Nevada County Italian Festival in second year

LAST SUMMER, THE NEVADA County Italian Festival drew almost 6,500 people in its inaugural year, a testament to the rich Italian heritage in the foothills.

This year’s festival is at Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley on September 17 and 18. The organizers are planning for a bigger crowd and hope to make the park the festival’s permanent home.

“Our goal is to provide a fun-filled atmosphere and to make the festival a traditional gathering spot for thousands to return each year,” says organizer Stephen DeSena.

The festa Italiana will feature Italian food and crafts, wine tasting, live music and dancing, activities and a Bocce tournament. Picnic tables will be decked out in red-and-white check tablecloths and a wine garden will be on site. A colorfully dressed accordion player will serenade the crowd.

The festival is part of a resurgence of Italian-American culture in the foothills. A Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation has been formed.

It has a center in the lobby of the Gold Miner’s Inn in Grass Valley, providing literature about Italy. It also presents Italian language classes.

The festival is the highlight, however.

Last year, Italian festival goers were entertained by Italian Ricco dancers, a Dean Martin look-alike and a Sinatra-style crooner. There were cooking demonstrations, a meatball eating contest and restauranteurs serving Italian sausage, pizzas, calzone, gelato and other fare.

Avanguardia, Lucchesi, Montoliva and other foothill wineries poured their “Cal-Ital” style wines in a festive garden.

Bocce courts were erected for a tournament, a heritage tent showcased local Italian families, and children’s activities included bean bag Bocce and face painting.

This year festival organizers will build spermanent Bocce courts to host major tournaments. America has an estimated 25 million Bocce fans and is the nation’s fastest-growing ball sport.

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