Cantè j’Euv delight participants and onlookers in March every year with its traditional songs, dances, and toasts, making it one of the Roero’s oldest traditions.
Every year, the musical and enogastronomic event Cantè j’Euv attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Piemonte. They come eagerly anticipating the taste of hot Piemontese street food, excellent local wine, and the pleasure of joining in the happy chorus of many voices singing together.
Cantè j’Euv is a unique and fascinating traditional festival of Piemonte. Its name derives from a time when the rural communities of lower Piemonte – those in today’s Langhe, Monferrato, and Roero zones – never passed a season without a festival or rite to celebrate it. Countless variations of names and festivals ran through these small communities; one, however, was a common thread to all: la questura della uova, “the egg hunt,” or in local dialect, “cantè j’euv.”
As the days grew longer and the first green grasses pushed their way up through the warming soil, groups of young men and women took to the country roads during the evenings in the 40 days before Easter. Moving on foot or in carriages, they continued through the countryside until they arrived at a barn or front door of a farmhouse. There, with only the bark of a lone dog to announce their arrival, they would begin to sing. The first song was always a traditional song in Piemontese: Suma partì da nostra cà, ca i-era n’prima seira, per venive a salutè, devè la bun-ha seira... (“We left our houses in the early evening to come and greet you and wish you good night…”).
This was just the beginning. As the song continued, it invited the owners of the house to come out into the night and give them eggs in return. More often than not, the padrone, still in his pajamas, would step over his threshold with a dozen eggs and slip them into a basket held by a strangely-dressed character, the fratucìn (who was really just a boy dressed like a monk). The singers would then either sing some more songs and continue on to the next farmhouse; or be invited inside by the padrone, if he wasn’t too tired and was feeling kindly towards these nighttime visitors, to the cellars for a glass of wine.
And in this way, during the springtime, the towns of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato were all caught up in the nighttime rituals of singing and good cheer. Cantè j’Euv was, of course, a wonderful excuse to spend quality community time with neighbors, but it served another purpose, as well. Collecting eggs might make sense because, after all, children search for and collect eggs at Eastertime. But this, in turn, begs the question, “Why eggs?” The singers of Cantè j’Euv chose their venues shrewdly, and sung mostly at farmhouses (better yet if they produced wine!); the eggs they gathered were traditionally used to prepare an enormous frittata on Easter day for everyone to enjoy.
After a period about 30 years ago when this treasured tradition was in danger of fading away, several concerned citizens brought it back, including the savior of endangered traditions (gastronomy-wise) himself, Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement. In fact, every year Petrini still leads a group of students from the University of Gastronomic Sciences around the countryside to regale folks with traditional songs in Italian and Piemotnese dialect. Nowadays, farms and wineries hand out plates of local cheeses, artisanal salami, bread, grissini, and other classic aperitivi snacks, and glasses of wine to the grateful singers during the period of singing. It lasts long into the night.
For those who do not participate, the Cantè j’Euv is too integral a part of the community not to give everyone a chance to take part. The event is a piazza-centered festival full of good food, wine, bands playing instruments to traditional tunes, and singers adding their voices to the happy melee. Relive a moment of the past, and rediscover the simple joy of conviviality with neighbors and visitors from further afield.