Residents of Le Marche are justifiably proud of their cuisine, a feeling that starts with the people who produce the products that find their way into kitchens across the region. As luck would have it, I had arrived in Macerata the same weekend as the Central Italian Ag Expo (Raci, for “Rassegna Agricola Centro Italia,” in Italian*) an important ag show that attracted attendees from all over Italy in Villa Potenza, a small city just down the hill from Macerata.
Raci was a cross between a trade show and a state fair. It had a farm equipment area, with several new tractors, combines, and other machines for farmers to ogle; a large food pavilion full of meats, cheeses, wines, and preserves; a market where you could buy leather products, ceramics, gardening supplies, and other goods; horse rides for kids; and a large livestock pavilion.
The livestock was the highlight of the show. I saw some four-horned goats curly-feathered pigeons, sheep, and, most important of all—a demonstration of the finest cattle in the Marche region. The “razza Marchigiana,” as it is known, local breed of cow that is the pride of the region. (Trattoria da Ezio uses its meat in the meatballs).
According to this website from the Province of Ancona (Ancona is the next province to the north), the Marchigana’s ancestors came to Italy in the 500s following the Barbarian invasions. Originally, they were used to pull carts and carry heavy loads. Starting in the early 19th century, ranchers in the region focused on improving the animals’ meat production through selective breeding, which has given the breed a high muscle-to-bone ratio.
Up close, the Marchigiana is a regal animal, with creamy white hair and eye-popping musculature. The animals are valued for the milk they produce, but especially for their meat. An animal like the one in the picture below ought to produce a good steak or two (hundred).**
In addition to giving the public a chance to see the Marchigiana up close, Raci gave farmers the opportunity to compete with other farms and ranches over who had the best animals. Several different classifications, from calves to cows to bulls, were judged on qualities such as musculature, symmetry, color, etc., with the winners being announced on the last day of the show.
The awards ceremony was hosted by several ag industry experts, as well as a few local politicians, hamming (steaking?)*** it up for the crowd. I don’t know if there were monetary prizes involved, but the winners did get at least atrophy, a picture with an official and a handshake (though, as someone remarked, after shaking hands with a couple of the politicians, the cattlemen ought to go back to the barn and wash their hands before touching the animals again). Some of the family-owned farms won awards in several different categories, and you could see the satisfaction on their faces as they walked their (sometimes uncooperative) animals toward the stage for to pick up their awards.
The overall champion, Volt, was a mammoth animal that towered over his owner and weighed more than just about everything else at the show (even some of those sexy tractors), and was a great representative for the agricultural and culinary pride of Le Marche.
*Acronyms in Italian only capitalize the first letter. It took me along time to figure this out, but when I did, it made it a lot easier to read the newspapers, which are full of acronyms.
**This fellow doesn’t need to worry about that for a long time. He is far more valuable as a breeding stud than he would be if butchered.
***Yes, I still like bad puns