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Fire on Fire: Italy’s Pikkanapa Festival Marries Cannabis and Chili Peppers

During the first weekend in September, the small Italian town of Jesi hosts a festival in celebration of two of the region’s hottest agricultural products: cannabis and spicy chilies. The plants, both quite popular in the region, combine in what some call the “indecent couple” — loved by some, maligned by others, and often misunderstood.

Especially in the south of Italy, hot peppers are — like hemp — part of the local history and culture. The late summer festival, called Pikkanapa, the result of cooperation between different producers located in the valley of Jesi. The region has a long history of cultivating and processing hemp, a fact that helped win over locals who at first were wary of a cannabis celebration.

“We could have them understand that hemp was one of the typical local products, thanks also to the proposal of a museum with old pictures that are shown during the event,” event organizer Leonardo Brunzini told Leafly. “Despite the initial incredulity, the festival has become one of the main events of the year.”

Last year’s Pikkanapa drew more than 20,000 visitors. The three-day event, supported by fifteen restaurants and pubs that join the party, hosts debates and discussions about hemp, hot peppers, and even chocolate. Growers can also show off their wares: The more diabolical local chili strains, such as the Yellow Fatalii, bring the burn with roughly 400,000 Scoville units — hotter than many habaneros or Scotch bonnets.

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The program also hosts concerts and shows across three different squares throughout town. There are cultural initiatives, too, such as the presentation of a cannabis recipes book written in association with Nutritionists Without Frontiers. Hemp, cultivated locally on about 20 hectares (50 acres), forms the base of the culinary delicacies served on the festival grounds and in the participating restaurants and bars. The other main ingredient is, of course, the spicy cayenne pepper. A favorite treat is “La Dolce Vita,” a chocolate confection incorporating hemp and cayenne.

The restaurant Rincroca serves as headquarters for the gastronomic alliance between hemp and chilies. There organizers coordinate the festival’s cooking team, a group that has dreamt up dishes like chicken Pikkanapa — served with a chocolate, cayenne, and hemp sauce — and Hempy Tripes, a version of a popular tripe specialty served with with hemp seeds and leaves.

Given the country’s tense relationship with cannabis, only low-THC products are allowed. There is, however, a wide selection of cannabis beers available as well as several local wines, such as Verdicchio, a greenish wine typical of the area. But don’t let those overshadow the event’s true stars: cannabis and cayenne. Both are sure to warm audiences’ hearts at this year’s Pikkanapa.