Gloria, our housekeeper, appears on my back door step to announce that there is a mushroom festival in a little town called Sipicciano. A village not far from Orvieto in Umbria. This village does not appear on any map I own. It is perched on the edge of the Tiber Valley right on the border of Umbria and the Lazio. Like an ancient eagle, it looks down from its aery onto vineyards and olive groves and over in the far distance towards all the traffic speeding between Rome and Florence.
Beautiful color posters show delicious looking mushrooms all enticingly displayed on copper. The posters are all over our little town of Lubriano. Gloria says the town is near Graffignano and it is only about a fifteen mile drive down the Tiber Valley. We have friends staying with us in our small house in the middle of village. They are anxious to taste the famous porcini mushrooms of our area which are available for a very short season in October and November.
We mark the date on the calendar. So on a rainy Saturday afternoon I put a cut of veal in the oven to roast slowly while we are gone. I prepare it in the Lubriano way: browning it on top of the stove in olive oil, butter and garlic and then transfer it into a heavy casserole. I add a little wine and place it in the oven to slowly cook while we are gone. We will bring back plenty of mushrooms to serve with this veal roast. We set off with our three friends from the USA for the Festival of Funghi.
We wander down through Castiglione in Teverina. Through beautiful rolling countryside and we stop at the stunning winery of La Madonna della Macchie to get our attitudes adjusted. We come to Graffignano. It is another of the ancient towns in the Tiber Valley. Nothing grand like Orvieto or Cortona, but just a town built up high to get away from the marauding hoards of the many centuries past, whether it be Goths, Visigoths, Romans, Charlemagne, or Hannibal -- you name them, they have all tried hard to maraud this valley on their way to the big prize of Rome.
After various stops asking locals where the mushroom festival is, and getting many puzzled looks, we eventually see Sipicciano which appears to be a village of about 500. We had not seen one sign for a Mushroom Festival since we left Lubriano. What we find here, is a village surrounded by massively fortified walls. Unlike its neighbor Orvieto, nothing has been restored. There is not a soul in sight. Eventually we come upon a church and happen to notice a few people scurrying to the back with baskets. We venture to follow. What we find here is a hall behind the church. It soon becomes clear that this is a festival of "Mushrooms NOT to eat" rather than "Funghi to eat.” And here we are with raging appetites for the Funghi with Lasagna, Funghi with Polenta and Funghi with Vitello and Funghi with Bistecca and here we find ourselves at a festival of mushrooms NOT to eat.