Opera Wine

OW2016_gruppo_02We came to Verona on this visit to experience VinItaly, Italy’s biggest and most important wine expo that takes place annually in this northern Italian gem of a city. Housed under many roofs, thousands of exhibitors show off their wines to importers, distributors and retailers. Until this year the show was open to the public for at least one day but the incredible crush of the mass public on those open days caused VinItaly’s organizers to rethink this policy and this year it was open only to “trade” members. Thank you Via Umbria for giving us this modicum of credibility in order to snag a credential and an entry ticket.

IMG_0595But if VinItaly is becoming more exclusive, even more exclusive yet is Opera Wine, which we had the honor of attending on the eve of VinItaly’s opening. Organized by VinItaly in conjunction with the Wine Spectator, Opera Wine is an exhibition within an exhibition, showcasing what Wine Spectator has deemed to be Italy’s “best 100 wines.” Our good friends Giampaolo Tabarrini and Daniele Sassi from Giampaolo’s Tabarrini winery were honorees this year and our meal ticket. When Daniele offered us an entry ticket some months ago, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to sample these A List wines and meet their charismatic proprietors, even if it meant having to don a coat and tie.

Catching a glimpse of Giampaolo Tabarrini in formal dress is about as common as seeing Bigfoot at the Met. But upon entering the Palazzo della Gran Guardia we headed to the Tabarrini table so we could see it for ourselves. And Giampaolo did not disappoint. Among a sea of short, tight fitting fashionable blue jackets with narrow lapels, elegant silk neckties and stylish shoes, Giampaolo stood out in his garish red blazer and Italian tricolore flag bowtie.   But it wasn’t just his attire that made him stand out. The man’s gas tank is filled with nitro while others are running on unleaded. A blur of activity with a perpetual smile and a twinkle in his eye that is visible from the next galaxy, Giampaolo tirelessly worked the room after room of producers, buyers and press, laughing, hugging and befriending everyone he could lay eyes or hands on. The secret to his ability to connect? It’s genuine.

IMG_0742After exchanging our hugs with Giampaolo and Daniele the former gave us some great advice that we took to heart for the next two hours. “Don’t miss out on drinking the wines from Piemonte. They are beautiful!” And indeed they were. Barolos mostly, from the biggest names in the business. We tasted and savored, met some of the owners and reacquainted ourselves with some we had met before. We recognized a few labels that we carry at Via Umbria and introduced ourselves, only to find, in the case of Bisol, that their rep had already spent an afternoon in our Georgetown store.


TV cameras lit up, interviews flowed like wine and wine flowed like wine. And for two hours we truly were in another world, one inhabited by what Wine Spectator believes are the 100 best wines in Italy. Some may take issue with their particular list, but one thing is undeniable. To enter Opera Wine is to enter a truly special world, inhabited by truly special winemakers and their truly special wines. And it is a place that one truly does not want to leave.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy


Opera Wine is an exhibition within an exhibition Read more

We came to Verona on this visit to experience VinItaly, Italy’s biggest and most important wine expo that takes place annually in ...

A Matter of Factory

The Matilde Vicenzi factory in San Giovanni Lupatoto, on the outskirts of Verona.
The Matilde Vicenzi factory in San Giovanni Lupatoto, on the outskirts of Verona.

It wasn’t until Suzy and I began importing and selling Italian products that I even came across the word artisanal.   But over the years it has proven to be the best way to describe the special quality of so many of the products we are privileged to carry and the artisans whom we have been privileged to get to know. Whether it is a bottle of extravirgin olive oil produced from lovingly tended trees or Gerardo’s ceramic works of art, artisanal denotes something handcrafted, produced by someone (an artisan) who doesn’t just clock in for his or her shift, but who invests and leaves a little piece of him or herself in every piece produced.

Such is the case with the artisans we met at the Matilde Vicenzi dolciaria. Our first stop in Italy (after checking into our hotel in Verona and grabbing lunch) was to this beloved producer of cookies, located in the outskirts of Verona. Arriving in the factory’s parking lot late on a Friday afternoon, we were prepared for anything but an artisanal experience. But that is precisely what we got.

Giuseppe Vicenzi, president and chief cookie baker.
Giuseppe Vicenzi, president and chief cookie baker.

Upon arrival we were greeted by Anna DeBattisti, the company’s general counsel who escorted us into the office of Giuseppe Vicenzi, president of the company and grandson of the founder Matilde Vicenzi. Now in his 80’s we did not have the fortune to meet Giuseppe, who was busy in meetings. That meeting must wait until our next visit. But for half an hour Anna regaled us with stories about the Matilde Vicenzi, who founded the company in 1905, her grandson Giuseppe, the history of the company, its four factories, their incredible line of cookies, puff pastries and ladyfingers and the company’s domestic and global reach.

Then, for the next hour Anna, joined by her colleagues Monica and Giulia who manage production and export duties, escorted us through the sprawling cookie factory. And what a sight and experience it was. Enormous conveyor belts slathered with dough snaked through ovens thirty meters long, where puff pastry was baked at four hundred degrees, resulting in delicate, crispy layers of lightly sweet goodness. Savoiardi or ladyfingers, the company’s signature product, were produced by the hundreds in the most important production line, dough squirted into molds, molds assembled together, the whole armada baked to golden deliciousness before being removed from the molds and packaged in a symphony of moving arms, boxes, labels and shrink wrapping.

Dressed for factory tour success!
Breaking into a box of Grisbi, chocolate filled wafers given as a sample.

But lest you think this is simply automation run amok, think again. Joined by the floor supervisor we were witness to the thousands of acts of human intervention, the testing of dough, the calibration of timing of machinery and, most of all, the testing of quality control. Each biscuit, cookie and ladyfinger is examined for flaws before being handed back to the machines for packaging, with boxes of rejects leaving us longing to take them home. Once packaged, automated hoists hauled the boxes hundreds of feet into the air onto shelves where they would be warehoused until shipped to the fortunate and hungry were to receive them.

To call it a cookie factory would be to do a disservice to Vicenzi. In our two hours with a handful of employees of this €100 million/year company we witnessed the same passion and attention to detail that we see when Gerardo paints a peacock feather on a dish or Carlo awaits for the season’s first extravirgin olive oil to trickle from his mill. It’s what we’ve learned to call artisanal. And it is well deserved for the people of Matilde Vicenzi.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.24.28 PM

Visiting an artisanal cookie factory in Italy Read more

It wasn’t until Suzy and I began importing and selling Italian products that I even came across the word artisanal.   But over ...

Camera Oscura

Greetings from Italy, where today we offer a brief lesson in physics. Today’s subject is the so called observer effect, which posits that the act of observation itself will necessarily effect a change on a phenomenon being observed. Suzy’s version of this principal is that attempting to record an Italian experience, to photograph it, to video it, rather than simply enjoying the moment, inevitably alters one’s experience. And always for the negative.  She’s right, as usual.

Despite knowing that by snapping photos or videos of a unique experience I remove myself from the experience itself, I repeatedly make this same, bonehead mistake. Experiencing Italy takes some discipline, to put away the camera or the GoPro, to actually relax and take it all in. It is a lesson worth learning.

Nothing like being in the moment!

And so we arrived in Italy nearly a week ago, primed to blog and share our experiences with you. But also commited to truly living those experiences, rather than simply rebroadcasting them in diretta (live). It has been a good lesson, well learned.

We arrived on the peninsula on Friday morning after an overnight flight from New York. Milan greeted us with a little bit of overcast skies but cool, spring temperatures that promised to warm as the land of dolce vita shook off its winter slumber. There is a wonderful cool freshness you feel when you visit Italy in the spring and we felt it as we began our journey eastward to Verona. It was good to be back home.

Verona Arena

There in Verona we spent three days enjoying this remarkable Roman city in the company of three friends from America. Our hotel, located in the city center, boasted as its neighbor the hauntingly beautiful Roman arena, which was the first building we would see in the morning and the last one we would see at night, thus ensuring our dreams were appropriately Romanized. It is impossible to describe the sheer delight of being in Verona – its beauty, its history and its culture are so easy to absorb, to savor – that you simply don’t want to leave. But we were in Verona on a mission, to attend the 50th edition of VinItaly, the country’s most important wine expo. We did that and more, including a visit to meet the people behind the Matilde Vicenzi biscotteria, one of the newer additions to Via Umbria’s lineup of cookies, cakes and confections. And we had a special invitation to Opera Wine, a kind of expo within an expo, showcasing the 100 best wines of Italy. But most of all we were able to catch up with old friends who had come to Verona to show off their wares. We did that against the backdrop of Verona, one of the loveliest cities in the Italian north, before heading to our more familiar Umbria.


Now nearly a week into our visit we’ll look back and share some of the memorable moments that we have enjoyed. Just don’t expect much real time accounts. We’re planning to savor these experiences as they come. Pull up a chair and pour yourself a nice glass of wine. And enjoy those experiences with us.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Enjoying the Moment Read more

Greetings from Italy, where today we offer a brief lesson in physics. Today’s subject is the so called observer effect, which posits ...

Dishing With Chef Jennifer McIlvaine

Acclaimed chef Jennifer McIlvaine has lead a whirlwind of dinners and cooking classes this week at Via Umbria as part of our Terre Margaritelli Takeover. Today, we sat down to chat about camp grills, eno-gastronomic tours, and her transcontinental culinary journey.

How did you get your start as a chef?

Like most people, I started out working in French-based restaurants. Eventually, I worked at an Italian restaurant in Seattle, and then opened a street food business called Bruschettina. This was way before all of the food trucks. I was one of the first people doing street food in Seattle.

What made you decide to do that?

People would go to these hip, chic farmer’s markets all over Seattle to buy organic produce, but there was nothing to eat at the markets except hotdogs and crepes. So I had this idea to cook at farmer’s markets. I would get vegetables from the farmers, bread from the organic bread guys, and then I’d make toppings. I had camp grills, so I would toast the bread and then list the toppings on a little chalkboard saying where I got all the ingredients. It was huge, actually.

Jennifer working the camp grills.
Jennifer working the camp grills.

How did you get from Seattle to Italy?

While I was doing Bruschettina, I won an internship through the women’s chef association to work on an agriturismo in Tuscany. While I was there I would cook private dinners, which is how I met my husband, Federico. Like any good Umbrian, he was like, “No, you can’t be in Tuscany! Come to Umbria!” So on the weekend I would visit him and meet various producers. Then he worked a lot in Seattle after I went back, and eventually we moved to Umbria.

This way for Umbrian agriturismo !
This way to an Umbrian agriturismo !

And that’s when you started working at Il Bacco Felice in Foglino.

Right. I worked for a very well-known chef Salvatore Denaro. It was a crazy learning experience. I had to jump into the Italian way of cooking, which is completely different. Half the time, Salvatore would lay out ingredients and I just had to magically know what to do with them. And I didn’t know! I had no idea. And I didn’t speak the language. But that’s also where I learned how to work a fire grill. We don’t have those in the States unless you’re camping! It was great. After working there on and off for about a year, I opened up my own restaurant, Trattoria Basiliko.

What was that like?

My partner was a woman who had a restaurant around the corner in Foglino. I was in the kitchen and she was in the front of the house. We ran that for about two years. but we both got pregnant at about the same time, so that was the end of that.

How did you get into leading eno-gastronomic tours?

It started very organically. About a year after my daughter was born, somebody was visiting and asked me to to take them to a farm, because when I had my restaurant I was one of the few people who actually went to the farms to buy the meat and produce. Then somebody else asked me to do a cooking class. It started slowly, through word of mouth, and just kind of took off. When people rent villas, especially Bill and Suzy’s house, I cook for them and teach cooking classes. I also do food and wine tours of the area. Lots of cycling, hiking, horseback riding. It’s active stuff, but there’s always food and wine involved. So maybe after cycling, there’s a picnic lunch in the middle of the valley, or after horseback riding we have lunch at Federico’s winery.

The perfect spot for a late lunch.
The perfect spot for a late lunch.

How do you like to cook at home?

We live in the center of an old medieval town, so we have a fireplace in the middle of our kitchen. In the winter, it’s going all the time. I do a lot of cooking on the fireplace … meat, fish … I’ve done pasta over the fire. It’s not easy, but it’s great if you have time.

Learn the tricks of the trade from Jennifer before she leaves town at our Hands On Pizza Party this Sunday! And if you’d like to meet her in Umbria, you’re always welcome to stay at the Via Umbria villa.



Jennifer's culinary journey Read more

Acclaimed chef Jennifer McIlvaine has lead a whirlwind of dinners and cooking classes this week at Via Umbria as part of our Terre Margaritelli ...

Bill’s Travel Journal: Experience Lazio

_DSC0382Annalisa Torzilli is the reason we are in this business. Well not literally, but the charming owner of il Molino farm just outside the village of Montefiascone is emblematic of all the things we love about being in the business of discovering, savoring and sharing experiences. She’s got a great smile, too.

_DSC0058We have been customers of il Molino products for a number of years, having been introduced to them by our friend and supplier Andrea Tosolini who raved about and vouched for the quality and authenticity of il Molino’s organic olive oils, olive oil-based cosmetics, sauces, condiments, pastas and more. So this year at the Fancy Food Show in New York, Suzy decided to take the opportunity to meet Annalisa, the owner-operator of il Molino and as fate would have it, Andrea happened to wander by as she approached the il Molino stand, to make a proper introduction. It was love at first sight. Suzy returned to the hotel that day, beaming, and carrying on about how we were going to visit il Molino on our Food and Wine Experience tour. Fate often smiles on us like this and we are grateful.



Montefiascone is not exactly close to our farmhouse, but our tour guests seemed as excited as we were when we boarded Simone’s taxi for the nearly two hour drive from Umbria to Lazio. Along the way the scenery changed and transformed from verdant wild hills to rolling, rocky terrain. But the villages that dotted the countryside, perched on impossibly steep craggy hilltops seemed to spring from the same source, each speaking of a long unbroken chain of history and housing cultures and habits as old as the hills themselves. Montefiascone itself is such a walled hilltown, with its enormous duomo squeezed over to one end of town so massive that it feels like the whole place may tip up and slide off the hill. One could say that it is a place of legend, the home of Est! Est! Est! white wine that those legends tell us was the exuberant exclamation of a papal emissary from long ago sent out to find good wine for the Pope on his journey from Rome to Orvieto, signaling his discoveries by posting a note on the doors of taverns with good wine saying ‘est’ (here it is). No offense intended to the emissary, but he should have tried our trebbiano spoletino in Umbria. The Pope would have found the detour completely worthwhile.

_DSC0245Our visit with Annalisa at both il Molino and the nearby Fornovecchino mill lasted the whole day, and started with a visit to the olive mill, where Annalisa was already harvesting and producing new oil. The excitement of seeing fresh, ripe olives being stripped from the tree, the acrid smell of polyphenols that burn your throat as the olives are being crushed into paste, and the glorious stream of almost phosphorescent green oil that trickles out of the stainless steel spigot, bound for a bottle or can, never gets old. And in this setting of over three hundred hectares of beautiful, natural, organic farmland, lovingly maintained by Annalisa and her caring staff it meant even more.


Lunch was served as though we had been friends forever, which after an hour in her company is how we all felt. There we discovered and savored pasta made from the farm’s farro and senatore cappelli grains, both ancient grains that have been rediscovered and popularized (for a reason) of late. There was much discussion over whether farro and spelt were the same thing (it’s complicated) and the difference between and relative advantages and disadvantages of grano duro (the hard wheat family that senatore cappelli belongs to) versus grano tenero. There was no arguing, however, that both pastas are something different than your ordinary pasta, a distinct cut above in flavor, mouthfeel and satisfaction. (My favorite is the senatore cappelli and I am on a mission to spread the word.)

It tastes even better than it looks!
It tastes even better than it looks!

_DSC0472After lunch and a stroll around the beautifully maintained property we were off to Fornovecchino, the nearby organic mill where Annalisa’s (and other local organic farmers’) grain is transformed into flour and then into bread, pasta and other finished products.   As we arrived, some local customers were negotiating the purchase of several huge sacks of different flours and after they left Annalisa introduced us to the owners who took us on a tour of the mill, hustling us into the inner sanctum where we were shown how the grains are milled into finer or coarser flour. An exposition of beans and legumes, most of them tracing their roots (literally) to ancient forebears and unique to small, particular areas ensued, with our new Chef in residence, Vickie Reh, soaking up this information more readily than the ceci nero would soak up water that evening.

_DSC0420 _DSC0404 _DSC0389

Saying our goodbyes to Claudio and Romina and to Annalisa, laden with purchases and gifts from both, we boarded Simone’s taxi, for the long drive home. Home to Umbria, having spent the day in Lazio. A day that enabled us not just to understand the connection between man and la terra but to experience and feel it. And that, after all, is the reason we are in this business.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy


It's all about discovering, savoring and sharing experiences. Read more

Annalisa Torzilli is the reason we are in this business. Well not literally, but the charming owner of il Molino farm just ...

Bill’s Journal: Feed Me

_DSC0182We’re back in Umbria for our annual fall pilgrimage, our fall Food and Wine tour. This year Suzy and I are hosting two small groups over two week long itineraries, which we plan to punctuate with a brief side trip to Piemonte (for the White Truffle Festival) before returning home to DC. We have the small matter of reopening Via Umbria to attend to back home.

Returning to Umbria, particularly during the fall harvest, is always a homecoming of sorts for us, summoning up a host of emotions and memories. It is a special time of year, with the orange and rust hues of the vineyards, each one in a different state of harvest, combined with the early evenfall to create a sense of quiet and peacefulness tinged with just a po’ di malincholia.


_DSC0009-2We come to Umbria this year as we have for the past eight, on a mission to offer our Food and Wine tour guests an opportunity to discover with us the Umbria we have come to know and love. A land where the earth gives forth an incredibly rich bounty, coaxed lovingly from nature by men and women who respect nature by taking what it has to offer and leaving it better off than they found it.

But we come this year, too, with eyes even wider open than normal, seeking to put our finger on those elusive sights, sounds and smells that when combined together shout out “benvenuto in Italia.” To identify those iconic details that define Italy so we can bottle them up and bring the back home with us, spraying them into the air on Wisconsin Avenue so that our customers, breathing deeply of them will know what it is to experience Italy.

Our Food and Wine tour this year is not just an exercise in loving the here and now, it is a mission to capture and bring home the essence of Italy so we can share it. For nearly two decades we have been bringing back pieces of Italy to share with our customers. This fall we are tasked with bringing back the nature of Italy itself.

Food and Wine TourHow better to understand Italy than by experiencing the bounty of its land and its people. And so we started our trip, a group of eight, by exploring the Etruscan town of Todi and the Umbrian settlement of Gubbio. By delighting in the recounting of the history of these places by a guide with palpable pride in her land. By lingering over meals of local meats and cheeses, regional pastas and wines that come from here and can only come from here. By getting to know Simone, our driver, and each other.

What better way of exploring what makes Italy Italy and what makes Umbria Umbria than to arrive at the farmhouse on our first day and to discover Ernesto Parziani, the chef and owner of our favorite local restaurant Perbacco, in the kitchen of our farmhouse with his daughter, preparing the first night’s dinner. To spend time in the kitchen with Ernesto and Agata rolling balls of baccala, pureeing broccoli for gnocchi alla romana, of discussing the menu, discussing family, discussing nothing at all.

_DSC0751_DSC0288What better way of enjoying our first evening in Italy than by sitting down over this home cooked feast and culinary history lesson with the new friends we have made, our travel companions for this week, along with Ernesto and his wife Simona. To drink wines that our friends the Pardis have labored over just a dozen miles from here. To talk and eat and laugh and relax deep into the night long after most mortals would have succumbed to jet lag.


Suzy and I have long maintained how difficult it is to neatly and cleanly and succinctly define Italy and the Italian experience. There simply is no one thing that says it all, no Tower of Pisa, no fettuccine alfredo, no Madonna col bambino that one can point to and say, “ecco qua, Italia!” Yet we keep coming back, time after time, and millions of visitors keep making the pilgrimage to the boot each year for that something special that speaks to them.

In the end, maybe it is just simply its incredible bounty that defines Italy, that makes Italy Italy. Perhaps that is the magic potion Suzy and I are searching for. Italy itself didn’t even exist a little more than 150 years ago, a crazy quilt of city-states, kingdoms, alliances and fiefdoms then and even now resembles less a well ordered English country garden and more the wild, natural orto that we find when we step out back, behind our farmhouse kitchen.

After our first night back in Umbria, following a day of discovery, of enjoyment, of relaxing and of peace and contentment, perhaps we are inching closer to understanding the secret that is Italy. Perhaps it is not one thing that makes Italy Italy, perhaps it is the sweep, the bounty of this place. But those things – the food, the wine, the landscape, the history, the art, the lyrical language, crazy drivers in tiny cars and museum-like cities – they are not the answer themselves. They are the things that satisfy the cravings that Suzy has. That I have. That our tour guests have. That Ernesto and Simona have. Each craving personal, each craving as deep as the soul and each craving desperately in search of satisfaction. Put simply, Italy feeds what you hunger for.


Italy, with its richness and its willingness to let you live in the here and now, scratches the itch, the longing in our souls for connection and meaning. And as far as we have figured it out, it does it better than any other place on earth.

Perhaps that is the secret of Italy, the ingredient we can bottle up and bring back to Georgetown with us. Suzy and I certainly look forward to testing this hypothesis for the next three weeks.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

With all that Umbrian magic Read more

We’re back in Umbria for our annual fall pilgrimage, our fall Food and Wine tour. This year Suzy and I are hosting ...

Photodiary: Food and Wine Tour

After a day of gathering, walking, and eating, what’s a slightly jet-lagged crew to do?


Head to Bevagna for the classic ritual of #spritzoclockin the restaurant of our good friend, restaurant owner, and chef Simone


Our group nestled into the evening hour, apperitivo drinks in hand.


And with a little visit from Salvatore, the hour was complete.

Salvatore Denaro _DSC0257 _DSC0268 _DSC0278

Then back to the nearby Fattoria Del Gelso, where our caretaker Marco was busy prepping a simple Umbrian dinner.

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After a perfect, and perfectly tiring day, what you really need is a home-cooked meal and some local wine.


Stay tuned to see where our crew is off to tomorrow!


Ci Vediamo!


Via Umbria





Day I Part II Read more

After a day of gathering, walking, and eating, what's a slightly jet-lagged crew to do? Head to Bevagna for the classic ritual of ...

Guest Post – An Italian Garden

Elsa Bruno, a Via Umbria employee, recently spent two weeks in Umbria at La Fattoria del Gelso. Here are some of her thoughts from the time spent in Italy. 


Meals in Umbria were always a treat. As anyone who has visited Italy can tell you, eating is a central activity. But some of the most memorable meals were not made in a restaurant, but  prepared from the Farmhouse’s very backyard.

Unlike a hotel, or traditional rental, La Fattoria del Gelso has a working kitchen garden for use by the guests.


The row of tomatoes in the garden
The row of tomatoes in the garden

Building a meal around what you have physically growing next to you feels so refreshing. The task of thinking of a dinner is not exhausting when you have a finite amount of fresh materials. After a long day of activity, the question “what will we have for dinner?” is met by a glance out the back door. What do we have?

La Fattoria Del Gelso food IMG_2685-1

Many times that question was met with the answer of tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, and tons of figs. Enter leafy salads topped with local olive oil, fried eggplant tucked into pasta, tomatoes drizzled with oil and tossed with mozzarella, and figs paired with sharp local pecorino cheese. No matter how many times we had a combination of those dishes, we kept coming back for more.

produce agrotourismo IMG_3045

A glass of local wine (from a vineyard visited that afternoon) was always poured as we assembled the ingredients from the garden and set to work on our dinner preparation. Soon we were walking out to the pool with our hand painted ceramics and wine glasses, to eat a simple yet delectable meal as the sun set.

Tomatoes and basil from the garden with mozzarella, lettuce from the garden with artichokes and with beans, fried eggplant from the garden.
Tomatoes and basil from the garden with mozzarella, lettuce from the garden with artichokes and with beans, fried eggplant from the garden.

Being able to cook and eat like a local is a fun part of any vacation. But claiming to have a huge garden entirely at your disposal while vacationing? Now that’s La Fattoria del Gelso. 


The dates for 2016 are now open. I would suggest you book a trip of your own, if not just to see what’s in season in the garden.

— Elsa at Via Umbria 

Memories of Elsa Bruno Read more

Elsa Bruno, a Via Umbria employee, recently spent two weeks in Umbria at La Fattoria del Gelso. Here are some of her ...

Cannara Day One – Can it.

Just before I arrived (dazed and confused) at La Fattoria del Gelso on Saturday, the tomatoes were harvested.

Heaps of fresh tomatoes lay in the bowl, far more than could possibly be eaten.

harvesting tomatoes in Cannara IMG_2545 IMG_2552

Through hard work and diligence (and a little encouragement from i bambini), these precious summer tomatoes can be turned into something wonderful to use once their time has passed – tomato sauce.

Canning Cannara Tomatoes

Marco's children

Canning La Fattoria Del Gelso Tomatoes

As I write this, I have been in Cannara for three days , and have absorbed a lot in such a small time. It is tempting to get overwhelmed, by the amount of things to see, and visit, and eat…the people I want to talk to, the talking (in Italian) that I want to improve. But it is also important know that I do not need to consume everything, but instead to enjoy the extreme ripeness of the moment, and tuck some away for later. Whether it be through photos, a recipe from an Italian friend, or a small ceramic, I can embrace this summer moment, but also know that Italy will still be with me when I go home.

canning tomatoes in Umbria

On a dreary day in winter, perhaps a can of this summer juice can be opened, and remind Marco and his family of this lovely hot day in August.

Take in all of the bounty, process it, and save a bit for later.

Tomato sauce via umbria

Ci Vediamo!


— Elsa

Embracing Italy dish by dish Read more

Just before I arrived (dazed and confused) at La Fattoria del Gelso on Saturday, the tomatoes were harvested. Heaps of fresh tomatoes lay ...


Delizie Grand Opening 052
This was going to be the year Suzy and I did not make our annual summer visit to Italy. Instead of hot summer Cannara days and cool Umbria Jazz under starry skies, taking the place of rocky Ponza beaches and breezy Ischia sailboat trips we would remain in steamy, sultry Washington, our attention focused squarely on completing – or at least moving forward – the renovation and reopening of Via Umbria as an Italian market.

But life often has other plans for you. Plans that do not align perfectly with the gantt charts and timelines that get you from demolition to grand opening. And so this week life threw us a curveball that said “I want you to come to Italy.” A fat hanging curveball that we swatted all the way from Washington to Bevagna. Life told us that our friend Simone was going to have his own grand opening, the reopening of his restaurant le Delizie del Borgo and we decided, emphatically, that were not going to miss it.

So with progress at Via Umbria slightly stalled and the opportunity present to sneak away for a few days we scoured the online travel websites, landing a perhaps too-expensive but unassailably priceless pair of tickets that would take us from home to Bevagna for Friday’s grand opening. We were on. And no one knew we were coming.

Suzy and I have been boarding flights to Italy three or four times a year now for the past decade, and we always feel a sense of excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead. What new adventure will we discover? What new friends will we make? What unforgettable dish will we eat or bottle will we drink or fresco will we see? But boarding the non-stop flight to Rome, in fact getting into the car for the two hour drive to the airport was an experience so filled with excitement, made us so downright giddy, that you would think it was the first time we’d ever flown.

Upon our arrival in Rome we were met with cobalt blue skies and a blazing sun that our Italian friends have reminded us all summer long has scorched the Italian peninsula this year. But carefree we settled into our little rental Fiat 500, cranked up the air conditioner and hit the autostrada, making record time thanks to carry on luggage. After a brief stop in Todi to explore a little bit and enjoy lunch, by early afternoon we were in Bevagna, home of le Delizie and our home for the next four days.


The terrazza

When seven o’clock rolled around (the hour the celebration was slated to begin) we got sidetracked on a call back home, finally emerging from our albergo about an hour late and hoping we hadn’t flown across the Atlantic only to miss the celebration. But as we exited Bevagna’s city gate and made our way up the path that leads to the Campo dei Frati public park that houses the new Delizie, the overflowing parking lot and the music gently wafting through the trees told us that a celebration was going on.

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Our first glimpse of Simone and Ombretta’s new restaurant was one that will be hard to forget. When we departed Italy last November the pair had opened their restaurant in Bevagna’s public garden, taking over a humble kiosk that served ice cream to park dwellers and served as a simple snack bar for the locals. But that simple edifice included the bones for a kitchen and over the winter Simone and Ombretta planned and cajoled and tirelessly worked toward constructing a permanent outdoor structure to house their dream. That first glimpse confirmed what we already knew. Simone and Ombretta are excellent dreamers. And tonight their dream had become a reality.


Built around the old snack bar kiosk was a beautiful glass structure, a sort of winter garden lit from within by a soft golden glow that cast its warmth onto the outdoor patio seating which was itself covered by two enormous umbrellas. Under the umbrellas, crowded inside the pavilion and lounging on park benches a hundred well wishers were laughing and chatting, eating and drinking and sharing in the moment of triumph for their friends. Just as we had arrived to do.

About fifty feet from the restaurant entrance we were recognized and discovered by Simone’s partner Desiderio, whose eyes bulged Marty Feldman-like and who threw his hands to his face Macaulay Culkin-like. As we stepped into the dining room Ombretta spied her surprise visitors with a look of shock that immediately turned to tears. And a moment later, Simone working in the kitchen spotted us through the window, matching Ombretta tear for tear. Within seconds the entire group was engaged in a speechless hug, our anticipation finally being realized, their surprise just now being processed. It was indeed a magical moment that exceeded anything we had or could have imagined.

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*                      *                      *

Delizie Grand Opening 023Our second visit to the new Delizie del Borgo was likewise a surprise affair. Two days after our arrival and Simone’s grand opening we had booked a table for lunch for 20 at the restaurant, but under the guise that the party would be the family staying at our nearby farmhouse la Fattoria del Gelso. In the meantime our colleague Marco had invited a bunch of our local friends to join him for lunch to celebrate Simone’s reopening. Instead, as they assembled in the parking lot outside Bevagna’s Porta Cannara we surprised them with our presence and then paraded up the pathway and into the park where our little fraternity (which had swollen to 25) congratulated and paid their respects to Simone. And then proceeded to spend the next six hours enjoying a casual lunch and many, many bottles of wine under the giant umbrellas in the warm breeze of a hot Umbrian summer day.

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The magic of sharing Simone’s triumph and the opportunity to laugh and spend time with those we hold dearest in Italy made our impromptu surprise visit to Umbria a memory that will last a lifetime. And it reminds us why we love coming here, for here in Umbria, the “green heart of Italy” renowned for its fertile soil bursting with bounty, the thing that grows best is friendship.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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