Umbria

The Umbria Awards

IMG_1397Instead of boring you with the usual Best of Umbria this or that, or random tips on Umbria, I will bore you with an award ceremony.

The Charlize Theron Award.  Given to the most picturesque Town – Spello

We visited a number of towns and villages throughout Italy.  Spello is not only the most picturesque town in Umbria, but one of the prettiest in the country.  It helps if you visit during the Infiorate flower festival.  But even at other times you got flowers, bunnies, chachkies of all kinds decorate every balcony.  Some even proudly display the awards their balconies won.

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The Tom Branson Award.  Given to the most charming village – Scheggino

I’ve already written about this little fairy tale village near Spello that so many overlook.  But it helps to see it like I did, without any preconceived notions.  Have dinner at the excellent Osteria Baciafemmine, and visit the Urabni Truffle store.  Pair it with Spello, and give it an hour or two of daylight prior to dinner.

Tom

The Leonard Hofstadter Award.  Most atmospheric square –  Montefalco

You get the sense that the squares of Umbria stick out more than other regions.  Many towns feature interesting streets and alleys full of anticipation to what squares they lead to.  Some, as the great Morrissey once said, are bigger than others.  But few came close to the atmosphere of Montefalco in the evening.

Villa in Umbria

Courtesy of Villa in Umbria

The William H Macey Award.  Given to the sleepiest village – Bevagna

Or did we catch her at the wrong time.  June, midday, hot hot hot.  This is not a full endorsement as we found it a little too sleepy perhaps, but there’s something to learn here.  Avoid middle of the day.  Come with an open mind.  Dont compare them.  And no matter what, have dinner at Antiche Sere.

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The Rick Steves award.  Given to the most important, but couldn’t wait to get out of there town – Assisi

Every time there’s a discussion about wearing shorts in churches, I think of Assisi and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.  I havent seen so many bare legs since the last ZZ Top video.  Some places are touristy for a reason, and Assisi is certainly no exception.  Best advice is this:  Take a guided tour to help with the focus and appreciate it better.  We didnt, and that was a mistake

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The Boar’s Head Award.  Given to the best picnic spot – Piani Di Castelluccio

With the aid of Norcia Salami, made by some of the most respected butchers in the world.  Even after the devastation of Norcia and Castelluccio after the 2016 earthquake, there’s just something surreal about being there.  A trip to the stunning Piani compliments any Umbria itinerary well.  But if this is a bit far from you, a picnic overlooking the spectacular Assisi from the vineyards off SAIO may do.

IMG_1276The Milton Snavely Hershey Award.  Given to the best Chocolate – Urbani truffled truffles in the Urbani museum

Umbria is sort of a Chocolate lover paradise.  You got Perugia and its famous tenant, Perugina, the maker of Baci kisses.  In Norcia you can visit Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia.  We purchased so much chocolate, we are still eating them months later.  But it was the marketing nightmare of the truffled truffles in Urbani that triggered a reaction like no other.  A good reaction.

The rest of the awards given in a ceremony earlier…

Best Porchetta – Antica Salumeria Granieri Amato, Perugia

Best I can’t believe it’s not Porchetta – Rabbit Porchetta, Antiche Sere, Bevagna

Antiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Best Dish – Pigeon at Enoteca L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Best Meal – Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef South East – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Miss Congeniality – Giulia Rossi. Enoteca…  Just kidding.  Its Patrizia Moretti

Congratulations to the winners!

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Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Scheggino (and Osteria Baciafemmine)

IMG_1380This was supposed to be a post about Osteria Baciafemmine, one of Umbria’s most hidden (quite literally here) gems.  But something happened during this visit.  A twist.  The kind I only see in South Korean movies.  As good as this meal was, the little village of Scheggino, with a population of 463 (we counted) upstaged the meal.  To the point that we changed plans on the last day to visit the village again.

Scheggino is a village nestled vertically at the foot of a mountain.  From the outside it may look like something you may have seen before.  But once you start climbing those narrow pedestrian streets, its like a fairy tale village.  One without tourists which is a rarity nowadays.  But that’s Umbria for you.  The unappreciated belly of Italy.  No wonder there was a wedding during our second visit.  When you visit a place this small, and there’s a wedding going on, you essentially become part of it.  We wished them a big Mazal-Tov, and sent them off with a fondue set.  I always carry one in the car in case of emergencies.

Scheggino, simply put is the most charming little village I’ve ever seen.  But there are more reasons to visit.  Scheggino is also home to Urbani, the truffle tsar, whose products can be found all over NYC.  You can visit its headquarters just outside the entrance to the village.  But even more accessible is “Truffleland” inside the village where you can participate in several rides like the “Its a Fungus after all” train ride through the mountain.  Ok, not really.  Its just a small museum and store, where you can sample the best “truffle truffles” (a marketing nightmare I imagine) you’ll ever have.

 

IMG_1321Cutting through at the foot of Scheggino is the Nera River producing one of the only seafood items found in Umbria, trout.  You can have it at Osteria Baciafemmine as is, or crusted with crunchy breadcrumbs and parsley.  Osteria Baciafemmine is a local legend, Slow Food fixture, and the reason we came to this village in the first place.  Rustic, all in the family Osteria, dishing out local specialties and meat raised in their own farm.  Mother, father, daughter, cat, all hard at work at a space decorated head to toe with food and drink stuff, almost museum like.  Toto, we are not in Staten Island anymore.

Not much English spoken at the Osteria, but the international language of food is sometimes more powerful than words.  Out of the soup offerings, the pureed chickpea soup was a standout, but the local lentils were not too shabby.  A fragrant and delicious gnocchetti with sheep meat ragu and tomato sauce worked better than the Strangozzi with truffles.  Excellent pork cooked with beer, apple and honey.  Two perfectly cooked and well crafted sausages comes with polenta topped with, what else, truffle spread.  A most memorable meal at a photographer’s dream setting.

 

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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Antiche Sere (Bevagna) – Sons of Anarchy

Antiche Sere chickpea soupIf you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick.  Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.  I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it.  “Are you positive this is it?  From the parking lot we passed more inviting places.  Like, all of them.  And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”.  They said none of this out loud of course.  They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.

The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic.  The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos?  I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat.  Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it.  Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home.  So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent.  And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers.  And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot.  The type that know what they are and gained a following.  They type you target, and not bump into by accident.

Antiche Sere

Antiche Sere LogoThis being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive.  One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact.  As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space.  You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean.  And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.

The menu is small.  The first sign that this is gonna be good.  The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it.  I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this.  The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.

Antiche Sere mushroomStarted with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup.  Clams from Ancora and local  chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya).  This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion.  Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day.  Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms.  Eggplant parmigiana was another winner.  And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.

But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”.  A dish more common in pricey French joints.  Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor.  One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local.  All washed down with delicious local beer.

Antiche Sere RavioliAntiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

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