Thought I'd throw up a general recommendation: a fun way to eat and explore in Italy is to plan trips around "sagre e feste", especially the eno-gastronomic oriented ones. Yes, they sometimes are innundated by booths of plastic toys and crap, Neapolitans in their neon porchetta trucks blasting Lady Gaga and carnival rides, but if you persist and get to the food tent you may be greatly rewarded.
For example, last October I went to the Sagra dell'Anguilla in Comacchio. Grilled eel and polenta, fritto misto, cuttlefish and peas... delicious. Not as good of course, as a less logistically-challenged restaurant meal, but great fun to sit at community tables with elderly Comacchese ladies evaluating the food and sharing how they make their eel. This followed by a leisurely stroll around the town (delightful), some purchases of marinated eel and anchovies, a tour of the old cannery and a hike around the old sea salt dikes makes for a memorable weekend.
More recently there was the Funerale della Saracca in Oliveto, a miniscule Emilian hilltop town that hosts a late carnevale bacchanalia with abundant wine and plates of smoked herring and polenta. The villagers dress up in rags, form street bands, and entirely devolve into madness. The lottery is a raucuous mess bordering on riot. And finally they have a funeral procession for the herring (symbol of deprivation, poverty). A ripping good time and worthy of a PhD thesis for some Bahktin-influenced anthropology grad student.
And upcoming, for the more genteel, will be this year's Figli di un Bacco minore (Children of a lesser Bacchus) in Bagnocavallo, a Slow Food joint that features autocthonous (native) wines; a chance to taste some incredible wines and be inroduced to little-known and in some cases nearly extinct varietals. Hundreds of them. Including bottles that have three-figure price tags. I've been several times and as the popularity grows it seems to be losing the original charm, when the sommeliers acted as guides to their regional booths. It is still a great event (and not too pricey, if you consider how much top quality wine you taste for around 30 euros).
If you invest some time sifting through Italian websites you can find some gems. These are a few I know of (in Italian):
So does anyone else have favorite sagre? It would be great to hear about these kind of events in advance or reported back afterward on Chowhound.
*** I have no professional or personal attachment to any of these events, sites or to the tourism industry; I'm just trying to start a discussion.