca Festival , providing eleven thousand meals on site and the rest as takeaway. Similarly, sales of the uncooked product reach surprising peaks. Overall, the production of tortelli cremaschi over this short period of time, satisfies the appetite of up to one hundred thousand people. This first course, which in the culinary tradition of Crema was followed by a stew made with donkey meat, ‘polenta’ with goose and various types of cheeses, has the peculiarity of creating an immediate appreciation – Love at first bite!
The origins of the recipe for tortelli cremaschi have been lost over the centuries. How and when they were first created is still a mystery today. No-one has been able to reveal their controversial origin and only hypotheses can be made. Some support the idea that they were first conjured up in the kitchen of some aristocrat, others instead bet on more humble origins. One appealing idea refers to the various ingredients in the filling as a mixture of leftovers from the kitchen cupboard at the end of the season, before renewing supplies. However, there are no documentary sources as evidence.
Originally tortelli cremaschi were only of family, gastronomic heritage, but in recent times they have become increasingly established as a restaurant course, enjoying success among the general public as well as within the family home. Professional pasta makers, such as the Salvi family, have handed down their version of the recipe from father to son, but recipes are also a source of pride for every housewife in Crema who personally knows how to prepare them.
The Tortellata Festival is an excellent opportunity to taste some typical cheeses of the Crema culinary tradition, among which a place of honour is reserved for ‘salva’, which also has its own special festival on December 8th.
Some salva cheesemakers are the descendants of farmworkers who once lived in the alps near Bergamo. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, they traditionally led their cows to winter on the plains around the town of Crema. After grazing on the luscious grass of the fallow lands, the cows produced abundant quantities of milk, the excess of which was made profitable by preparing the typical straw-coloured, salva cheese. It was consumed three or four months later, when winter was approaching and demand for food increased.
Piazza Aldo Moro