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Food for Thought

Was it too much food? Absolutely. Do I regret eating any of it? Not one bite.

We are here with our Food & Wine Tour group to Discover, Savor and Share – to explore the foods and wines of Umbria.  It’s not possible to shape the experience without enjoying a few extra bites.  We have six full days to discover hundreds of years of traditions.  To enjoy a meal around the table – not standing at the bar eating a sandwich.  For Americans, relaxing over a meal can be a challenge.  To linger over two meals a day can be excruciating.

In the states we multi-task our way through a meal.  Sitting at our desk with a phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other.  Grabbing a bite to eat and a cup of coffee or a bottle of water every time we get into the car.  Italians enjoy a small coffee at the bar and if they want more they make an additional stop.  The idea of eating in the car is foreign.  Their cars are not littered with fast food wrappers.  Their children don’t eat foods that are non-spillable so that they can eat on the go.  When I’m in Italy it all makes sense.  When I’m back in the states I’m the one biting into an egg sandwich as I speed down I-95 at 70+ miles per hour – only to have the perfectly cooked yolk explode all over me and over the windshield.  So much for multitasking and freeing up my time.  Should have spent 15 minutes sitting down and relishing my breakfast instead of half an hour detailing the car.

We spend our week in Italy enjoying many meals together with new friends.  Our most over the top, I-can-never-eat-another-bite-again day is at Ristorante Perbacco with our friend Ernesto.  He has designed a 14 course tasting menu (sometimes more but never less) for us to cook together and to enjoy together.  Starting with a main course and working backwards to dessert the fun never ends.  We spend our day making dough that can be transformed into fried bread, baked bread or even pasta.  Making pasta dough and turning it into five different shapes, each needing a separate sauce to showcase it.  And most of all we relax and we laugh together.  We are creating so many different foods that we don’t need to worry about precision and as a result everything turns out perfectly.  So we pour a prosecco, take off our aprons and toast to another successful adventure together before we sit down and eat.

If I had to take out a few bites – where would I begin?  I would begin at home – never in Italy.

Finding the Right Balance in Italy Read more

Was it too much food? Absolutely. Do I regret eating any of it? Not one bite. We are here with our Food & ...

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.

Truffles are the Doggonest Things Read more

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

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

Lord & Taylor Local Iconic Women Series Read more

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

Cheese of the Month: Ogleshield!

One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the undertone of most things you see, but innovation is everywhere, regardless of how steeped the source. As a cheesemonger, finding fascinating new cheeses hidden in renowned traditional sources is one of my greatest pleasures.

No matter where in the world you look, many of the practices of making cheese are the same. The curds are heated in similar patterns, similar cultures are used, and many similar rind formation techniques are applied, but the results can be drastically different. So if I was surprised to find one of the foremost names in traditional English cheeses attached to a Swiss raclette style cheese, I was even more surprised to find one of England’s foremost cheddar producers as well! Montgomery’s Cheddar has long been held as one of the standard bearers of English cheddars and their collaboration with Neal’s Yard Dairy in Ogleshield reflects a lot of that commitment to quality and tradition, even in a more innovative cheese.

The first of these collaborations occurred on Ogleshield’s predecessor, Jersey Shield. Jaime Montgomery uses primarily more mild Holstein milk for many of his cheeses but made the decision to expand his small Jersey herd to cheese production as well. Jersey Shield started more traditionally English with a ashy gray bloomy rind, a firmer texture, and a cheddared style. However, due to the larger size and delicate nature of the fat globules in Jersey milk, the cheese did not succeed as affineurs had hoped. William Oglethorpe, who at the time was the senior affineur at Neal’s Yard, knew that the cheese had the potential to be incredible, they just had to find a way to get there, and thus, Ogleshield was born.

Ogleshield has all the ingredients for an incredible cheese: Jersey milk with its characteristic bright yellow fat and complex flavor profile from a master dairyman and a rind hand-washed and salted in the traditional Swiss style developed by master affineur, for whom the cheese is named. The result is a semi-soft, nutty, and almost fruity cheese incredible for melting with more punch and tang that a traditional raclette.

We are very happy to announce that Ogleshield will be our May cheese of the month! Come taste it in all it’s wonderful forms May 3rd at 7:30! Please visit our website for tickets!

Author: Emily Shifflett

Tips From Our Cheesemonger Emily Read more

One of the most fun aspects of working in food is that it is ever evolving and changing. Tradition may be the ...

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.

Located in Rome Read more

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

Cicchetti Carnevale Cuisine

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of year, thousands from all over Italy and the world head to Venice for Carnevale. Even our owners, Bill and Suzy were lucky enough to experience Carnevale di Venezia a few years ago. This party, which lasts for an entire month, is an attempt to relive the culture and traditions  of 18th century Venice. From head to toe people all over this magnificent city dress in traditional garb. You’ll see men in tights and wigs, women’s hair intricately piled miles high atop their heads, and masks, lots and lots of masks. Yet, the most important aspect of any Italian celebration is the cuisine.romantic-restaurants-venice

For young travelers, like myself, frivolous spending on food and drink can kill your budget and eventually ruin your trip. Venice is one of those cities where you’ll easily break the bank on food, unless you know what to look for. Similar to the French canapés or Spanish tapas concepts, Cicchetti is the Venetian version of small plates. Generally served with a glass of wine, these small bites vary depending on the restaurant you are dining in. Pricing however, is ideal for lunch and evening eats and rarely ventures outside a range of 1€ to 3€ a plate. The best place to find cicchetti is in a bàcari, small local (and often hidden) bar. Some bàcari lean toward the fried foods while others specialize in fresh fish, meats, and cheeses. Cicchetti is the perfect cuisine for Carnevale: quick and easy food that can only enhance the celebration.

Carnevale is a celebration that takes place around the world, just because you can’t make it to Venice doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. This week and next: get out, put a wig and a mask on and enjoy the party!

For information on our Carnevale Celebrations please visit our website: viaumbria.com/events

Wednesday February 22 – Carnevale Masquerade

Tuesday February 28 – Cocktail Class: Fat Tuesday

Enjoy carnevale classics without breaking the bank Read more

Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of ...

Our Umbrian Valentine

ebsvxw5atk8-patrick-schopflinEvery year we mark the fourteenth of February as a meaningful day in our hearts; in celebration of San Valentino, the patron saint of courtly love, people around the world take the time to make their loved one feel special. This third century bishop was from Terni, the second largest city in the region commonly referred to as “The Heart of Italy,” Umbria. As a region, Umbria has brought the world Saints Francis, Benedict, and Rita in addition to Saint Valentine. Though San Valentino was one of many saints from Umbria his remembrance is the most fun to celebrate. Legend has it that San Valentino handed a rose to a pair of quarreling lovers, he told them to hold it between their hands without getting pricked by the thorns. He walked away and after some time the couple found him and asked him to marry them. Just one example of San Valentino’s ability to understand the inner workings of the heart easily explains why we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. Heart shaped candies, secret admirers, endless roses, and fine dining are only a few ways Washingtonians celebrate this Saint.

Here at Via Umbria, as Georgetown’s unofficial ambassadors to the Heart of Italy, we are spending the whole week celebrating San Valentino.

Starting on February 8th, we have a variety of events featuring the most Umbrian/Italian aspects of this homegrown holiday, Valentine’s Day. Discover the perfect vino for your Valentine’s dinner at our Wine Tasting: Stop and Smell the Rosé. Wines featured are hand selected by our experts to epitomize the flavors we seek on such a special occasion. On Thursday, Friday or Saturday come enjoy an intimate meal featuring a special Umbrian Valentine’s menu at our Italian Dinner Party: Love is in the Air. We are also hosting a Couple’s Cooking Class featuring Baci Chocolates. Made famous by the Perugina Chocolate company these chocolate kisses will make your sweetie even sweeter. And no week of celebration would be complete without an exclusive Valentine’s Day Cocktail Class taught by guest mixologist Matt Demma from True Syrups. With drinks inspired by classic romantic movies this class will make your heart swoon. In honor of our own San Valentino we are doing the things we love with the ones we love.

For a full calendar and to sign up for these events visit our website: viaumbria.com/events.

Rachel Enoch
Rachel Enoch

The patron saint of courtly love Read more

Every year we mark the fourteenth of February as a meaningful day in our hearts; in celebration of San Valentino, the patron ...

To Fondue or Not to Fondue?

Is that even a question?

So first off, let me get one thing out in the open – I didn’t always have such warm and fuzzy feelings about fondue. How can that be, you might well ask? Isn’t it just melty, cheesy goodness? Well, my friends, let me just say that fondue taught me the “too much of a good thing” lesson the hard way.

When I was in high school, my family took an epic trip around Switzerland. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow weren’t aware of this already, Switzerland makes absolutely fabulous cheese. For the Swiss, cheese is one of the central pillars of their cuisine, culture, and identity. If you think about it, this makes sense – with Switzerland’s high, alpine meadows full of lush green grass and herbs, raising dairy cows is a natural choice. From these cows, the world has been graced with cheeses like Appenzeller, Raclette, Gruyere, and Comte, to name just a few. And believe me, these are not the presliced, plastic sealed “baby swiss” that you’ll find in supermarkets across the US. Ranging from sweet, nutty, and milky to zesty, piquant, and punchy, these cheeses run the gambit of flavor, while also showcasing terroir and age-old technique.

Anyway, back to my story: From Geneva to Bern, Mont Blanc to Montreux, we saw the sites, hiked the hills, and ate and ate and ate. Our first stop on this grand adventure was the town of Gruyere, where, as you can imagine, the cheese of the same name comes from. The first night we were there, we had a fantastic dinner comprised of a giant pot of fondue and lots and lots of fresh bread.

Okay, hold up – let’s talk for a second. What actually is fondue? Fondue – from the french word fondre, “to melt” – is the national dish of Switzerland. The earliest fondue recipe dates back to 1699 – basically, it advises the reader to melt grated cheese with wine and dip bread into it. To this day, that’s basically what fondue continues to be: cheese, wine, and various seasonings melted down together and then poured into a communal pot which has been placed over a flame (to keep it nice and melty). Long forks are used to dip bread or vegetables into the cheese mixture. Deliciousness and happiness ensue.DSCF4766

So there we were: my parents, my sisters, and me, all gorging ourselves on Switzerland’s national, and most popular, dish. The bread and cheese kept flowing for hours, and, you can rest assured that I kept going well after everyone else had reached their limit. It was absolute heaven… Until, later that night, it absolutely wasn’t. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that I must have eaten at least my weight, if not more, in melted cheese and good lord, did I regret it. Way, way, way too much of a good thing.

It took me awhile to be able to look a fondue pot in the face again, but through hard work and perseverance, I can happily say that fondue and I are good friends again. And not a moment too soon – this February, the Via Umbria cheese counter will be shaking off the late-winter chill and celebrating this decadent and delicious Swiss dish with not one, but two events. First up, we have our monthly Cheese Party next Wednesday, February 1st, where we will be sampling some traditional Alpine fondue. Then, on Saturday, February 25th, we’ll be having our second annual MELT party – a fabulous night celebrating all things cheesy and melty, including some delectable fondue. So come, hang out with us, and indulge in these awesome events! Just don’t pull an Alice – be sure to pace yourself!

 

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Gorging on Switzerland's most popular dish Read more

Is that even a question? So first off, let me get one thing out in the open - I didn't always have such ...

Harbison for Breakfast

“So what’s your favorite cheese?”

I’d say I get this question at least three or four times a day, every day. And do you know what? It is a freaking hard one to answer. I mean, I get it – customers want to know what their monger thinks is the best of the best. Sure, fair enough. But I always end up launching into a spiel about different cheeses tasting better at different times of year… Different cheeses being more or less appropriate in varying situations… The fact that my mood changes and with it, my “favorite” cheese… The fact that the words “best” or “favorite” are completely subjective.

But more often than not, I receive a reply along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…

But really. What’s your favorite cheese?”

And that’s when I turn to my dear friend, Harbison. Named for Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the “grandmother of Greensboro”, this wonderful little cheese hails from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. And while I stand by the fact that I crave different cheeses at different times, different cheeses are good for different things, (I’m sure you get the picture…), this is the cheese that I turn to time and again as my tried-and-true, year-round, no-qualifiers-needed favorite.

So what makes this particular wheel my go-to? Well, let’s count the ways – first, it’s a straight-up beautiful cheese. Whenever people come to my counter looking for something “different” or want to impress at a party, I always point them to the Harbison. It’s striking – modeled on the famous Vacherin Mont d’Or from Switzerland, Harbison is a 9oz circle of ooey gooey cow’s milk covered in downy white mold, which has been encased in a ring of spruce bark, mottled with blue, white, and green.

harbison-2In addition to the fact that it looks gorgeous as soon as you unwrap it, the best way to serve it is also a bit different than your average cheese. Instead of cutting it into wedges as per usual, I usually advise that customers use a butter knife to slice off the top rind, thus turning it into a self-contained cheesy dip. Believe me – it’s something that’s going to stand out from your average hunk of cheddar or a wedge of brie.

And finally, let’s talk flavor – while not, in my opinion, a real stinker, Harbison is chock full of flavor, making it ideal for a wide range of people. I always find tons of meaty, mustardy flavors hiding beneath it’s surface, along with a silky, spreadable texture that just won’t quit. True story – the year that I discovered Harbison, I brought a couple of wheels home for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for my family, one of those wheels didn’t quite make it to the holiday table – I ate an entire wheel by myself for breakfast. That whole self-control thing goes right out the window when you get a perfectly ripe wheel of Harbison.

I’m so happy to announce that Harbison will be Via Umbria’s Cheese of the Month for January! We’ll be exploring this decadent, savory, umami-filled cheese next Wednesday, January 4th at 7:30pm at our Monthly Cheese Party. You may still feel full from the holidays, but believe me, you won’t want to miss it!

 

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

What's YOUR favorite cheese? Read more

"So what's your favorite cheese?" I'd say I get this question at least three or four times a day, every day. And do ...

Checking Out – Checking In

cvs-self-checkout-stationJust got back from the CVS. Had to run a quick errand and it’s just a couple of blocks from the store. But it is a world away from what I think is important in life.

Wanted to get a nice Christmas card to write a holiday message to the staff and post in their “office.” What I found at CVS were the usual row of Hallmark and Shoebox cards. Awful puns, schmaltzy sentiments. The usual.

So instead I headed cattycornered across the street to Just Paper and Tea, a locally owned Georgetown boutique that has it. That gets it. Quality. Comfort. Hominess. I’m a small business owner so I know this has to be a challenging business to run, especially when the big guys are just cattycornered across the street. But I got some great cards and left with a smile. That matters.

After another aborted errand I decided to stop back at CVS to pick up some pens to write the staff message. I found my pens and skipped the staffed checkout – the line was pretty long – and opted for the self checkout. Something I rarely do. It was quick, efficient, I had the exact coin change and the machine spit out crisp one dollar bills in return. As I dropped my pens into my Just Paper shopping bag I realized I had just shopped without interacting with one person.

Efficiency is great. But efficiency is not the pole star. We love not wasting time, but often obsess about it even when that time is pretty inconsequential. It’s not that standing in line deprives you from visiting the Louvre. But feeling like your time is not being wasted, that there’s a reason for you standing in line keeps you sane and provides that little bit of justification you need to stand in line.

I think that waiting your turn so that you hand a human being your cash, look into his eyes and he into yours is more than enough justification for standing in line. That the efficiency of checking out quickly, but completely anonymously, is a travesty.

We have made so many advances in efficiency, economic security, health over the past century. But we have squandered so many of those gains on needless things. Our measure of success today is how big a house we can seclude ourselves in. What model of iPhone we can shut ourselves off behind. How quickly and efficiently we can check out of the CVS.

I believe our efficiency dividends should be spent and invested in spending more, not less time with people. People you know and complete strangers. I believe that our retreat into selfishness – the creation of a walled off, isolated self – is not driven by worthy impulses, but from a fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown. What many don’t realize is that you can jump in and the water is going to be just fine. And that’s what we’ve been trying to create at Via Umbria, a place where people can jump in and laugh and splash around with their friends, their family, with complete strangers and come away with a smile and a feeling that this is how the world ought to be. It’s a lot for a small business to take on. But what’s the use of dreaming if you don’t dream big?

As Christmas nears, our hope is that all of you find happiness, joy and love with your families, as we will with ours. And join us again in the new year. We promise the water will be warm.

Un abbraccio,
Bill and Suzy

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Quick, efficient and anonymous Read more

Just got back from the CVS. Had to run a quick errand and it’s just a couple of blocks from the store. ...

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.

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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.

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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

Connecting Italy and America in Georgetown Read more

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