Carlo Levi said, “You can’t enter the world of farmers without a magic key.” That’s why you need to arm yourself with energy and magic! Why… for each region you travel to you will find a different farming tradition: harvesting potatoes on the third day of the full moon, beginning the walnut harvest on the night of the summer solstice to produce nocino in the Modena area, celebrating San Martino day on November 11th (we Italians always find a good reason to celebrate, particularly when food and wine are involved).
One of these festive traditions happens at the end of harvest: BENFINITA, also known as “Galzèga” in Veneto or “Bandiga” in Emilia Romagna. In short, Benfinita is the traditional celebration of the end of the grape harvest. It can also be used to mark the celebration of the end of the harvest for olives, walnuts, cherries, or wheat.
What a beautiful word, BENFINITA, isn’t it? Literally translated: “WELL FINISHED”.
A beautiful combination between joy and melancholy, an event that shares and seals the closing moment of the most exciting agricultural activity of the year, the grape harvest.
However the harvest goes, for better or worse than the year before, the end of this laborious activity for a farmer must and deserves to be honored.
It is a hymn to life. It is the result of hard work, tired arms, and taut skin.
Benefita… no matter what, it went well! The success lies in its completion and not only in the results of this year’s harvest.
But what is this celebration?
Historically, the Benfinita was a lunch at the end of the harvest. When this came to an end, the families gathered around a table, with workers, employees, friends, adults, children, relatives and the like to toast the work done and the banquet ended by taking the inevitable group photo so that the important day could be handed down to posterity.
Not much has changed. Today the Benfinita is a moment of sharing, surrounded by typical regional dishes and wines, music, and folklore dances. Those who physically contributed to the harvest together with friends and the family who own the vineyards come together to eat, drink, sing and dance free of any other thoughts.
We Italians always find a good reason to sit around a table, it’s in our DNA. This must be said. Around the dining table we consolidate old understandings and create new ones, we produce tasty intimacy and we often manage to smooth out raw and unmentionable tensions or emotions.
In towns and villages of peasant tradition, sharing is, above all, what most characterizes and unites communities small and large; sharing of intentions and feelings.
The big cities seem to be taking their cue from this vision of “collective peasant economy” with car sharing, house sharing, co-working, social tables, and the like. The value of sharing seems to want more and more space. In the countryside, among farmers, traditions like the benfinita must be preserved and handed down, while for those who live in the city it recalls values to be rediscovered.
An invitation to a celebration of this type, for those like me who live in a big city, doesn’t come often, and when it does it’s an unmissable opportunity…
My invitation came from Sara Gallina from Monteconero 570 and it was hands down one of the most glorious events I have ever taken part in.
I left with Silvia, a dear friend from Foligno, who after more than twenty years living between Rome and Milan, returned to Umbria and opened a winery refined like her: Viniamo Enolab. Sara, on the other hand, is a twenty-nine-year-old winemaker from Sant’Andrea d’Agliano, near Perugia. I met Sara in 2015, the year of Expo in Milan, right in the wine bar that Silvia opened in Milan’s Porta Venezia neighbourhood.
Today, after a degree in oenology and tons of work experience in France and Denmark, Sara, together with her brother, guides the family farm that produces wine, oil, and cured meats. This is not without the careful and vigilant supervision of her parents and above all her grandfather.
“Today like yesterday, tomorrow like today” is the slogan that belongs to her.
Traditions matter. And they should not be forgotten. As well as the old flavors or those slower rhythms linked to their past and territory.
The Benfinita 2019, the pre-Covid year, the one in which I participated, had many participants. One above all: IRMA, a lady over 80, a friend of the family, the woman who had the burden and the honor of kneading with her gnarled fingers “from 2 am to 8 pm a good 50 eggs”! for a total of I-don’t-know-how-many kilos of fresh tagliatelle, rigorously rolled out with a rolling pin, to help feed the 50-or-so guests.
And then there was his Majesty, the pork roast, an unmissable local dish, succulent and fat. And even so, the table was also full of cold cuts of all kinds, and oil to drench. Wine flowed in abundance and the group of starlings were always ready to play, sing and make us dance.
It was a real party, the last good party I attended before the world was put on hold.
It started with the sound of the keys of an old Olivetti Studio 44 typewriter used to create the menu and it ended with folk music and laughter, all accompanied by the scent and flavor of an infinita di ben di dio! (an infinity of good things!) Stuffed and very happy. No frills or pretensions.
And here the BENFINITA, even to a city girl like me, was served. A great reminder of what true magic looks like! Now it’s your turn! I’ll keep my fingers crossed you’ll be lucky as I was to receive that so simple but so special invite.