Anchovies are one of the most essential ingredients in Piemontese cuisine. How the anchovy made its way into classic Piemontese dishes such as bagna cauda and vitello tonnata goes back to the beginning of the 18th century when farmers in the mountain communities of the Maira Valley were desperate to eke out a living during the harsh winter months. Each year the local farmers left their families at home and travelled by mule along mountain paths across the Alps into Provence, France. Their destinations were Barcellonette, Tolone, Marseilles and other stops along the Riviera where they could barter for barrels of salt-cured anchovies.
The acciugai, or anchovy vendors, carried heavy barrels of anchovies back across the Alps and marketed their salty wares back in Piemonte as well as Lombardia and Emila-Romagna. Dronero became an important trading center for Italy’s anchovy market. Some acciugai became entrepreneurs and went on to found successful food shops in Turin, Milan and Bologna.
The tradition of the acciugai died out after the second world war however today it is remembered during an annual festival of all things anchovy in Dronero.