An Umbrian Valentine
Our Umbrian Valentine! Valentine's Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also ...
Our Umbrian Valentine! Valentine's Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also ...
The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are so many easy ways to keep people happy, and to be able to spend time with them rather than finding yourself working double-time in the kitchen while everyones off caroling (though, personally, I’d rather be in the kitchen than subjecting others to my singing). Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness, get people an easy appetizer, and to keep yourself happy while you’re watching your rib roast cook away in the oven. I’ll be honest: there isn’t any cheese that doesn’t go with the holidays, but there are a few recommendations that I have that are exceptional this time of here.
Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness
The first, and most traditional, is stilton. Here at Via Umbria, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a whole wheel of it from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. We carry cheeses from our favorite affineurs across the pond year but the stilton that we buy for Christmas is my favorite part of this relationship. Stilton has been a part of English Christmas tradition for a long time. As such it pairs with so many of the foods that we eat, from spiced nuts to the big beef itself. Neal’s Yard’s stilton is made by one of the smallest producers: Colston Bassett, a co-op in Nottinghamshire where they take care to do everything by hand (something you won’t find at the factory that makes the stilton you’re buying at the supermarket).
I also really like the L’Amuse signature gouda for this time of year. It’s a cheese we are fortunate to have on hand year round, but when the days get shorter and colder, the cheese really stands out. This good gouda is not something soft and flabby, that requires smoke to mask it’s flavor. This gouda, traditionally made in the Netherlands, is colored with anatto and aged for over two years. If you ever hear someone talk about crystallization in cheese, this is the prime example, as it’s age makes almost crunchy. It’s flavor is an intense caramel that warms the soul – and pairs with some of your seasonal beers – the stouts and porters that good brewers release for the colder days.
My final cheese recommendation for the holidays is also the easiest to recommend, since it is only released this time of year: the Rush Creek Reserve. This is one of those now-trendy cheeses with washed rinds that are wrapped in spruce bark. But they’re trendy for a reason (they’re delicious) and they are perfect for entertaining. To eat them you slice off the top and open up to reveal a cheese so soft it’s ready for dipping. Of all these cheeses though, Rush Creek is the best. It’s producer: Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville, Wisconsin makes only two cheeses with their small herd. This cheese is made with milk that is produced in the autumn, when the cow’s diet has switched from the fresh summer grass to hay. It’s made with raw milk, making the beefy, brothy flavor so much more intense. It’s so good and honestly, hard to find and sells quickly (I’m not kidding people go crazy for this). If you’re entertaining for the holidays this is the cheese to get.
Stressed about entertaining friends and relatives at your home? Read more
The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are ...
As a millennial born and raised in the wonderful state of New Jersey, I did not know all that much about the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. Other than the fact there’s an annual festival to celebrate the beautiful trees that line the waterfront, there is a limited amount of common knowledge available about the Cherry Blossoms. From my perspective, to most of the nation, they just exist. However, when I moved to DC about six months ago, I told myself I would learn the quirky secrets behind this city. In this case, my research led me to the Cherry Blossoms; as per the scientific method I cataloged my thoughts and observations as I learned the history behind this breathtaking foliage.
Initial thoughts on the Cherry Blossoms:
“George Washington and the Cherry Tree” At the age of six, young George Washington received a hatchet as a gift. A little overzealous (as any six year old wielding a hatchet should be) George supposedly chopped down his father’s beloved Cherry Tree. When his father saw what he had done George admitted “I cannot tell a lie…I cut it with my hatchet.” Celebrating his honesty in lieu of punishing his wrongdoing, George’s father praised his son’s honesty was worth a thousand cherry trees. Clearly, it makes sense that a city named after our first president would host a festival dedicated to a tree he is legend for cutting down.
Why do we celebrate the Cherry Blossoms here in Washington DC?
Beyond the George Washington tale, I have in fact been to the festival before and my impression it that this is a great family friendly fun experience and an amazing way to open up the city for a season of outdoor fun!
In 1912 the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gifted the city 3,000 cherry trees to honor the close relationship the United States and Japan share. Even though the first 2,000 trees that arrived in 1910 were diseased, the two nations could not be deterred from outwardly expressing their appreciation for one another. These trees were such an important gift that First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda (the wife of the Japanese ambassador) planted the first two trees in West Potomac Park on the north bank of the tidal basin. Impressively, in 1981 the United States sent clippings from the trees to Japanese horticulturists who were desperate to replace some of the cherry blossoms, which were destroyed in a flood. Since the original festival celebrating the successful 1912 planting, these blossoms have been annually celebrated since 1934 (excluding a hiatus during WWII until 1947). Helium balloons, floats, parades over the course of four weekends is how DC currently celebrates the Cherry Blossom festival. Welcoming some 1.5 million people to the city from all over the country.
Afterthoughts and Commentary:
The National Cherry Blossom Festival draws attention to our national pride and to the positive relationships we as a nation formed across the world. These trees were a gift from Japan to us; still over a century later we give them the same respect as when they first arrived. To my disappointment, the festival has no foundation in the George Washington story. Turns out the Cherry Tree and the Cherry Blossoms were two separate plants. Regardless, this festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the beauty our change of season brings us. Get out, hit the streets, bring your mom, your kids, your grandma, the Cherry Blossom Festival is fun for the whole family!
P.S: We are celebrating this beautiful festival here at Via Umbria with a Cherry Jubilee Cocktail Class on Wednesday (3/23) and a series of themed Italian Dinner Parties (3/23-24-25). For more information and tickets please visit: //viaumbria.com/events/
As a millennial born and raised in the wonderful state of New Jersey, I did not know all that much about the ...
We often associate carnivals with masks. In fact it is impossible to separate those fancy masks from the Carnevale or Mardi Gras celebrations today. But when and how did this tradition even begin?
The earliest of these masquerade festivals is known to be Carneval di Venezia, which dates back to 13th century. It is believed that the tradition of wearing the mask started as a tool to conceal their identity when Venetians would hold celebrations before Lent started. These celebrations were the only times when the upper and lower classes would socialize together. Hidden behind their masks, both aristocrats and peasants would engage in illegal activities such as gambling or underground affairs (as well as partying and dancing!). After all, the city was relatively small and not everyone wanted to share their personal life with others… The Venetian masks therefore at first symbolized freedom and class equality, allowing all citizens to indulge in behaviors that were otherwise seen as inappropriate.
As Venetians started wearing the masks in their daily lives besides the celebrations, illicit activities started to become very popular and sexual promiscuity became publicly acceptable. Eventually, the Republic limited the wearing of masks to only certain months of the year, which included the Carnevale period. The tradition quickly spread out across the world and today masks have become iconic symbols of festivals. Whether you’re celebrating Mardi Gras, Carneval di Venezia or Brazilian Carnival, you will be surrounded by glamorous masks full of long feathers, elegant hats and lavish patterns.
Now that you learned all about the history of carnival masks, grab one for yourself and celebrate this exciting festival with us at Via Umbria!
For more information on our carnival events, please visit viaumbria.com/events
How masks became iconic carnevale props Read more
We often associate carnivals with masks. In fact it is impossible to separate those fancy masks from the Carnevale or Mardi Gras ...
Around the world, thousands flood the streets of major cities to celebrate Carnival. Here in the United States this festival is celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana. Similar to Carnevale di Venezia, Carnival in the Big Easy is host to parades all month long leading up to Mardi Gras and the closer it gets the crazier it gets. Some dress in full costume where some barely dress at all. Bourbon Street is lined in swaths of glimmering green, gold, and purple. With faces covered in extravagant masks, beads constantly flying through the air and feather boas flowing across the crowd Carnival is a unique cultural experience not to be missed. Central to any cultural experience is the food. If you don’t eat what the locals eat, have you actually been there? Famous for it’s Cajun and Creole Cuisine, New Orleans is the perfect place for a crazy party like Carnival. This festival gives the local eateries a crowd to showcase their traditional dishes. From Crawfish to Beignets, New Orleans Carnival food is quick and easy. Stop into any restaurant in the French Quarter and you’ll easily find great places to eat. Some standard fare include crawfish and other shellfish which are commonly boiled and served with corn and potatoes. Another easy meal is the Po’boy: a submarine sandwich on french bread filled with fried seafood such as shrimp or catfish topped with lettuce, tomato and a remoulade. To pair with these foods, you’ve got to have Hurricanes the classic New Orleans cocktail made with Rum, fruit juice and grenadine. If a sweet drink isn’t your preference you can always find a Sazerac (cognac based cocktail) in NOLA. It just wouldn’t be Carnival without a Hurricane or a Sazerac. And for dessert: Beignets. New Orleans is famous for this French version of the Italian zeppole, a beignet is a sweet fried dough ball topped with powdered sugar. Another important dessert in NOLA during this festival is the King Cake. Made specifically for the Mardi Gras celebration, the King Cake is a pastry filled with raisins, cinnamon, and pecans. In true New Orleans style, an additional ingredient fills this holiday treat: a trinket, originally a porcelain baby that represented Jesus, that promises luck to the finder. The person who does find the trinket is in charge of next year’s king cake and hosting the Mardi Gras party. Celebrate, reinvent old traditions, forge new ones, it’s Carnival!
For Information about our Carnevale Events visit: viaumbria.com/events
From King Cake to Hurricanes... Read more
Around the world, thousands flood the streets of major cities to celebrate Carnival. Here in the United States this festival is ...
You guys. I have a serious relationship with British cheeses. This will come as no shock to those of you who have either read my blog posts or visited my counter – I’ve made my love known far and wide. Growing up with an English mother whose parents had a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the roots of this relationship formed. Couple that with Via Umbria’s partnership with famed British cheese shop/affineur/exporter, Neal’s Yard Dairy – a partnership that has given me and my lovely customers access to the best that Britain has to offer – and my love of these curds from the UK has damn near become an obsession.
A very large portion of this love is dedicated to the one cheese that opened my eyes to the wonders of blue mold – Stilton. Creamy yet crumbly, powerful yet approachable, good on its own or incorporated into recipes, this beautiful blue cheese was my gateway blue. And no time of year makes me crave it more than holiday time.
Growing up, my family and I would celebrate Christmas with my English grandparents. My sisters and I looked forward to it for months – an hours-long feast that included caviar canapes, duck à l’orange or roasted pheasant, my granny’s famous roasted potatoes, and Christmas pudding served with copious amounts of rum butter. The meal was so lengthy and full of so many delicious things, that we’d have to play games between courses in order to make room for the next culinary delight. As with many a British Christmas, however, no Christmas meal was complete without a very large hunk of Stilton served with port. It was heaven.
So what is Stilton? Named for the town of Stilton, this quintessentially British cheese can trace its roots all the way back to the 18th century, although research shows that it was a very different product then than it is now. The first descriptions of Stilton cheese describe it as more of a cream cheese with no blue veining whatsoever. Over time, however, it evolved into the classic blue beauty that we know and love today.
Now a protected food, there are restrictions on cheeses that bear the Stilton name – it must be produced in one of three counties (either Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire), be made with local pasteurized milk, have a naturally rinded cylindrical shape, not be pressed, and of course, have blue veins. Even if a wheel meets all of these requirements, however, it still may not make the cut. Every wheel must be graded and pass a quality test before being dubbed “Stilton”. If a wheel doesn’t pass muster, it must be sold simply as “blue cheese”.
Even though about a million wheels of Stilton are made every year, there are only six dairies that are licensed to make this classic blue. At Via Umbria, our Stiltons are made by Colston Bassett Dairy in Nottinghamshire, and hand selected by our friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy. Founded in 1913, Colston Bassett has been making Stilton for over 100 years, and has only had 4 different cheesemakers during that period. As Jason Hinds, Sales Director at Neal’s Yard Dairy, puts it, “With only four cheesemakers in the last one hundred years, Colston Bassett has maintained a tradition and quality of cheesemaking that is unparalleled in the Stilton world. It is the only Stilton that Neal’s Yard Dairy has carried for the last thirty three years.” And if it’s good enough for Jason Hinds, you better believe that you have a seriously good cheese on your hands.
All of this to say: Colston Bassett Stilton is Via Umbria’s December cheese of the month! Come and join us next Wednesday at 7:30pm for our December Cheese Party, and jump into the holiday season by tasting this fantastic piece of British tradition.
Discover Their Roots Read more
You guys. I have a serious relationship with British cheeses. This will come as no shock to those of you who have ...
The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should be America’s national bird. He had a strong case, the turkey being a species native to North America, ranging in the wild from Mexico through the eastern United States and into Canada. And although Franklin didn’t succeed in putting the nearly flightless gobbler on the Great Seal, the turkey has become essential to American culture and cuisine–arguably the only required part of our annual Thanksgiving Day feasts.
Turkey is, however, one of the most misunderstood meats in our diet. During the rest of the year, we eat almost exclusively the white meat in deli sandwiches. The rest is discarded or ground for burgers and the like–pretending to be the cheap, lean option. But then, once a year in November, there is a massive demand for the birds whole. The sheer quantity of turkeys in demand means that most of them come from “farms” that resemble factories more than a traditional farm. And the birds themselves are a breed more or less developed in a lab so that the breast meat is larger than natural. When cooked, these turkeys are bland and tend to dry out easily.
This is what I had to take into consideration when I decided to sell turkeys this year. With our commitment to tradition, quality, and locality, I wanted to make sure that our turkeys were something to be proud of. So I drove an hour away from the District into beautiful upper Loudoun County, Virginia where the rolling hills start to reach towards the sky in the Appalachian Mountains and breweries and wineries hide around every corner. I met with a local family farmer, whose farm, Fields of Athenry, began to raise wholesome animals to ensure that their children ate well. Heading up the driveway, I was almost immediately greeted by a loud chorus of gobbles from a pen near the entrance. There they were, in the daylight, turkeys running around in the grass with no cage in sight. As the farmer, Elaine, showed me around, she pointed at specific birds and mentioned what breeds they were. A Narragansett here, a Blue there. It was impressive watching this flock wander around the field together, with the occasional few flying over the fence and then, birds that they are, unable to figure out how to get back in and rejoin their friends.
I learned that the farm actually operates across three properties in Loudoun County and just over the river in Maryland. In addition to the turkeys, the family raises cows, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and make their own deli meats and bacon–all with the same standards of care they show for the turkeys. I’m really excited to work with these guys. But for now, for Thanksgiving, we’re going to have some of the best turkeys available. We have pre-ordering available now through November 16 online or in the store, and can get you a bird as close to the size you want it. I can spatchcock them for you, if you’re feeling adventurous and ready to grill, and Chef Johanna is preparing an awesome cider brine, if you so desire. Plus, we’re cooking up some awesome sides and appetizers to pair with them. Long story short: order a turkey! I promise it’ll be one more thing you’ll be giving thanks for this year.
Turkey has become essential to American culture Read more
The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should ...
Brunch wasn’t until the afternoon, but the laboratorio kitchen got busy around ten o’ clock on Easter morning. Marco, Chiara, Bill, Suzy and Federico had their work cut out for them: in three hours, nearly 20 people would arrive to celebrate Easter, Italian-style. All hands were on deck, working together to create four glorious courses. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at all the hard work and creativity that made this meal possible!
The real fun began once all the guests arrived. Bellinis (and mimosas) flowed steadily, and families gathered around our communal table with friends new and old to celebrate.
We hope you’ll join us for our next holiday celebration! On April 23rd, we’ll host a Seder dinner to celebrate Passover. As always, guests of all faiths are welcome.
Buona Pasqua, and many thanks to all who shared their Easter with us today!
Easter in Via Umbria's Laboratorio kitchen Read more
Brunch wasn't until the afternoon, but the laboratorio kitchen got busy around ten o' clock on Easter morning. Marco, Chiara, Bill, Suzy and Federico ...
Easter in Umbria means it’s time for Torta Di Pasqua, a rich holiday cheese bread unique to the region. Visiting chef Jennifer McIlvaine stopped by to bake a scrumptious batch in our laboratorio kitchen, and gave us her recipe. But because every Umbrian family has their own special way of making Torta Di Pasqua, we asked several of our friends for their recipes. Simone, Ernesto, and Marco and Chiara all chimed in, and each of their ways of making Torta Di Pasqua sound amazing. Try them out at home with cheese from our cheese counter and tell us which version you like best!
Ernesto’s Torta Di Pasqua
1T of oil or 1T of pork fat (strutto)
2 cubes (50g) fresh yeast
5 pinches of salt
100g gruyere cut into cubes
100g parmigiano grated
Mix together eggs, oil, yeast salt and parmigiano. Add flour until you have a soft dough. Add gruyere cubes.
Fill a buttered baking tin just under half full. Let rise for one hour. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180c.
Marco and Chiara’s Torta Di Pasqua
An Umbrian holiday tradition Read more
Easter in Umbria means it's time for Torta Di Pasqua, a rich holiday cheese bread unique to the region. Visiting chef Jennifer McIlvaine stopped by ...
As far as buying Torta Di Pasqua versus making your own, in my town the split is about 50/50. In Cannara, the baker opens up his oven to the people of the town, usually on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, and lets them bake their own bread. So many people makes the dough at home and bakes it in his big oven. The best Torta Di Pasqua is made in a wood-fired oven, so you’ll see people light up their ovens a few days before Easter and then everybody brings their dough over. It’s a community thing, so people cook them together. It’s nice.
Here is Jennifer’s recipe for Torta Di Pasqua, which she made fresh for us today. Snag a mini Torta or get your very own full-sized loaf before they’re gone!
Jennifer McIlvaine’s Pizza Di Pasqua
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Slowly add the flours, little by little, alternating with the eggs. Mix well. Add the grated cheeses, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the lard and olive oil. Knead well for about 10 minutes. Add the diced provolone & swiss cheese and knead until well mixed. Divide the dough into two equal parts and form into balls, folding the dough over itself. Place each ball into a deep baking tin that has been greased (with lard) and floured.
Let rise for about 2 hours or until dough has reached the top of the tin. Bake in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes, then 180°C for another 40 minutes. The Tortas are ready when a test stick comes out clean.
Every family has its own Torta Di Pasqua recipe. Check back later for more variations!
Umbria's Easter specialty bread Read more
Colombe cakes are a celebrated Easter treat throughout Italy, but did you know that Umbria has its own leavened Easter speciality? Today, chef ...
Each year, during the col-drums of February, the harsh winter seems to melt away as people celebrate Valentine’s Day, the holiday synonymous with romance. Although there are several theories on the origin of the holiday, it has been adopted in many countries across the world as a way to celebrate love among couples, friends, and family.
Italians are typically considered to be lovers, but the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Italy is actually an American import. Known as “La Festa degli Innamorati” it is typically only celebrated between lovers and sweethearts.
This Valentine’s Day Via Umbria is combining the American and Italian traditions with our Sweetheart Suppers being held on two nights – Saturday, February 13 and Sunday, February 14. If you don’t look forward to the annual Valentine’s Day chaotic restaurant experience, or if the thought of cooking a meal for two has you hiding in bed with the blankets over your head, take the stress out of romance and enjoy dinner at a cozy table for two in Via Umbria’s laboratorio demonstration kitchen where every table is a chef’s table. But it’s not all cupid and hearts around here; if you’re looking for a unique spot for ladies’ night out or a group date with friends to celebrate the occasion, book a seat at the communal table to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, conversation, and wonderful Italian food.
Each evening features four courses of delicious Umbrian dishes, including appetizers, wine pairings, and a decadent chocolate dessert. And don’t forget, dinners in our laboratorio are more than just great food: our open kitchen format allows you to watch your meal as it’s created, and you can interact with the Chef. We promise it will be an unforgettable evening!
What: Sweetheart Supper
Where: in the Laboratorio (demo kitchen) at Via Umbria
When: Saturday, February 13, at 7:30pm or Sunday, February 14, at 7:30pm
For more information or to book your reservation visit us online or call us at (202) 333-3904.
We're taking Valentine's Day reservations Read more
Each year, during the col-drums of February, the harsh winter seems to melt away as people celebrate Valentine’s Day, the holiday synonymous ...