Culture

Teddy’s Letters from Umbria – Part 2

Blog post 20180917 5The adventures in Umbria continue, with a new featured player experiencing the rustic countryside for the first time. My best friend Cal arrived just about two weeks ago and, after a quick acclimation in Rome to Italian time (both the time zone and also the way hours work a bit slower here), we took the scenic train ride away from the city and toward Umbria, the green heart of Italy.

Cal and I went to college together, are rock climbing partners, artistic collaborators, lived together this past year in Los Angeles and, perhaps most of all, share a similar ethic around the joys of preparing food with and for those we love. What better place to delve into this passion than in Umbria? We settled into our routine of adventure with immediacy and great delight, reveling in our early morning exercise, followed by a long and slow breakfast preparation with the eggs from our lovely birds and produce from the orto at the farmhouse. We take turns brewing coffee in the moka pot – one as we start to cook and a second batch just as we sit down to eat, making sure to steam our milk only if the clock still reads before 11am. The food scraps from the morning meal get walked over to the birds as an extra treat, then we linger at an outside table to work on the day’s crossword. As usual, any number of thoughtfully planned or curious and improvised adventures await us.

A black truffle. The official fungus of Umbria.
A black truffle. The official fungus of Umbria.

In these two weeks, Cal has ascended the ranks (i.e., supplanted me) in the kitchen at le Delizie del Borgo, our friend Simone’s restaurant in nearby Bevagna, effectively serving as sous chef and doing a damn fine job: a guest sent explicit compliments back to the chef for the Umbrian classic uovo morbido, the elevated Italian brother to our scrambled eggs – not knowing it was l’americano Cal who had executed the dish flawlessly on his first attempt! Meanwhile, I’ve ventured into the server’s world which has proved a highly encouraging environment to hone my Italian and let out my inner sprezzatura, a necessary nonchalance that all waiters in Italy are seemingly dripping with.

Outside of Simone’s kitchen, we have been spending heaps of time in … our kitchen. At the farmhouse, every meal can be envisioned just by stepping out into the backyard. We’ve strung together all manner of immediately fresh, holistically healthy (if you consider using a lot of olive oil healthy), unreasonably tasty meals in a setting that Cal has been describing as “magical” – when he has the words the express the feeling.

On our day off last week we took the bike path from Cannara to Montefalco which, given the fact that we got slightly lost, ended up taking about two hours. After having scaled some serious hills, we luxuriated in the beautiful square, walked the entire circumference of the town, sat and had coffee and some time to draw, and ran into just about every person I know with even a loose connection to Montefalco along with making some new friends at some of the local businesses. Among these happenstance visits were assorted members of the Pardi family, all of whom had eagerly been awaiting the arrival of Cal to set into motion an opportunity for us to all spend time together. We made the obligatory stop at the family winery to say hello to Albertino, the man who runs the business, and we unexpectedly left with plans for him drive a 60 gallon stainless steel fermentation tank over to the farmhouse to assist in a batch of beer we will be brewing in October, as well as talk of him contributing an oak barrel as well to age our sure-to-be spectacular beer.

Speaking of beer, the hops that I planted last year in hopes of convincing a local winemaker to help me make a beer here (thanks Albertino!) have just been harvested! The hops are now dried, vacuum sealed, and keeping fresh in the fridge, along with some green Italian figs (known as both dotato or kadota figs) being stored in the freezer that will be added to the beer after it finishes its first fermentation. Instead of buying yeast, we are going to collect a sample of local ambient yeast from the rich biodiversity of our garden at la Fattoria del Gelso, and we will use local barley and other grains as the base. After running the brewing club at my college (yes, I know, pretty sweet) and working in a brewery right after school, this situation is what I would consider the ideal. More news on that to come with the arrival of my brewing partner from college and tour guide of one of the best sour beer breweries in the US next month!

This makes me very hoppy.
This makes me very hoppy.

Not to miss out on the climbing while we’re in Italy, Cal and I managed to find one of the most unexpected experiences one could imagine. In the town of Serra San Quirico about two hours away, there is a yearly climbing festival that takes rope climbers onto the high cliff walls that surround the town. However, the locals also curate much shorter routes throughout the medieval architecture of the town, climbing on the old tower, in a brick archway tunnel from maybe the 1300s, or up the face of the town fortress wall to a window that was once used to shoot arrows at approaching enemies. We spent the day touring this unbelievable historic town while also climbing all over it. For many climbers, there is a challenging balance between spending time in the city and getting to climb outdoors – we got both at the same time!

We spent another day harvesting grapes, this time for our friends the Pardis. Seemingly, the crew didn’t account for what naturals Cal and I would be because all together we finished a supposedly 5 hour job in just under 3 hours. Thanks to a very early start, this left us with pretty much a whole day ahead and no real plans. With time to kill, one of our fellow harvesters, a friend of Albertino’s named Kwan, whom I had met last year at a lunch party in the winery offered to give us a ride to his parents’ property just on the outskirts of town. Although it was only a few minutes away, the ride transported us to a different place. We arrived to the gates of a reasonably sizable but very humble property and were greeted by a horde of dogs. Looking to the right, there were three comically obese Thai pigs that were very sweet and devoured whole apples with their hairy snouts. Out from the garden ambled an older man with a pronounced back hunch, leathered and weathered fingers, jet black heavy eyebrows and a frayed baseball hat with the bill torn off to fit as a skull cap. He looked like the idyllic Italian garden in late summer, in fact, much like the one from which he was just exiting. We proceeded to be inundated with generosity, sharing thoughtful and slow conversation across three languages, being taught how to crack a walnut with one hand (as evidenced by Kwan’s older father being much more capable than us two strapping young climbers, strength is not so much a matter in the equation as finesse), sampling and eventually being sent home with a bag of the best figs either Cal or I has ever tasted, and convening with all sorts of animals besides the pigs. Kwan’s father, it seems, spends every waking hour tending to one aspect of another of his farm, which includes the aforementioned pigs, figs, and walnuts, as well as a vibrant and active orto for produce, about two dozen goats, 100 or more birds, including turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens of varieties I never knew existed, and three donkeys. Sharing that space, that time, and that company was a true lesson to me in the ethic of sharing – it was the kind of experience that keeps your breath stuck somewhere between your lungs and your mouth, a distinctive warmth that has your sensations fully tingling but your mind at complete ease and drawing out every moment. It really was hard to leave, but sure enough, we ended up back there the next day.

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Farm living is the life for me . . .

The routine adventure continues, and we continue to learn from getting lost, improve our finesse when ordering caffe at the bar, and make more genuine and generous conversation with the people we come by. Next week we set off on a climbing adventure in Croatia, taking off up the sea summiting cliffs of Split and Hvar and hoping to ascend to the top or face the humiliating splash of failure in the late summer ocean. Until then,

Buon viaggio!

The adventures in Umbria continue, with a new featured player experiencing the rustic countryside for the first time. My best friend Cal ...

A Note from Bill and Suzy

I am constantly amazed by Suzy’s and my absolute good fortune in being able to devote our time and energies to developing relationships with incredible Italian artisans in sectors that span food, wine, Italian culture and beyond.  And I often remark that “I don’t deserve this” – meaning that I’m not particularly distinguished or expert in anything having to do with Italy yet I constantly fall into situations where I get to rub elbows with some truly remarkable Italians  – and am able to share them with our friends and customers.

I am truly overwhelmed by an opportunity that came my way recently that I want to share with you.  Recently a friend and customer of ours asked if I had heard of an Italian violin virtuoso named Luca Ciarla, whom she had come across at some point during her travels.  I confessed I had not and she suggested I contact him, believing we would hit it off.  I did a little googling and found some videos of Luca in concert.  I was hooked, literally overwhelmed by his talent and creativity and so I immediately reached out to him by email.  A few emails and phone calls later, he and I were finalizing plans for an art exhibition for late August in our Galleria that would feature the works of a contemporary Italian artist named Keziat, with whom Luca often collaborates in a multimedia, interdisciplinary way.  Luca offered to give a brief performance – “Music for the Eyes” – at Keziat’s opening reception and he suggested that we organize a dinner where he and Keziat would be our special guests and Luca would perform a private mini-concert for our dinner guests.  To say I was blown away by the thought of such a one-of-a-kind experience would be a gross understatement.

I brought this opportunity to our executive chef Liam LaCivita who was intrigued by the idea of preparing a special menu for an “Artists at the Chef’s Table” dinner.  Liam checked out Luca’s concert performances online but was even more moved when he visited Keziat’s website and saw her hauntingly beautiful work.  He then set out to create not just a dinner, but to use the table as a canvas, painting a seven course menu that was inspired by Keziat’s art.  The result is our Artists at the Chef’s Table dinner on Friday, August 30.  As with all of our Chef’s Table dinners, seating is limited.

I want you to be there.

Yes, I want you to join me at this dinner.  I know it’s not cheap.  Tickets are $125 and non-refundable, but this is the type of “I don’t deserve this” experience that I want to share with you.  This sort of thing – an incredible art exhibit, the chance to spend time with the artist in the gallery and over dinner, a private performance by Luca and an inspired menu from Liam – is what makes what Suzy and I do truly special.

You can purchase your tickets online or call the store (202.333.3904).  Or just reply to me by email.  If you can’t make it I would still appreciate it if you would not only spread the word, but urge your friends not to miss this opportunity.  Let them know, too, that Keziat and Luca will be at a special reception for the opening of Keziat’s Introspective exhibition on Thursday (August 30).   Admission is free but tickets are required for any of the three separate hour-long timed receptions at 6:00pm, 7:15pm and 8:30pm.  Light hors d’oeuvres will be served.

I thank you for taking the time to hear me out and look forward to seeing you on Friday.

Best regards,
Bill and Suzy

I am constantly amazed by Suzy's and my absolute good fortune in being able to devote our time and energies to developing ...

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.

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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.

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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 ...

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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 ...

Anticipation

“Anticipation Is keepin’ me waitin’”

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

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

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

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

Please Don't Keep Me Waiting Read more

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

More Than Just Eggs

Italians take everything chocolate very seriously – and Easter eggs are no exception. Long before Christianity adopted the egg as a part of Easter traditions, ancient Romans had already established it as the symbol of new birth. easter-egg-painting-2They were huge believers of “omne vivum ex ovo” – that all life comes from the egg. In order to celebrate the new birth after winter, they would decorate eggs with various vegetable dyes (made from onion skins, beets and carrots) then gift them to each other during spring festivals.

The tradition of Easter eggs continued to be an important part of the Italian culture, with increasing popularity over time. Due to the fact that neither meat nor dairy products can be eaten Hand-piping-Easter-Eggs-1500during Lent, as a way to minimize food waste the habit of hard boiling the eggs and painting them was adopted. Even though the original tradition was to color the hard boiled eggs in red – which symbolized the blood of Christ and His resurrection – today Italian Easter Eggs are large chocolate eggs decorated with colorful food dyes and fancy decorative items. 

easter exhibition

During the Easter season, almost every shop in Italy decorates their store fronts with colorful chocolate eggs and just about every candy brand launches their Easter chocolate eggs in various sizes, colors and prices.  If you are lucky enough to be in Italy during Easter time, definitely stop by the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Milano 9 to see their annual Art of Easter Eggs Exhibition full of specially crafted pieces inspired by the Italian Easter Eggs.

But there is no need to worry if you want to stay home for Easter to celebrate it with your family, relatives and friends. 999999-62020015730In fact, Italians have figured out a way to satisfy your cravings with authentic Italian chocolate even when you are thousands miles away from Italy: Kinder Surprise! Yes- unlike the general public’s assumption Kinder Surprise is in fact Italian, made by the successful family company Ferrero, and sells their Kinder Eggs all over the world as one of their best-seller item. Believe us, their chocolate recipe is approved by all the children in the world.

Want to get even fancier this Easter? Stop in the store to check out our special counter full of Italian Easter cakes, various baskets and colorful chocolate eggs to bring home! Or join us for our Chocolate Making Class to get your hands messy by making and decorating your own traditional Italian chocolate egg!

Buona Pasqua a tutti! Happy Easter Everyone!

How Italians Mastered the Fashion of Easter Read more

Italians take everything chocolate very seriously - and Easter eggs are no exception. Long before Christianity adopted the egg as a part ...