Experience Italy

Panettone aPlenty

This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with a tour with two of our favorite Panettone producers—Loison and Filippi. One step (or really one sniff) inside the baking facility at Loison and we knew we had made the right choice. Even during their off season, a time when there are no ovens on, no cakes baking, and no ingredients in sight, the entire factory smelled like sugar, butter, and fluffy, decadent cake. We wandered around the production line—looking at the giant (seriously huge) stand mixers where they carefully mix the panettone dough, coaxing the ingredients to combine together in just the right way to create the light, airy cakes, the enormous ovens that bake hundreds of carefully handcrafted cakes at a time, and the inventive machines that flip those cakes upside-down straight from the oven to keep their shape. If you’ve never seen the process I definitely encourage you to take a look—it’s pretty incredible. And for those of you who have ever had any doubts about whether or not the Italians are some of the most thoughtful, patient, and purposeful people on the planet take my word for it- one bite of a perfectly baked Panettone is all you need to change your mind.

In addition to the attention to detail during the baking process two other aspects of the production of the Panettone really stood out to me. The first being the pride that emanated from the bakers at both facilities as they walked us through each flavor of Panettone they were preparing to make for this holiday season (between 20-35 each) and exactly where every single ingredient in each of those cakes was sourced. Single origin chocolate drops from Domori, untreated Madagascar vanilla beans (and never any artificial flavors), free range eggs, figs from Calabria, Lemons from Sicily and fresh milk delivered every day during the baking season; each ingredient is carefully selected for it’s quality of production and taste to create the perfect marriage of flavors for each cake. As the Pastry Chefs at Filippi say “Just as in an orchestra, to create a symphony, every instrument has to be in harmony with the whole, so it does not suffice that every ingredient is good on its own. Each ingredient has to amalgamate well with all the others…” Each year they revisit the flavors of the year prior, sampling dozens of varieties of fruits, nuts, and honeys, ensuring that their cakes are always created using the just the ideal balance of flavors and ingredients.

The second aspect that the Pastry Chefs at both Loison and Filippi were quick and proud to point out is that each one of their cakes is hand wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. Out of context that may not seem like a big deal but when you think about the thousands of cakes being produced every Christmas and the intricate and precise wrapping each of these cakes is adorned with you really start to get a sense of the magnitude of this process. And the result is spectacular—3as they said at Loison “The result is a product that is more than just a baked good: it’s also a gift, a furnishing item and a piece of art.” It’s clear in speaking with them that there is no detail of the panettone making process that is overlooked and the result of all of that effort and attention to detail is the essential (and most delicious) emblem of the Christmas holiday.

Don’t just take my word for it though- come see and sample for yourself! On July 25th we’ll be celebrating Christmas in July- we’re so looking forward to the holiday season that we can’t possibly wait any longer. Stop by our market and taste samples of this year’s spectacular concoctions, see that intricate and delicate paperwork and ribbons adorning these beautiful parcels and pre-order some of your favorites.

This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with ...

Better Bubbles

It’s franciacorta.
It’s not champagne. It’s franciacorta.

And it’s definitely not prosecco.

Franciacorta 19

If we learned one thing during our visit last month to Franciacorta, the sparkling wine producing district in Lombardia, about an hour east of Milan it is that franciacorta is not Italian champagne. It is tasty, elegant and refined. It’s a sparkling wine that deserves its own name, free from the shadow of champagne

What is franciacorta? In a word, franciacorta is delicious.

Franciacorta 22Following four memorable days in Verona last month, we spent four glorious days in Franciacorta, unpacking our bags at the lovely Hotel Rivalago located, as the name suggests, on the shores of Lake Iseo. One of the lesser known lakes in this, Italy’s lake district, Iseo is a stunning backdrop that forms the northern boundary of Franciacorta. The mountains that surround the lake create a unique microclimate that, paired with the area’s poor rocky soil render the area unfit for growing much of anything. Execpt, to our good fortune, grapes and olives.

Franciacorta 15Until 1961 Franciacorta labored under relative obscurity, known mostly as a lovely weekend escape for wealthy Milanese and an area of good but unremarkable white wines. But in 1961 one of those wealthy residents, Guido Berlucchi, seeking a way to improve upon his modest local white wines decided to reach out to winemaker Franco Ziliani who posed a fateful question to his new partner. “What if we were to make a sparkling wine as the French do?” What was born from that question was franciacorta, and today nearly 200 producers annually riddle by hand and machine 17 million bottles of Italy’s best sparkling wine.

Franciacorta 6

Franciacorta 9Compared with the over 300 million bottles of champagne produced in the eponymous region in France, the growth of franciacorta (the name has nothing to do with France but instead was the name given to this middle ages tax free trading zone) has been remarkable, establishing itself as one of the world’s premiere sparking wines in just fifty years. Much of that no doubt has to do with the fact that it was championed and promoted from its beginnings by some of Italy’s most influential, fashionable and cosmopolitan families. Today people love drinking franciacorta as much for its silky, seductive taste as for its elegant packaging and branding.

Franciacorta 11Franciacorta 3Franciacorta 20On our visit to the region we got to experience first hand just how elegant and personal the winemakers’ hospitality can be. We were treated to a tour of the Berlucchi winery, where franciacorta was invented, by none other than Cristina Ziliani, daughter of the original winemaker, enjoying Berluchi’s 61 franciacorta brut and saten in the ancestral home of Guido Berlucchi.  Ca’ del Bosco, one of the most recognized names in Franciacorta introduced us to the area with a tour of their winery and treated us to a memorable lunch at the spectacular il Priore restaurant overlooking the vast and stunning Franciacorta landscape. At Bellavista we were not only treated to a visit to a winery that could just as easily double as an art museum and a private tasting that was among the most elegant we’ve ever enjoyed, we experienced a homecoming of sorts for our lunch at l’Albereta, a relais et chateaux property one of the finest Italian resorts we’ve ever stayed at. If you haven’t read of our memorable visits there, check out our blog post.

Franciacorta 16

By now you should be getting the picture. Franciacorta is a region and a type of wine. But no matter what you mean when you utter this magical word, it is elegance and beauty personified, offering a sense of wellbeing that we find so often when we travel to Italy, but which comes so easily and automatically in this unmatched corner of our favorite country. We look forward to experiencing it over and over on future visits to Franciacorta and to sharing it with our customers through special dinners and wine tastings. Come join us and enjoy franciacorta with us. Just be sure to not call it champagne.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

It’s franciacorta. It’s not champagne. It’s franciacorta. And it’s definitely not prosecco. If we learned one thing during our visit last month to Franciacorta, the ...

Wine-Wine Situation

How’s this for a win-win (or wine-wine) situation:  join us at one of our upcoming winemaker dinners—we’ve got three scheduled over the next month and a half—and in addition to a delicious four-course dinner paired with incredible wines hand-selected by the winemaker him/herself, you might just end up the lucky winner who joins Bill and Suzy on their Spring 2019 Food and Wine Tour!

Here’s how it works: (1) Join us for one of our three Winemaker’s Dinners featuring the wines from Umbria, Veneto and Friuli, (2) enjoy an evening of fine food and curated wines, all inspired by our favorite wineries in each region and (3) take home a case of that evening’s featured wine. That’s it!

With each case purchased, you’ll be entered to  win a space on our 2019 Spring Food and Wine Tour. The hardest part will be deciding which of our three fantastic Winemaker’s Dinners to join:

1. June 7: Wines of Friuli featuring Giorgio Colutta
If you haven’t heard of or tried the wines of Friuli, you haven’t drunk wine.  Revered throughout Italy, particularly for their white wines, this evening with Giorgio is not to be missed. LEARN MORE

2. June 15: Wines of Puglia featuring Conti Zecca
Back by popular demand. As interest in Puglia increases, its culinary legacy (and spectacular wines!) are getting more attention in international circles. If you can’t make it to Italy’s gorgeous coastal region for a quick visit, at least you can wine and dine in the Pugliese fashion. LEARN MORE

3. June 19: Wines of Piemonte featuring Coppo Winery
Both a celebration of Piemonte and the Barbera grape, this dinner focuses on the wines of Coppo Winery and the delicate flavors of the region. LEARN MORE

Talk about a no-brainer.  Join us for an evening of great food and wine and a chance to spend time with the winemaker and you might end up joining us in Italy next spring.  And just to whet your appetite, check out the highlights of our recently completed food and wine tour.

See you around our chef’s table.  And see you in Umbria!

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

How's this for a win-win (or wine-wine) situation:  join us at one of our upcoming winemaker dinners—we've got three scheduled over the next ...

My Verona

VinItaly 1It has been just a week since Suzy and I returned from our annual spring pilgrimage to Italy and we’re already counting the days until our return. The two and a half week trip flew by and is now a just a memory. But oh, what memories!

Our April visits are always a joy, if only because they give us the opportunity to enjoy springtime in Italy, which really is, in a word . . . magical. This year was no exception, with perfect weather during our week in Umbria and even perfecter weather throughout the week we traveled up north.

Pavilion for the Veneto region at VinItaly. This is a building, not a landscape!
Pavilion for the Veneto region at VinItaly. This is a building, not a landscape!

That second week’s itinerary took us to Verona, site of the VinItaly, the Italian wine expo that is held annually there. This was Suzy and my fifth visit to VinItaly and even after all those visits, it remains simply breathtaking in its scope. Nearly five thousand exhibitors displaying tens of thousands of Italian wines in a dozen airplane hangar-like pavilions covering a million square feet. That’s an awful lot of wine for two people to drink.

Our new best friend. And Marta Poli, the export manager at Mirabella winery.
Our new best friend. Also pictured, Marta Poli, the export manager at Mirabella winery.
Meet the family.
Meet the family.

That’s why we brought Lindsey and Scott from Via Umbria to join us and help us navigate this ocean of wine. For four days we spread out and made new discoveries and friendships and renewed old ones. We drank bubbles – lots of bubbles – from spumante to prosecco to franciacorta. We drank white wines. We drank red wines. We learned about particular grapes, about soil, about terroir, about traditions. We met winemakers and met their sons and daughters, their mothers and fathers. We saw our friends and neighbors from Umbria and made new friends in Piemonte, Lombardia, Veneto and Puglia.

For us, wine tastes better, leaves a deeper impression and is just plain more enjoyable when we don’t just taste it, but understand it. Not a clinical academic understanding, but an appreciation and a showing of respect that comes from knowing the grapes (of which there are thousands in Italy), of knowing where it comes from (the zone, the soil, the history and traditions of the area) and of getting a sense of the mindboggling number of decisions the winemaker makes every day that impact the final result. As big and crowded and frenetic as Verona is during VinItaly, it is still possible to find quiet moments with winemakers where they can share their passion with you and help you understand their wines. And along the way you may drink a glass or two.

We had a number of those moments with winemakers over our days in Verona. We drank through Giorgio Colutta’s entire lineup while comparing notes with him and his winemaker about the winemaker dinner he is hosting at Via Umbria on June 7. We met Marianna Annio from Pietraventosa in Puglia, who is also hosting a winemaker dinner here (on May 4) and made some last minute changes to the menu for her dinner. We were given VIP treatment by Cristina Renda, brand ambassador for Ca’ del Bosco, one of the leading producers of Franciacorta, which some call Italian champagne.   Cristina prefers to call champagne French Franciacorta. And while visiting Cristina’s private VIP room we ate prociutto and drank bubbles with the owner of the parent company. We tracked down Valentina Frignani, who will be hosting our Veneto winemaker dinner (May 22) and wrangled an invite into her boss’ private tasting room, where we got to meet the boss – Remo Farina – himself. We tasted out of this world Barolo from a small family-operated estate as the owner, Giorgio Viberti, passes on leadership of his winery to his young sons. And on a daytrip outside Verona for another tasting event we were treated to a spirited debate over the relative merits of Tuscany and Umbria by Simone Santini (Tenuta di Calcinaie in Tuscany) and our dear friend Albertino Pardi (Cantina Fratelli Pardi of Umbria).

This is how to learn about wine. This is how to taste wine. This is how to enjoy wine. With all your senses and your mind and spirit engaged. Learning from the people who make it because they are all to happy to share their stories with you.

And this is what we’re trying to bring to Via Umbria. Interesting wines that are expertly made and enjoyable to drink. Add to that the opportunity to learn a little more about them and great food to eat with them. Our upcoming calendar is full of these extraordinary opportunities.   We hope you’ll join us at one of our upcoming winemaker dinners, four and five course menus that were designed to highlight and showcase the wines of these outstanding winemakers. You’ll eat well, drink well, make friends with the winemakers and taste and understand what these wines are and why these wines are. Who knew learing could be so much fun!

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Terre Margaritelli manager Federico Bibi and Suzy execute a Vulcan Hair Meld.
Terre Margaritelli manager Federico Bibi and Suzy execute a Vulcan Hair Meld.

It has been just a week since Suzy and I returned from our annual spring pilgrimage to Italy and we’re already counting ...

Mad About Florence

The popular song proclaims “I love Paris in the springtime.”  You’ll get no arguments from me for I, too, love Paris in the springtime.  But I reallyreally love Italy in the spring.  And not just Italy—Florence.

Thankfully, our yearly travel schedule takes us to Italy each spring.  This is the time when Suzy and I host week-long Umbrian Food and Wine tours, each one an opportunity for eight lucky foodies to experience the special world we have discovered and nurtured in Italy.  Our guests join a community of food and wine producers who are eager to share their passion. For the past several years we’ve concluded our spring trips in Verona to participate in VinItaly, the largest annual expo of Italian wine producers. There, we sip, spit and schmooze, learning about Italy’s hundreds (if not thousands!) of indigenous grapes and meeting the incredible producers who work with them.

And so each spring—on the way from Umbria to Verona, or Verona to Umbria—we stop in Florence. It was where we got our first taste of Italy, and it was here that we fell helplessly in love with her. Now, it’s where we renew our vows with Italy. Short as they are, our Florentine pilgrimages remind us of so many aspects of this incredible country that we originally fell in love with as we stroll the historic streets of this birthplace of humanism, bathed in golden sunshine and cooled by the soft, crisp springtime air that wraps itself around us like a cool down comforter on a chilly winter night. In this birthplace of the renaissance, where civilization was reborn six centuries ago we are lifted by a different kind of rebirth, the annual rebirth of life as the languorous rhythm of spring softly delivers us from the cold, bleak winter and reminds us of the joys and beauty of nature.  We taste it in the fresh, spring peas that play the starring role in a spaghetti ai piselli we always enjoy at lunch at Buca dell’Orafo upon our arrival in Florence.  Florence 1

We feel it against our skin as we meander along ancient vias, oblivious to the crowds of tourists that do not hear the voices that are speaking to us. We experience it from a rooftop bar in the late afternoon, enjoying an aperol spritz as we take in roman, medieval and renaissance Florence.

Florence 3

It’s there as we seat ourselves at a table set atop the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre, where we tuck into an enormous bistecca alla fiorentina and wash it down with a wine that proves that the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.Florence 9

Florence 8

It was in Florence where we were first overcome by all the beauty and contentment that Italy has to offer. And what a place to start, because all of Italy can be found there.  Art. Food.  Weather.  Pace of life. Warmth.  Style.  Humanity.

Those on a mission can charge right past it, oblivious to all.  Not see the marker halfway up the exterior wall of a palazzo announcing “here is where the waters arrived during the great flood of 1966.  Yes, here!”  Not hear the opera music drifting from an apartment window, echoing off the walls of the medieval streets.  Not smell the baking of bread or roasting of meat.

Florence 2

It was here that we learned not just how to taste but how to enjoy the act of tasting.  What we have tasted, and what we taste every time we visit Italy is not just food and wine, but life.  For Italy is comfort food for the soul, engaging not just the senses but satisfying all of our basic human urges—aesthetic, artistic and intellectual—as well as those of sight, sound, smell, hearing and taste.  To enjoy it fully you must slow down, you must breathe deeply and allow Italy to come to you.  When you do, you will feel her wrap herself around you, envelope you, become you, as you become it.  Transforming you and transporting you, protecting you and providing for you just as Daphne was when she was transformed into a tree.

images-3

On our earliest trips to Florence we always made a stop at the Madova glove store, a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop at the end of the Ponte Vecchio.  There, animal hides have been being transformed into works of art and style for generations and we always felt the urge to bring home some pairs for us and to give as gifts.  On this spring return visit, this pilgrimage, it felt only right to cross the bridge and to take another look at this icon of Florence.  Not to buy anything, but just to look and say thank you.  For just as Madova gloves transform the quotidian and create something that wraps itself around you with beauty, comfort and style, making your life momentarily better, so does Florence.  So does Italy.  During our brief visit to Florence we slipped on Italy and the fit was perfect.

Florence 6

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

The popular song proclaims “I love Paris in the springtime.”  You’ll get no arguments from me for I, too, love Paris in ...

The Proof is in the Bottle

This is the story of four men.  Farmers. Winemakers.  Community builders.  Umbrians.

This is the story of Roberto DiFilippo, Federico Bibi, Giampaolo Tabarrini and Albertino Pardi. Umbrian winemakers, colleagues and friends.  But we could have just as easily told this story with different names – Roberto Dionigi, Duccio Pompili, Peter Heilbron or a host of others.   The love of the land, of the region’s traditions, of the wine that Umbria’s winemakers make is universal amongst them.  To them, it is simply what they do.  To us it is unique.  To us it is inspiring.

Over the course of this weeklong food and wine tour our winemaker friends have shared their passions, their stories, their love of what they do.  Each one practices their craft differently but at the end of the day, they do it all the same because each in his own way has discovered the universality that connects what they do.  Some are organic.  Some are biodynamic.  Others practice traditional farming methods.  But regardless of the label we apply or the strictness of the practices they follow they all value sustainability.  Above all they seek to sustain the patrimony that is their land. To nurture it, to make it healthier every day.  So they can grow the best grapes.  So they can pass on this patrimony to their children and their children’s children.

Each respects others’ differences, but they all share the same universal belief.  Each looked us in the eye and said that good wine is made in the fields, not in the cantina.  That in order to make good wine you must grow good grapes.  Healthy grapes that reflect the soil in which they grow.

The proof is in the bottle.

One of them told us of an experience he had in Turkey, where a certain winemaker extolled his practice of adding this and that in the cantina to make up for grapes that spent days in the sun before fermenting.  This, our friend opined, perhaps a bit too generously, is just a different approach.  The wine, he told us, was “technically good.”  It had been corrected in the winery.

Our winemakers prefer not to correct mistakes in the winery.  Because you can make bad grapes “technically good.”  But the excitement in wine is not in being technically correct, the excitement is in feeling something alive in your mouth.  Something that vibrates with the rhythms of the fields and the sun from where it came.  You can correct flaws and make something “technically good” but you can’t give it life.  You can’t give it personality.  Only the land and the sun can do that.  And that is what these four men have spent their lives learning.

Their wines are simple in the very best sense of the word.  They are made from healthy grapes grown in well-tended fields.  They are transformed from juice to wine with knowledge and experience that does not rush, that does not cut corners.  Because while technology can minimize risks and defects, only time can produce great wine.

This week we have enjoyed many wines at many good meals and have created many pleasant memories around the table.  But the lessons of these humble, passionate, patient, giving and caring winemakers – farmers, community builders, Umbrians – will stay with us long after that glorious taste has faded away.  And it will leave a taste as sweet and as satisfying as the wine itself.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

This is the story of four men.  Farmers. Winemakers.  Community builders.  Umbrians. This is the story of Roberto DiFilippo, Federico Bibi, Giampaolo Tabarrini and ...

Spring Green

What a fierce winter this has been.  The extremes between odd 60 degree days have not been enough to balance the fierce cold, snow and winds that have crept along the east coast.  We often joke about how frequently we shut down the government for the promise of snow—this year was an all time first for me when we shut down for the promise of wind.

SpringGreenBlog-1-2

We departed a snow covered New York City for Umbria where we have been greeted by sunny skies and fields of green.  

We are often asked, “What is the best time to visit Italy?”  Of course our answer is always, “Whenever you can make it to Italy.”  There is always a good reason to visit Italy. For me, the best reason to visit Italy in the spring is the promise of what is to come.

SpringGreenBlog-2

When we visit during the summer—the farmers discuss the heat and the wind—how they are affecting the fields.  When we visit during the fall—the farmers discuss the impact of the flies and the rains. When we visit during the spring the farmers discuss the possibilities of what is to come.  The promise of a perfect harvest. The potential of a particular grape. The buds on the trees. The gentle rain that just passed through. In spring—everything is possible.

Our tours always involve food and wine—in the spring we are drinking the most recent releases.  We are eating wild asparagus, artichokes and favas. As our friend Emiliano pointed out to us on day one, “The green has returned”—and we are here to enjoy it.

—Suzy

What a fierce winter this has been.  The extremes between odd 60 degree days have not been enough to balance the fierce ...

Chef Simone Reflections

Chef Simone Proietti-Pesci is a beloved and respected ambassador of Umbrian cuisine and lifestyle.  He is the Chef and Owner of the acclaimed Le Delizie del Borgo restaurant in Bevagna, Italy. Le Delizie del Borgo is nestled in a quaint corner of the medieval Bevagna’s main piazza, and serves as a magnet for gastronomes, attracting diners from afar with his menu of traditional and modern dishes and a wine list that draws from multiple Italian regions, including Umbria, Tuscany, and Piedmont. On top of this, Simone and his restaurant are a featured host and attraction of our Umbrian Food & Wine Tours.

_DSC0558
 

We are sad to see Simone leave but we know he will be back! Before he departed, we were able to sit down and hear his reflections about his time at Via Umbria:

What does it mean for you to be able to come to Via Umbria and cook?

It is an honor to be able to cook true “la vera cucina italiana” in the United States, and especially here at Via Umbria.

What are your thoughts on Italian food culture in the US?

I have found that there some restaurants that are gems like Via Umbria that create what I believe to be true Italian food, and they teach the American people how the should should really be and taste.  This is in comparison to traditional Italian-American cuisine which is a different thing and includes classics like Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Parmesan and Chicken Alfredo.

What is your favorite aspect of Via Umbria?

My favorite aspects of Via Umbria are the true authenticity that is apparent throughout the store, restaurant and cafe. Also the people!

What is your favorite part of Washington DC?

Definitely 14th Street and Georgetown. I think those two are my favorites!

What do you miss most about Italy when you are in the US?

I miss the simplicity of getting around and of daily life, everything in Bevagna is 5 minutes away.  I also miss the overall quality of life in Umbria, it is just different there.

Do you miss anything about the US when you return to Italy?

When I am in Italy, I miss the city itself, Washington DC and also my American family, the Menards!

Chef Simone Proietti-Pesci is a beloved and respected ambassador of Umbrian cuisine and lifestyle.  He is the Chef and Owner of the ...

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours

Screen Shot 2017-12-25 at 8.32.08 AM

To me, Christmas is about family.   Sure, there is a certain religious aspect that we often tend to forget about in our rush to buy the perfect gift, decorate the house and hang the stockings, prepare a great meal.  But when it’s done right those other distractions aren’t expressions of selfishness, but rather a deep seated selflessness.  Rather than being materialistic narcissists who want the most expensive gift for ourselves, as we are often caricatured at Christmas time, our true motivation is that we want one day to be perfect for all of the people we love.  A thoughtful gift that doesn’t say “I just spent a lot of money on you” but rather “I’ve been thinking of you.”  A special touch around the house, like a corner decorated with grandma’s carved Santa collection sends a signal that this is indeed a special time, at the same time subtly connecting us to our past.  The dinner table, overflowing with bounty says that everything I have I share with you.  And even more it says pull up a chair and be prepared to sit with me for a long, long time.

Every iconic Christmas cartoon or movie is a story about family.  Close your eyes and you will see  images of people – families, friends and strangers – holding hands, coming together, enjoying the day and by extension, the gift of life.  The Whos in Whoville holding hands, singing “Fah who foraze.”  Kevin McCallister hugging the homeless pigeon lady in Central Park in Home Alone 2.  Ralphie and the rest of the Parker family bonding over the decapitation of a goose at Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant a day after little brother Randy enjoys mashed potatoes in modo di maiale.  

bird-lady-home-alone 
randy2 

Family. Friends. Food.  Connecting.  Living in and fully appreciating the moment while unconsciously paying thanks for all that came before.  That is what Christmas means to me.

And that is what inspired us to create Via Umbria.  A place where food and friends can get lost in each other.  Where time slows down and enjoyment is more than a momentary flash in the pan.

We set about to create a community at Via Umbria.  An extended family.  And to share the joys of family with that community every day, just like we all do with our own families on Christmas day.  We thank all of you for being part of the Via Umbria family, and we look forward to sharing the joys that life offers up daily with each of you in the new year.

From all of us at Via Umbria, we wish a merry Christmas to all and in the words of the Whos in Whoville

Welcome, Christmas! Fah who rahmus!
Welcome, Christmas! Dah who dahmus
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.

Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!
Welcome Christmas! Bring your cheer.
Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!
Welcome all who’s far and near.

 

To me, Christmas is about family.   Sure, there is a certain religious aspect that we often tend to forget about in ...

Free Jennifer!

Free Jennifer 009On a beautiful fall morning with crisp cool air and a deep blue sky we start our morning off with a walking tour of one of our favorite Umbrian cities, Perugia.  And we love Perugia not just because it is the name of our favorite drinking game, but because of the sweep of its history, from Etruscan to the Roman to medieval
powerhouse to a center of the renaissance.  And today it is so much more than a museum, it is a living breathing city, one that happens to be breathing cool, crisp au
tumn air with hints of chocolate.  For Perugia is the home of Perugina, a historic chocolate company where we will be making chocolates later in the day.  And Perugia is host of the annual Eurochocolate festival, which we enjoy after our tour has ended.

Free Jennifer 010Sandwiched in between Perugia and Perugina is our visit to our friend Federico’s winery, Terre Margaritelli in nearby Torgiano.  And as wonderful as is the tour of the winery, where we learn of this year’s troubles with a super hot, dry summer that caused the harvest to be advanced by several weeks, as well as Terre Margaritelli’s commitment to organic, sustainable farming, the highlight of the day is lunch in the winery prepared by Federico’s wife Jennifer.  

For anyone who doesn’t know the background – Jennifer, Federico and their two children flew to the states last December before Christmas for a work vacation.  Plans included catching up with family and friends in the states, promoting Federico’s wines and olive oil and for Jennifer to showcase her talent in Via Umbria’s kitchen, followed by a well deserved 10 days in the Caribbean.

For all of our Umbrian friends – cooking at Via Umbria is easy, its natural.  Where many American chefs see a small, impossible kitchen to cook in – our Italian Chefs see an open space where they can create anything.  Unfortunately while we are away enjoying that Caribbean vacation our Chef has decided that ours is not the right kitchen and gives her notice.

So – after 10 beautiful days in the sun, as the Bibi family is packing their bags to return to Italy I invite Jennifer out for drinks and ask the impossible.  “Any chance you can come back to DC and cook for us for a couple of weeks while we find a Chef?”  My powers of pursuasion must be good, or maybe Jennifer is just a good friend, but in any case she agrees to help out and we scramble to rearrange plans, call, beg and plead to find a space in school for the children, and two days later we are back in Washington with Jennifer at the helm of Via Umbria’s kitchen.

Free Jennifer 006

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into a month, a month turns into months.  Every week we change the return on the ticket. Facebook posts starts appearing (probably written by Federico) – Free Jennifer!  Free Jennifer!  T-shirts are made for the entire staff.  And finally we find Chef Liam, someone we can trust to manage the kitchen at Via Umbria and Jennifer is finally paroled, returning after three months to Italy to her family.

Free Jennifer 007

Free Jennifer 008

 

Today’s lunch is our chance to see Jennifer back in her element.  In the world she has created for herself in Umbria.  We sit back and relax.  Enjoying a meal – created in a tiny kitchen no bigger than the one at Via Umbria – that captures our favorite Umbrian flavors and experiences.

Free Jennifer 002Cured meats and cheeses
Baked stuffed zucchini flowers
Rocciata stuffed with cauliflower and greens
Homemade hot peppers
Porchetta (of course)

All of this is washed down with a parade of Federico’s wines, making our afternoon in Torgiano not only relaxing but delicious.

We may miss Jennifer back in Washington, but on a magic day here in Italy, we’re glad we freed her to come back to her new native land.

Free Jennifer 001

She's back in Italy and so are we! Read more

On a beautiful fall morning with crisp cool air and a deep blue sky we start our morning off with a walking ...

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 ...