Vandergrift Festa Italiana attracts crowd despite wet weather
Jerome Trentin of Vandergrift may not be a full-blooded Italian, but he apparently cooks like one.
His bagna cauda — a pungent Northern Italian dip made primarily from fish, garlic and olive oil — took the top prize Sunday at the Festa Italiana di Vandergrift, an annual festival in its 13th year.
Trentin's dip was selected as the best over five other entrants — including the bagna cauda secretly entered in the contest by his wife.
Carole Trentin said she wanted to beat her husband, who often stands behind her and offers unsolicited suggestions while she's cooking the dip for New Year's Eve and other family events.
Carole said she uses the recipe she learned from “Nonna,” her husband's Italian grandmother.
“We've been making it since the '70s,” Carole Trentin said. “The kids, they're always waiting to eat it. They love it.”
Jerome Trentin said the bagna cauda is one of the foods he enjoys at the Festa Italiana. After working at the booth that sold Italian desserts and baked goods, Carole Trentin was looking forward to a pork belly sandwich — one of the exclusively Italian foods offered during the festival.
“Everyone's Italian today,” said John Fabian of Shaler.
Judy Decker of Vandergrift said Italian heritage is not required to enjoy the festivities at Kennedy Park.
“The people” are the best part of the festival for her. “It's all different ethnic backgrounds. Even though it's raining and yucky, people get together.”
Despite the periodic rain, the tents where families reserve tables were hopping and festivalgoers — many shielded by umbrellas — wandered amongst the food booths, sipped wine and beer, and danced to the music provided by six performers throughout the day.
Decker's granddaughter, Isabella Marie Barry of Harrison, trotted up to show her grandmother the temporary tattoo of joined American and Italian flags on her calf. The tattoo echoed the feather flags that lined Jackson Avenue beside the park.
More feather flags resembling the Italian flag bore the names of a dozen festival founders who have died since the Festa Italiana began in 2004.
For Andretta Kobik of West Deer, the festival and the bagna cauda contest she has presided over nearly since the festival began are an important opportunity to preserve Italian heritage.
“It's important to us because it's a tradition we want to keep going,” she said.
However, Kobik is considering an alternative to bagna cauda next year: she likes the idea of a contest honoring the best bagnet, a cold dip made of olive oil, garlic, anchovies and parsley.
Carole Trentin, smarting over her second-place finish to her husband, liked the bagnet idea.
It may appeal even more after a year of seeing her husband wear the coveted “Bagna Cauda Champ” apron that was his prize Sunday.
Jerome Trentin declined to reveal the secret of his recipe, which he's used to enter the contest several times.
Decker, Fabian and Anthony Donatelli of Buffalo Township took their responsibilities of judging the dip seriously.
They discussed which was too salty and which had the ingredients too finely ground. They debated whether tuna, anchovies, sardines or a combination of fish makes the best dip. Fabian spread the bagna cauda on sliced bread, Decker used vegetables and Donatelli sipped straight from a spoon.
“It's got to have the perfect balance of the garlic and the fish,” Donatelli said.
Decker was looking for the blend that reminded her most of the dip her “pap” would make for Christmas.
Fabian confessed to having little experience with the dip before the Festa Italiana.
“It's an acquired taste,” he said.
“This is why we love it,” Jerome Trentin said. “It's a good festival.”
Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or email@example.com.