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It’s a Dog’s Life

“A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are therefore usually found in close association with tree roots. Spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi”

Today we met Pippo – a truffle dog who has served his master well the last 13 years.  He was a champion white truffle hunter but is getting a bit white himself around the snout and beginning to slow down.  Not quite ready to retire, his owner has farmed him out as a black truffle hunter, a challenging job but not quite as physically exhausting as hunting the rarer white truffle.  Pippo makes a great black truffle hunter.  For Pippo hunting for truffles is an adventure, a job you can see that he enjoys.  Its pretty simple, go for a walk with your master.  Keep your nose to the ground constantly sniffing, searching for the scent of a truffle that is released when the truffle is ripe.  Dig up the ground – gently but diligently.  Dig deep until you find the truffle and then wait patiently for your reward – not the truffle but a treat from your master.  For Pippo the truffle the hunt is a game.

In hunting for truffles the hunter is important but the dog is key. Without the dog you simply cannot find truffles.  Truffles grow underground and while they sometimes leave clues as to their whereabouts above ground, they can’t reliably be spotted.  Although they’re called tubers, they aren’t like a potato where you can see the plant above them.  Truffles truly have to be sniffed out.  Which is where Pippo comes in.

Returning to the home of our hosts for the day, the Bianconis, we meet their other dog – Eddie.  Eddie is a high energy dog who as a puppy was always getting into trouble.  A loveable naughty dog with needle-like teeth and a disposition to nip.  How many times in a day can you say “Eddie, No.”  Watching Eddie while enjoying our truffle feast, Gavin, sitting next to me points out that Eddie is having all of the fun while Pippo got to do all the work.

While work is fun for Pippo it still is work.  He has been working his entire life and is now one step away from retiring.  He gets well taken care of and he gets to eat, or at least smell truffles everyday.  He is one happy dog.

Truffles 002Eddie has never worked a day in his life.  He could have been trained as a truffle dog – but he wasn’t focused and pretty much not interested.  His reward?  He gets well taken care of and gets to eats truffles every day. He is one happy dog.

We had a very succesful day today – we found about €600 worth of black truffles.  Or should we say Pippo found about €600 worth of truffles and we sat back and enjoyed them.

Its a Dog’s Life.

“A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Truffles ...

Carriage and Feeding

The highlight of Day 1, on which eight of our group, including Suzy and me arrived in country, had to be the carriage ride with Roberto. It’s not easy picking just one favorite on a day that included lunch in Santa Maria degli Angeli, a walking tour of Assisi, a visit and winetasting at Roberto’s winery and a marathon welcome meal prepared by Chiara. But when you get to spend a half hour with Roberto DiFilippo, the inspirational owner of DiFilippo and Plani Arche wineries, being transported in a carriage drawn by the horses that work his fields, listening to his philosophy of organic and biodynamic farming while you clip clop through rolling fields that are home to his vines, licked by the cool, crisp, late afternoon autumn air, how could that not be the highlight?

It’s that sort of experience, making the acquaintance of one of the area’s top winemakers and immediately boarding his ten person carriage, entering his world at his invitation, becoming his guest and his friend, that makes these food and wine tours so special. Half an hour later, our group of eight guests find themselves sitting in Roberto’s tasting room enjoying his wine as he and his colleague Valeria introduce them to grechetto, trebbiano spoletino, sangiovese and sagrantino, not to mention Roberto’s special Vernaccia di Cannara.

Some of the couples on this tour arrived in our little corner of heaven knowing one another, but by the end of that first day, a day on which all shared and experienced so much together, everyone – those who had already been friends and those that became friends today – had become part of the same family. And so it goes here in the tiny village of Cannara, where Suzy and I have brought part of our family, our oldest son Austin to help manage the group, that we bid a late goodnight, bellies filled and souls sated, to our new family with whom we will share much this week.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

The highlight of Day 1, on which eight of our group, including Suzy and me arrived in country, had to be the ...

Anticipation

“Anticipation Is keepin’ me waitin’”

I love a surprise as much as anyone (especially if its diamonds) but sometimes the best part of something is the anticipation.   For our Fall Harvest tour in Umbria I love the planning, the packing, the reading and rereading of the itinerary.  Imagining the sights, sounds and smells we will be enjoying.  Anticipating the highs and the lows.  Preparing for all types of weather – does packing an umbrella really give you a better chance of clear skies?  Better not take the risk – throw it in.

Talk about anticipation – we have been talking with this week’s group for 4 years trying to get a date on the calendar for their Fall Food & Wine Tour.  Bill and I have been working around the clock with Marco and Chiara putting together a week that captures all of our fall favorites.  We work with each other to create a schedule that gives a full day with a little bit of flexibility to find new adventures along the way. Our challenge isn’t what to do – it’s how to do everything.  So many people to meet, foods to eat and wines to discover.

This week is a reunion for us.  Catching up with Italian friends who are now part of our family.  Sharing stories of weeks past and planning for more adventures ahead.  Every stop this week includes friends who have shared experiences with us right here but also outside of their hometown, outside of Italy.  So stay tuned for new stories with old friends.

And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.

“Anticipation Is keepin' me waitin'” I love a surprise as much as anyone (especially if its diamonds) but sometimes the best part of ...

Honoring Suzy Menard

I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could do anything and to always feel comfortable speaking up. We enjoyed dinner together every night with lively discussions around the table. As children we were meant to be seen and heard.

My parents were leaders in all they did and they passed on a strong sense of family and community to all of us. My mother came from a large family – I have 41 first cousins on her side. Whether it meant babysitting for my younger cousins for free or having family live with us in hard times – we took care of each other. We always had room for everyone My mother would throw huge elaborate parties for business and for us kids. We loved hearing a knock on the door signalling that someone was driving by and wanted to drop in. We never ran out of food at the table or space for someone who needed to crash. Sometimes as an adult it is tough staying friends with my relatives on Facebook – but the memories of playing football and cards together balances out their crazy political positions.

My father was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Iowa and went on to hold many political positions and ran for Governor in the ‘70’s. We knew from a young age that our behavior would reflect on our parents. It was not an option for us to misbehave or get into trouble. So minor infractions like being 5 minutes late on curfew or neglecting to unload the dishwasher were the biggest trouble we got into (boy were my folks lucky). As Iowans we were used to seeing all of the presidential candidates around town – as Worthington’s we were used to seeing all the Democratic candidates around our kitchen table. Dad was pretty influential and it was important to get his early support. So while other kids would be playing video games (like Pong) I was knocking on doors collecting peanuts for Carter.

My passion for politics lead me to DC. I loved Iowa, but after visiting Georgetown as a teen-ager – I knew that DC had my heart. No longer collecting peanuts for Carter – I was part of a new, inspired Fundraising team with the audacious goal of raising $12 million for Walter Mondale. The money was raised (really does seem like peanuts today) but unfortunately was not enough and we suffered the biggest political landslide in history. It wasn’t enough to discourage me – and the upside was that I made a best friend who became my husband. The family back in Iowa had heard me talk throughout the election about my buddy Menard – they hadn’t met him but clearly liked him. Toward the end of the campaign when I started talking about my new boyfriend Bill – there was some slight hesitation and disappointment. Cleared up easily when I started referring to my new beau as Bill Menard. At least something good came out of that election

We continued to work in politics and made many friends over our wins and losses. Today it is strange to see friends we knew in their 20’s & 30’s become Top Level Advisors and Party Leaders.

After much thought we decided to start a family in Washington – we were both hooked on the city. Austin was born the summer after our big Dukakis loss (again – at least something good came out of that election!) We decided to take a break from politics – Bill started at Georgetown Law and I decided to stay home with Austin. I have always felt fortunate that I had the choice of working outside of the home or staying home. I was one happy housewife. Lindsey was born just shy of Austin’s second birthday. We had two great kids, Bill was working at a big firm downtown, we were making new friends in our neighborhood. Life was Good. Why not make it better – we had always talked about having a big family with the number of kids ever changing – but we definitely wanted to have more. We were surprised, frightened and excited when we discovered that we were expecting twins. Identical boys – Teddy and Davis.

Bringing the twins home to a house with a three year old and not quite five year old was probably the most daunting task of my life. But as always we settled into a routine that worked. With so many children running around there was no chance of just one of us raising the children – it was all hands on deck. If someone offered to help out I never said no. Bill has always been a great dad and involved in the kids lives. Its truly been a partnership raising our kids.

We have had several adventures in Italy over the years. After Bill’s first year at law school he signed up for summer school in Florence. We had a little apartment on the other side of the Arno. Bill would take the bus to Fiesole to study American Constitutional Law in the mornings and Austin and I would explore Florence. Visiting the parks and public pool, shopping and eating a lot of Gelato. Bill would finish class and we would leave Austin home with my cousing who was traveling with us and Bill and I would go out discovering Florence. Over the three months there we met several Italian friends who we are still in touch with today. Bill proudly graduated Law school with Lindsey on his shoulder a proud father and JD.

When the twins were turning 5 we took all four children to Italy. We were in the Cinque Terre and took cooking classes with a local Chef who was fabulous. It was the early stages of the internet and he was a big early believer. He promoted his courses with great success online and wanted to set up a small company where he could provide extra virgin olive oil, traditional balsamic vinegar and coffee to his clients in the states. Always looking for a challenge – we immediately agreed to work with him and went through the process of figuring out how to import food products from Italy.

When this hobby turned into more of a full time responsibility we had the option to shut down or go all in with a bricks and mortar store. Never one to walk away from a challenge we set our sights high and joined forces with good friends to open up Bella Italia in Bethesda. Now we were really learning how to import products from Italy.

Our trips to Italy became more focused and we travelled throughout Italy finding new products and meeting new families who were passionate about their craft. Eating, drinking, and shopping became my full time job. The more we travelled the more people we met and the more we became rooted in Umbria. Several of the artists we were doing business with had become part of our family. All trips to Italy had a stop in Umbria. When we decided to buy a home in Italy – there was no doubt that we would buy in Umbria. And as a result our Italian family has expanded. Zia Augusta joined us for Teddy’s graduation, our oldest son Simone calls me Mommy, and of course we practically kidnapped Jennifer and her two children last spring when we were short in the kitchen. When we visit in Italy we have friends and neighbors (our family) who will drop by with a piece of cheese they saw at the market and wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to try or stop by for a drink and stay for dinner.

Our summer dinner parties in Italy are a blast – often introducing our Italian neighbors to each other. Their talents, their commitment to their art, their promise to continuing tradition is inspiring and makes us return to DC wanting to shout from the rooftops – come and see what these amazing people have done.

I am fortunate to have met my partner in life at a young age. Hard to believe it will be 32 years in December. Raising four kids together was a challenge – running a business 24/7 is an even bigger challenge! Only possible remembering at the end of the day we love each other and we love what we do.

Anyone who knows me knows that I use a lot of inappropriate words. The only word to me that is truly inappropriate is NO. When we began the buildout of Via Umbria our vision was confusing to others. Contractors and Architects are used to cookie cutter projects – is it a Restaurant? Is it a Market? Is it a Cafe? Can you sell wine? By design we are a bit of everything – an Italian Village under one roof. It truly is the reflection of all of our many amazing experiences in Italy and a tribute to the incredible artisans, chefs, winemakers, and people we have met there. It took a lot of patience and a lot of guidance to create the feel that we wanted. And then came the permitting – DC is definitely used to cookie cutter projects and there is no permit for “Italian Village under one roof”. But we knew what we wanted to create and weren’t willing to give up until we found the permits that we needed.

Now the task of building a team to work with us who shared our vision. Finding a team who believe in what we are doing is no easy task. But over time and with a lot of on the spot learning we have created our Italian home in Georgetown. Going from Bethesda with a staff of 4-5 to Georgetown with a staff of 40 was a challenge.

Walking into the store today puts a smile on my face – I am greeted with a Buongiorno and I see people taking care of people. I love the people I work with.

Via Umbria is a family business. Our kids are all involved in some way. The boys clock in when they are in town visiting and they spent two weeks this summer travelling around Italy with Bill meeting old friends and discovering new producers. Our daughter Lindsey works with us full time. Who better to look out for the store than family? Lindsey grew up visiting Italy, she knows the families and she definitely knows the products. She is my daughter and my best friend. She is the perfect sounding board. She is my fashion consultant and my voice of reason. She is a talented young woman and I feel blessed to have her running the business alongside us.

Suzy’s Words of Wisdom:

Think outside the box
Treat people with respect
Everyone is family
Set Expectations High
Speak your mind
Always take the risk
Love with your whole heart
Never say No

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I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could ...

Tabarrini Day

“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am a bit startled.  And then I think for a minute – thank you is an easy expression – I use it a dozen times a day.  Giampaolo doesn’t want to be thanked – he is simply enjoying spending time together – to him this is nothing extraordinary and no reason to be thanked. “Don’t mention it – this is what we do.”

dinnerWith_Ombretta

And what they do is spectacular.  Over the last couple of years Giampaolo has expanded his cantina into a show stopping beauty.  With high ceilings and miles of space to store his wine, a tour of the cantina is endless.  And his wines are fantastic.  

We arrive for lunch on a beautiful spring day straight out of central casting.  The sun is shining high in the sky, a gentle breeze is blowing across the terrace and there is a beautiful, clear view. dinnerWith_Ombretta2 I arrive a few minutes behind the group and everyone is animatedly talking on the terrace – drinking one of Giampaolo’s collection of sparkling wines.

Today’s lunch is not about showcasing Tabarrini wines – he knows we are all big fans already.  Today we are dipping into his private cellar and drinking wines that he has been given or collected over the years.  We start with a beautiful Sicilian wine – only 10,000 bottles are produced each year.  This one has been aging in the cellar and is extraordinary…  Daniele and Teddy pop into the cellar and return with a big Primitivo from Puglia.  A friend of Giampaolo’s makes this wine and it holds up perfectly with the beautiful guinea fowl we are eating.

Tabarrini_3Our visit to the winery today is also a reunion. Giampaolo’s mother Franca had made her first trip to the US in December and spent two days with us at Via Umbria cooking amazing dinners to serve with the Tabarrini wine.  Franca comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to kindly let us know that whenever we are ready – her bags are packed.

So we enjoy a beautiful lunch and as we are leaving we pause on the steps to sit for just a minute to enjoy the day and of course more wine is poured and Giampaolo decides that his work in the field is done for the day.  Tabarrini_4We don’t need a facebook memory for this day – the fresh air, the laughter and wine all bring back memories of people and place – of a day enjoyed two years ago that perfectly mirrors today.  Two hours later we say our good byes and leave.

But it’s not really good-bye because we are meeting up on Saturday in Verona to taste wine and enjoy another meal together.   Don’t mention it – this is what we do.

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“Suzy,  please don’t say thank you”.  Not words I am used to hearing.  When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am ...

Ernesto is the Besto

 

I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at restaurants (aside from sharing plates that come in all shapes and sizes) is ordering my food to have it come out of the kitchen as it is ready. Ernesto Simona No rhyme or reason, no order of preparation, just a random delivery of food. So depending on what is happening in the kitchen – if the pasta line is backed up and the fish station is slow you may get your main course before your pasta.  Roasted olives intended to be a starter show up right before dessert.  Who knows what will be served with my cocktail. With this convoluted method it’s not possible to pair a wine with each course.  As we know, one of the biggest challenges in any kitchen is timing; timing is everything, it takes a talented chef to prepare a variety of plates for each table that are ready to be served together. There is a constant distraction from what is being served when the food comes on a whim and the plates are meant to be shared. It is natural to focus more on the passing and making sure things are divided equally, but that interrupts the experience the dish is meant to give.  Randomly putting plates of food on a table is not a sign of creativity –  this should not continue as a trend and we should not be rewarding disorganization and laziness.

Cooking with Ernesto is a unique experience, like no other. chitarreAnd while for some a day spent cooking with him can be overwhelming and daunting – for me, it is an exciting and endearing adventure. Not one recipe at a time start to finish, rather many pots on the fire: pasta being rolled out, sauces simmering on the stove, meat roasting in the oven and cookies and cakes baking. Now this is the way I love to cook!

In this experience, Ernesto teaches us that multitasking is how to accomplish the full menu. To start you have to create a plan, nothing happens in his kitchen without a lot of thought going into it.  To execute your plan, you have to pace yourself and not over complicate what you are doing.  Think ahead and save time – dice the celery, carrots and onion (sofrito) at once and use it over and over again for different recipes.  Make the bread dough at the beginning so it has time to rise before being baked or fried.  Make one pasta dough but create different pasta shapes for different dishes.

Ernesto also teaches us that making pasta by hand is fun and easy. My advice is start out small – make pasta for one or two making chitarre– 100g of flour to 1 egg per person.  Mix it together and then stretch it out. You can’t overwork pasta dough – it’s not precious like a pastry dough – this is where you can really dig in and work the dough. Once it’s sliced, toss it with semolina and then make into two little nests.

For me the best part of spending a day cooking with Ernesto is the obvious joy of everyone cooking together.  With Ernesto, it’s all hands on deck, there’s so much to be done everyone always has something to do. And don’t worry there’s no mistake that can’t be recovered.  In this kitchen, there’s no screaming or yelling, pizza_nightno reason to be frantic; we have the whole day together to relax and try new techniques.  

At the end of this exhausting day we get to enjoy the foods of our labors. And no matter the order the components were created, because of our plan the dishes are finished in order – and served with a plan: Antipasti, Primo, Secondo with Dolce at the end.  Ernesto brings us no randomness, just organized chaos with a goal: enjoying an unbelievable meal together.

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  I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at ...

Via Umbria’s Very Older Brother

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club.  Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings.  They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.

 

For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli.  Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.”  We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
Roscioli-blog-2
Rimessa Roscioli tasting dinner on left; Via Umbria Laboratorio on right.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were.  They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers.  And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.”  Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation.  Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.

 

Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people.  Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment.  This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers.  Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.

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It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described ...

Bridging the Divide

stranger-things-finale-netflix-featureI recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana in the 1980s follows a group of kids seeking to find their missing friend, and involves a secret government program that punches a hole through parallel universes in order to engage in some cold war spying, only to unexpectedly unleash an incredibly evil monster. Some great acting, especially from the kids, some creative writing and some compelling story lines. I would definitely say it is worth a watch.

I mention this because Via Umbria has been engaged in its own project to bridge parallel universes. And far from unleashing monsters, we have only spread deliciousness and joy.

Those two universes are, of course, Italy and America and we are engaged in an experiment to connect the two. We do that by creating an authentic Italian experience in Georgetown. And we do that by hosting American guests on semi annual food and wine tours at our farm house in Umbria, immersing them in the authentic Umbria that we have come to know and love.

img_1786-1

img_1787-1On Saturday, we arrived in Umbria with nine guests in tow to kick off our fall Food and Wine tours, and less than 36 hours later, I dare say that they have already begun to understand and share our love of Umbria. Yesterday we introduced them to the wines of Umbria, the same Grechettos and Montefalco rossos and Sagrantinos we import and sell at Via Umbria. They met Elena DiFilippo at her organic and biodynamic cantina and drank wine with her, and will welcome Elena’s husband Roberto when he visits Via Umbria this spring. They dined on a homecooked dinner by Chiara Cicogna and heard her speak of her family’s cashmere business, and will join Chiara and us in Washington on November 16 when Chiara exhibits a selection of cashmere treasures at a special holiday trunk show at Via Umbria. This morning they experienced truffle hunting under glorious blue skies near Citta di Castello with our dear friends Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi, who are readying to ship the day’s spoils back to Via Umbria to take center stage at a pair of special truffle dinners coming up next week.

truffles-001

Nearly a year after reopening our doors as an Italian market, café, restaurant, enoteca and retail store, we are realizing our dream of truly connecting the worlds we inhabit in Washington and in Umbria. This week our food and wine tour group will dine at le Delizie del Borgo, a restaurant lovingly operated by our friends Simone Proietti-Pesci and Ombretta Ubaldi in Bevagna and next month Ombretta, a certified sommelier with an unmatched appreciation for Umbrian wines will return with us to Washington to host a series of special wine dinners at Via Umbria. Later in the month Simone will join us in Georgetown to cook alongside our outstanding executive chef Johanna Heilrigl. We can’t wait for these two to renew their acquaintance and to dazzle us with what they think up and cook up next. A tasting at the Tabarrini winery on Thursday will no doubt be a highlight for our guests, but a command performance in Washington is in the cards, with a special visit by the winery’s owners Giampaolo Tabarrini and his wife Federica Pietrolati for some memorable dinners and maybe a glass of wine or two.

Connecting our guests and our customers to the incredibly rich experiences that we have found in Umbria is what we do, regardless of place. Whether it takes place sotto il sole or under the sun, in Cannara or in Washington, these are the experiences that make up a life and we are proud to offer them to you.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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I recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana ...

A Personal Appeal!

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Download your free ticket by clicking on the image. And be sure to forward it to all your friends!

 

Tuesday night you can show your support for our friends and neighbors in central Italy that were devastated by last month’s powerful earthquake.  Via Umbria is hosting a benefit gala and auction to raise funds for relief and rebuilding efforts.  There will be tons of food donated by and showcasing a number of local chefs, Italian wines and a silent and live auction of some pretty fabulous items, including a week at our Umbrian farmhouse (and a hot air balloon ride and champagne brunch), restaurant gift certificates, artwork, jewelry and more!

Admission is free, but we’re hoping most will make a donation (suggested level is $100 but we’ll take any donation).  We really are hoping to see a lot of people who love Italy and want to show their support for the victims in Amatrice, Accumoli and the other villages that face years of rebuilding.  So plan to come out on Tuesday night (7:00-10:00), bring your checkbook and let’s have some fun (and food and wine)!

You can download your ticket here.  Please RSVP by clicking on the link.  And please, pleasePLEASE forward the ticket to as many friends as you can, personally urging them to attend to show their support.

Suzy and I are looking forward to seeing you tomorrow (Tuesday) night!

Bill and Suzy

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  Tuesday night you can show your support for our friends and neighbors in central Italy that were devastated by last month's powerful ...

The Day the Earth Shook

_90899492_hi034935345Mother Nature — a term that is such a complete contradiction.

Nature, the most powerful force in the universe is indifferent to those it impacts.  When nature provides us its bounty – sustenance, panoramic vistas, long, rich, rewarding lives – we marvel at its power and project benign intentions to it, honoring nature as we would our mothers.  When it shows us its awesomeness but spares us the impact – a distant lightning storm or an erupting volcano – we stand in awe of it.  But those powerful forces can also be arbitrary, random and deadly.  And when they are unleashed against us or count us as innocent bystanders, we simply tuck away those experiences in a compartment, refusing to challenge our notions of a benign “mother nature” and see it as a “one off” phenomenon.  Nature neither loves us or hates us.  It simply is.

A week ago, in the early morning hours of August 24, the people of central Italy, including our friends and neighbors in Umbria, the other place we call home, were awakened by the terror of what the Italians call a terremoto.  A magnitude 6.2 earthquake leveled buildings, buried under rubble hundreds of inhabitants that had no chance to escape their homes and obliterated whole villages.  In the week since the earth shook, the death toll has climbed above two hundred and those left homeless and hopeless has reached the thousands.

Early reports placed the epicenter of the quake near Norcia, a town known throughout Italy as the capital of cured meats, the place where pork butchery was invented and where early medieval surgeons were trained and sent out into the world.  Like many of the other towns making the news, Norcia is a place with which we are intimately familiar, for it is literally in our back yard.  Those reports also mentioned Perugia and other towns that make up our Italian world, but the real destruction was felt further south, along the border between Umbria and Lazio, an ancient region originally populated by the Sabines.  We are familiar, too with this area, which though rarely visited by tourists is a place we have traversed and explored often.  It is a rugged, sparsely populated area dotted with small, rough, isolated villages.  Many of those villages, happily existing alone and cut off from the modern world have been decimated, their remoteness and isolation making rescue and recovery operations that much more difficult.

The impact on our property and our orbit was minimal.  Guests staying at our farmhouse in the village of Cannara reported no damage or injury, although the movement of the ground, a side to side rather than up and down motion, apparently sloshed a great deal of water from our pool.  Thankfully our friends and acquaintances who hail from the other nearby ancient towns that dot this region – Perugia, Deruta, Montefalco, Bevagna, Spoleto – came through relatively unscathed.

Not so the inhabitants from Amatrice and the neighboring town of Accumoli.  The devastation there was so great it led the mayor to exclaim “half the town no longer exists.”  Images of the destruction are gut wrenching, collapsed buildings covered in a thin monochromatic gray coating of dust, looking like the setting of a post-apocalyptic film.

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The rebuilding and recovery efforts have already started but experience tells us the work will never truly be done.  Worse than the death and destruction of properties and historic landmarks, if there is such a thing as worse in this regard, is the complete devastation of the social fabric that holds people together, that gives their lives purpose and meaning, that defines their lives as theirs. Suzy and I have witnessed firsthand this complete wiping away of the social structure, this destruction of lives and a way of life.  We did so several years ago when we visited a friend in l’Aquila, the site of the last major earthquake in Italy. There we saw a town that was more maintaining itself than rebuilding itself, its buildings standing but empty, like a Hollywood set.  Even though a couple of years had passed since the big quake, life there was different, with a palpably gaping emptiness, a hollowness in the routines of life brought about not by the terror of being shaken awake in the middle of the night or having to deal with the death of neighbors and family, but rather by the loss of place and routine – the lively piazzas and the nightly passagiata through the street.  Restaurants had reopened, not in the the city centro, but in makeshift FEMA-type trailers that ringed the city.  Makeshift attempts to rebuild the past social life that were still makeshift when we visited l’Aquila years later.  Attempts that seemed not to be gaining traction.  The l’Aquila we visited was as raw, fragile, damaged and hopeless as it had been the day after the quake.

A town or a village, we learned then, is much more than just its buildings or just its people. It is the intersection of the two that animates the place and the people and it is that intersection that was shaken and torn and damaged in certain corners of Italy last week.  The buildings can be reconstructed or replaced.  The victims can be mourned and eulogized.  But the survivors must be cared for too, for their lives – not just their immediate surroundings but the entire social network that had previously connected them to something bigger and better and more meaningful than themselves – has been reduced to rubble no less than their homes and places of work have been destroyed.

 

And it is only by feeling its absence that we can truly appreciate the power that this connectedness wields over our lives.  Indeed it is this connectedness – to our families, to our communities, to nature and its rhythms, to simple, elegant beauty, to our past, our traditions and our history – that animates our lives.  It is the duality of us being individuals and at the same time being part of a whole that in the end defines our lives and gives meaning and purpose to it.  Independence and interdependence coexisting and existing in the same space and time.  At this moment it is essential that we restore the quake victims’ independence – rebuilding their homes, caring for their injured, and mourning their lost.  But restoring their interdependence – rebuilding a social structure that developed organically over centuries in a place and because of the nature of that place, is a much more difficult but no less important part of our work as well.

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Planning is underway at Via Umbria for a series of events to raise funds for earthquake relief efforts. Please watch this space for further details.  We hope you will join us in providing support for relief efforts and funds to assist the residents of this devastated area rebuild the lives and way of life that were literally shaken apart in the middle of the night a week ago.  And we hope you will remain afterwards, to help rebuild and support communities that have been no less ruptured than the people.

The after effects of an earthquake in Italy Read more

Mother Nature -- a term that is such a complete contradiction. Nature, the most powerful force in the universe is indifferent to those ...

108 Hours in Cannara

108 Hours in Cannara 006Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, enjoying Umbria jazz, and, of course, relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out as planned- a lesson we learned last week during a whirlwind visit to to Cannara. I warn you now, the details of this trip are not for the faint of heart, the easily tired, or the weak of liver- read along at your own risk

Thursday, July 14, 2016

After many days of postponing and rescheduling our trip, we finally made it to the airport, bags in hand, happily seated at our gate, ready for a short but amazing trip to our favorite place only to find out that the flight was delayed. Not just delayed, extremely delayed. By the time we finally (rather crankily) boarded the plane six more hours were gone from our already truncated vacation but we were determined to make the most of it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

108 Hours in Cannara 0056:30pm With our original scheduled arrival time in Rome of 7:24 am we had planned to have lunch with Simone in Bevagna. With the flight delay, however, lunchtime was long gone by the time we left Rome but we beelined for Simone’s anyway (after making a quick stop at Lufra to pick up fresh mozzarella di bufala of course).  We arrived at  le Delizie del Borgo just in time for Spritz O’Clock and spent an hour catching up with our fourth (and favorite) ‘son’ Simone over a platter of salamis and cheese.  

7:30pm When we finally made our way to the Farmhouse, Jennifer McIlvaine and Federico Bibi pulled up behind us with their adorable children, and after a few minutes of excited greetings in the driveway we opted for drinks in the living room.  For those of you suffering through the current east coast heatwave you will find it impossible to believe, but despite being the dead of summer, it was way too cold to sit outside!  

108 Hours in Cannara 002Inside we found Marco and Orusia firing up the pizza oven, and friends of ours from Washington who were staying with us at the Farmhouse soon returned from a day of touring. Not far behind them were our son and his girlfriend whom we picked up at the Foligno train station- the last piece of our group.

Marco outdid himself, as always, and our raucous group enjoyed pie after pie with a bit of spicy bomba and Birra Perugia.  A small taste of Nutella pizza to end the meal.

12:00am No idea what time it was when bedtime finally rolled around but it was definitely  a long day.

 

 

108 Hours in Cannara 007

Saturday, July 16

1:00pm After catching up on our zzzzzs our intrepid group headed to Bevagna for a “light” lunch with Simone.  It was another beautiful day and we happily enjoyed our meal outside in the park.

5:00pm I finally had to give in and take a quick nap while Bill took a group to Foligno on a hunt for a Sicilian pastry shop to satiate a craving for cassata, and a visit to the Granarium (our nearby zero kilometer granary, mill and bakery) for a tour and to buy flour, bread and cookies.

 

7:30pm – It’s a birthday celebration and we have invited several (see below) of our Italian friends to join us.  We were hoping to eat outside, but again it is too cold and the Italians want nothing to do with the chilly, fresh air.  We have Spritz by the pool and then head indoors where Marco has rearranged the dining room to accommodate our small party of 25.  In addition to the group staying with us we are happy to have Gerardo and Assunta Ribigini, Jennifer and Federico (tonight they are senza children), Albertino and Jessica Pardi, Zia Augusta, Alberto, Linda and GianLuca Pardi and Linda’s mother, Federico and Claudia Ribigini and Daniele Sassi.

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108 Hours in Cannara 0018:15pm Everyone has brought wine so we have a selection from Terre Margaritelli, Pardi and Tabarrini to pair with a favorite summer meal – fried sage leaves, onions, zucchini and zucchini blossoms followed by pasta with arugula and walnuts, mixed grill and vegetables from the garden.

10:00pm We have sparklers in the Birthday cake but the real fireworks are outside.  Marco has picked up a fabulous pyrotechnic display and Bill has it matched perfectly to Whitney Houston’s Star Spangled Banner.

Sunday, July 17

6:00am – early departure to Cantina Dionigi for a Hot Air Balloon Ride.  You can read about it here.

108 Hours in Cannara 008

1:00 pm – Lunch in Bevagna with Simone, Marco, Francesco Rustici and his wife Elisa, plus the group at the house.

An opportunity to introduce our guests to our favorite Italian Tradition – Sunday Lunch.  Our children have bravely endured lunches lasting anywhere from 3-7 hours and despite their protests as children they have come to love and expect them.  This is a meal where the food is slowly paced, no electronics are on hand and everyone is engaged in conversation.  

6:00 pm – Not a Menard record – but still an excellent leisurely lunch.

Back to the house with Ombretta’s children Silvia and Tomaso for a quick swim before the sun sets.

108 Hours in Cannara 010

7:00pm – Albertino and Jessica stop by to visit and we make plans for dinner on Tuesday night.

8:00pm – All plans of attending a local wine festival get scratched in favor of setting up the big screen outside and picking up pizza.  Another chilly night so we bundle up and hunker down to watch a movie.

Monday, July 18

108 Hours in Cannara 0099:00am – Up by 9:00 to play cards with Tomaso and Silvia (who have opted to spend the night) and say goodbye to our guests.  

11:00am – The sun is shining and we take a break to sit by the pool and swim with Tomaso and Silvia.

1:00pm – Off to Cantina Tabarrini to see the new renovation – it’s breathtaking.  Giampaolo’s plans and ideas are exhausting but the result is going to be amazing.  We are treated to an excellent meal prepared by Franca and Federica – food fresh from their garden and an introduction to a new label and the latest release of Montefalco Rosso.

6:00pm – Back to the house for a couple of quick business calls and emails – it’s a work day after all.

108 Hours in Cannara 0117:30pm – Dinner at Cantina DiFilippo

Roberto is just back from his winery in Romania but he has the horses all set up for a sunset carriage ride through the vineyard. Elena and Bianca Maria are fantastic hosts and we enjoy a flight of Asiago cheeses and plenty of wines.

Enjoying a beautiful night with friends with Assisi lit up and sparkling in the distance.

Tuesday, July 19

8:00am – Up early to pack and return emails.

1:00pm – Off to lunch at the home of Marco’s parents, Anna and Lodovico Palermi where we are joined by Chiara, Carlo Alberto and Viola and Chiara’s mother Mariella.

3:30pm – Back to the house to Visit with Augusta.

6:00pm – Time to pack up.

108 Hours in Cannara 0127:00pm – Off to Cantina Pardi for a farewell dinner of Jessica’s Korean specialities.  It’s not easy to find all the staples for a Korean feast in the heart of Italy but Jessica makes it all seem simple and delicious.

10:30pm – Quick stop in Bevagna to say goodbye to Simone.  The circle is complete.  We have seen everyone and enjoyed our brief visit.  It’s time to go home and share our experiences, stories and hopefully a few new tastes at Via Umbria.

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Wednesday, July 20

6:00am – Early morning and departure for Rome FCO and back to DC.  Bill gets the honor of captaining the early morning drive.  I sleep.

Not the most relaxing summer vacation – but it’s easy to trade in relaxation for good friends, good wine, and good fun. Italy is such a magical place, but the most special thing about it for me has always been the people and it’s trips like these that remind me how lucky I am to have found such a great community in Umbria. For those of you who were not able to come with us on this trip, we encourage you to keep apprised of the goings on in the store.  Rumor has it a few of these friendly faces may be popping up in Georgetown in the next few months. And for those of you looking to book your own vacations in Italy, give us a call! We are happy to share our experience, and our farmhouse with you.

Traveling with Bill and Suzy Menard Read more

Nothing says summer to me like spending a few weeks in Umbria, visiting friends, finding new and interesting products for the store, ...