Italy @ Home

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, Chef Simone and his restaurant are a featured host and attraction of our Umbrian Food & Wine Tours.

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We are sad to see Chef 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!

He will be back Read more

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

An Umbrian Valentine

Banner-San-ValentinoOur Umbrian Valentine!  Valentine’s Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also because of the history behind the holiday. Not many people know that the true San Valentino hails from our beautiful Umbria. While not a lot is known about the historical figure in relation to his life, we know that he was born in Terni, Umbria which is about an hour away from our Fattoria Del Gelso in Cannara. St. Valentine was a pioneer of the Christian community in Terni and is considered the first Bishop of the area but was persecuted for his religious beleifs and was eventually executed by the Emperor in Rome. The relic of his skull rests in Rome at the church of Santa Maria (pictured below) while the rest of his body was taken back to be buried in Terni.
 

As the official ambassadors of Umbria here in Washington D.C., we have taken it upon ourselves to carry on San Valentino’s name and traditions.  We have been celebrating all month long and if you are still searching for something to pick up for that special someone in your life, come by the store and we will get you squared away. If it is the traditional chocolate gift that interests you, we have you covered with many creative and delicious chocolates. If you want to give a gift that is outside the (heart shaped) box, consider coming in for some of our cured meats, specialty cheeses, imported wines or even some of our amazing coffee.
 

If you can’t make it in to the store, check out our online shop for all your Via Umbria needs!
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Via Umbria!
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St. Valentine Read more

Our Umbrian Valentine!  Valentine's Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also ...

Erin’s Thoughts: Right is Wrong?

A question in the restaurant industry that has been up for debate for years: which is the correct way to serve and clear each guest’s place settings? Is it better to serve and clear the guest’s dishes from the left or from the right?

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Some go by “service on the left, clearing on the right”, which originated from when butlers would present food to their guests on the left side. The guest would then either take food from what the butler had showcased or the butler would serve them but both would be served on the right side. This is also thought to be less intrusive to guests as more people are right handed than left handed; therefore, you won’t be reaching over your guest to deliver their meal.

Others seem to believe that “service and clearing from the right” is the correct way to serve. This is because wine is always served on the right as the wine glasses are set on the right side above the plate. The only food that should be presented on the left is bread because each guest’s bread plate is on the left.

I personally have seen servers do a little bit of both but I think it all comes down to whatever the guest is comfortable with. Every server’s goal is to make the diner happy and to make the overall experience pleasant.

And although there are many ways to serve, we here at Via Umbria think that it is most important to enjoy your meal, your company, and your dining experience. If you haven’t already been to an event or dinner at Via Umbria, I highly recommend that you do so you can see what we’re all about! We have so many different options to offer; whether it be a delectable meal at one of our Chef’s Table dinners, eating a quick lunch or dinner in our Cafe, or attending one of our many cooking or cocktail classes. Come hungry and we’ll do the rest from there!

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A question in the restaurant industry that has been up for debate for years: which is the correct way to serve and ...

Don’t Stub Your Toe!

Banner-San-ValentinoValentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t hurt) but because of the idea of doing something special for the special people in your life. Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always a bigger occasion in our house than in many. My parents would get up early to cook an enormous breakfast: eggs, bacon, waffles, strawberries, english muffins, regular muffins, donuts, and did I mention bacon? We would wake up just a little earlier than we did on a regular school day and all sit down together to enjoy our meal- at the end of which my father would reach behind his back and ‘spontaneously’ present us each with gifts. Always a card, a thoughtfully picked out card with a personalized message of love, appreciation, and advice (don’t stub your toe!), always a small box of chocolates, and always a little something extra he had picked out just for us.

 

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People often complain that Valentine’s Day is a “commercial holiday” or a “Hallmark holiday” which I’m not here to deny. The idea that children are required to bring tiny scraps of paper with more candy than any of their peers should eat attached to it to school on February 14th every year is a little silly. The fact that it’s impossible to get a decent reservation at any restaurant during the entire week of Valentines day- whether it’s because they’re overbooked with couples or because they’re forcing an overpriced ‘Valentine’s’ themed menu on you is frustrating. And for sure the idea that Valentine’s Day is the one day you need to profess your love to someone is simply Hollywood nonsense.

But if you take it a step back, strip it down to its basic parts, why should we not revel in the chance to tell the special people in our lives that they matter? The key is to find the right way to do it. The tradition of a greeting card and a box of heart shaped chocolates is tired but that doesn’t mean the holiday has to be. For my family, Valentine’s Day was never about hearts, cards, and horseshoes but about taking the time to celebrate each other with one another on what would otherwise be a regular day of the week. For yours it might be about finally treating yourselves to those gorgeous place settings you’ve been eyeing for months and creating an exceptional dinner to plate on them. Or taking time out of your busy schedules to roll up your sleeves and take a cooking class together.  Or even just sharing a relaxing evening at home with the perfect bottle of wine. Whatever you choose to do, take advantage of the opportunity to treat the important people in your life to something special.  

If you’re looking for ideas for what to do, for something off the beaten path stop in and ask us- we’re happy to help you brainstorm ways to make this holiday as fun and memorable for you as it has always been for us.

Menard Family advice Read more

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t ...

Chef Jennifer Reflections

Chef Jennifer Mcllvaine is a well respected, adopted daughter of Umbria. Moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Jennifer has worked in and owned restaurants in Umbria and is raising two beautiful children with her Umbrian husband, winemaker Fedrico Bibi.  She has been a professional chef since 1998. Her career began in her hometown of Philadelphia but she eventually found herself working at an agriturismo outside of Siena, and ended up falling in love with neighboring Umbria. Now Jennifer owns and operates Life Italian Style, working as a private chef and leader of eno-gastronomic tours for visitors to Umbria.  If you missed your chance to see her during her visit to Via Umbria, visit her in her adopted land as she is also part of our Umbrian Food & Wine Tours!

Acclaimed chef Jennifer McIlvaine visits Via Umbria!
 

We are extremely sad to see Jennifer’s stay with us end, but before she left, she was able to reflect on her time at Via Umbria:

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

Coming to Via Umbria every year means not only an opportunity to see my Via Umbria friends and coworkers, but also a chance to teach people here about true Umbrian cooking – they are always amazed at how a fantastic, delicious meal can be made with only a few pure, simple ingredients – you can accomplish anything with Umbrian Extra-Virgin olive oil!

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

I think that much like the US in general, Italian food culture here has become a sort of melting pot, in the sense that it is difficult to find true replications of Italian food that are simple and straightforward without adding unnecessary, overcomplicated ingredients.

What is your favorite aspect of Via Umbria?  

Difficult to narrow down, but I would have to say the  store itself, because I can find great Italian food and wine, the Chef’s Table dinners because it is a great opportunity to share an experience and meet new people… and of course the coffee – Via Umbria is one of the rare places I can get a properly made Italian espresso!

What is your favorite part of Washington DC?

The Smithsonian Zoo

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

Definitely seeing the Umbrian landscape everyday and the simplicity of life there-  even though we run around a lot too, it just seems a little less complicated.

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

I make sure to load up on as much international food as I can – when I am in Umbria, it is only Umbrian food!

Do your children enjoy being in DC?

My children love to opportunity to come to DC – every time we are here they learn something new about American culture (for better or worse!).

How was Via Umbria changed since the first time you came?  

The store has done a complete 360 since I first arrived.  Back then the concept was there, just lacking execution… a few years of trial and error later and the place is really working now – and there are a lot of moving parts to keep together, from the store itself, to the restaurant and catering, to the art gallery etc.  They are finally realizing their dream!

Life Italian Style Read more

Chef Jennifer Mcllvaine is a well respected, adopted daughter of Umbria. Moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Jennifer has worked ...

Doughnuts

Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?” -Homer Simpson

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Doughnuts – just the thought puts a smile on my face.  Doughnuts were standard fare growing up in Iowa..  We didn’t eat them daily but we did eat them regularly.  They were a delicious treat – enjoyed together and never on the go. Saturday mornings were filled with cartoons and doughnuts.  In the 70’s we only had 4 channels to choose from and cartoons were definitely not a 24/7 option.  Dad dreamed of sleeping in on Saturday mornings – but with 5 kids squabbling over the tv channel it was rarely an option.  Off we would go to pick up doughnuts.   His favorite was a cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and peanuts but mine was a filled doughnut – with jam or cream.  We had lots of mouths to feed so we got to make lots of  selections – glazed with frosting and sprinkles, chocolate cake doughnuts with chocolate, frosted with coconut,  apple fritters and maple bars, I loved visiting the doughnut shop.  It smelled of coffee and sugar.

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Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.”

―  Margaret AtwoodThe Blind Assassin

We never discussed whether we should be eating doughnuts.  We just ate them and enjoyed them.   Hell, we ate butter on our bread.  Everybody ate doughnuts.  You would read about them in books.  Homer Price couldn’t get his Uncle Ulysses’ doughnut machine to stop making doughnuts, Laura Ingalls Wilders’ future husband, Almanzo ate doughnuts and fried apple turnovers for lunch, the Bobbsey twins ate doughnuts to “take the edge off their hunger.”  Trixie Belden ate doughnuts to rouse herself from her “groggy condition”.

 

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In high school we loaded up our schedules early in the day so we could leave early afternoons and swing by the Hinky Dinky to pick up doughnuts filled with cherry jelly and topped with white frosting.  Perfect with a cup of coffee and a dose of Guiding Light.    

Why don’t we eat more doughnuts?  We happily eat bagels, muffins and croissants for breakfast relegating doughnuts to the list of treats too delicious to be enjoyed.  I’m not suggesting we eat dozens of doughnuts, not even a doughnut a day – but doughnuts are a delicious part of life and Ana’s doughnuts at Via Umbria are transformative.  They are everything a doughnut should be.  Made fresh in our kitchen they will remind you that doughnuts should be eaten as part of a regular diet.

Join us at Via Umbria on Saturdays and Sundays after 9:00 am for hot fresh doughnuts.

New mysteries. New day. Fresh doughnuts.”David Lynch

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"Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?" -Homer Simpson Doughnuts - just the thought puts a smile on my face.  Doughnuts were standard ...

Cheese Holiday Entertaining

The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are so many easy ways to keep people happy, and to be able to spend time with them rather than finding yourself working double-time in the kitchen while everyones off caroling (though, personally, I’d rather be in the kitchen than subjecting others to my singing). Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness, get people an easy appetizer, and to keep yourself happy while you’re watching your rib roast cook away in the oven. I’ll be honest: there isn’t any cheese that doesn’t go with the holidays, but there are a few recommendations that I have that are exceptional this time of here. 

Cheese is such a good way to spread some holiday happiness

The first, and most traditional, is stilton. Here at Via Umbria, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a whole wheel of it from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. We carry cheeses from our favorite affineurs across the pond year but the stilton that we buy for Christmas is my favorite part of this relationship. Stilton has been a part of English Christmas tradition for a long time.  As such it pairs with so many of the foods that we eat, from spiced nuts to the big beef itself. Neal’s Yard’s stilton is made by one of the smallest producers: Colston Bassett, a co-op in Nottinghamshire where they take care to do everything by hand (something you won’t find at the factory that makes the stilton you’re buying at the supermarket). 

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I also really like the L’Amuse signature gouda for this time of year. It’s a cheese we are fortunate to have on hand year round, but when the days get shorter and colder, the cheese really stands out. This good gouda is not something soft and flabby, that requires smoke to mask it’s flavor. This gouda, traditionally made in the Netherlands, is colored with anatto and aged for over two years. If you ever hear someone talk about crystallization in cheese, this is the prime example, as it’s age makes almost crunchy. It’s flavor is an intense caramel that warms the soul – and pairs with some of your seasonal beers – the stouts and porters that good brewers release for the colder days. 

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My final cheese recommendation for the holidays is also the easiest to recommend, since it is only released this time of year: the Rush Creek Reserve. This is one of those now-trendy cheeses with washed rinds that are wrapped in spruce bark. But they’re trendy for a reason (they’re delicious) and they are perfect for entertaining. To eat them you slice off the top and open up to reveal a cheese so soft it’s ready for dipping. Of all these cheeses though, Rush Creek is the best. It’s producer: Uplands Cheese Company of Dodgeville, Wisconsin makes only two cheeses with their small herd. This cheese is made with milk that is produced in the autumn, when the cow’s diet has switched from the fresh summer grass to hay. It’s made with raw milk, making the beefy, brothy flavor so much more intense. It’s so good and honestly, hard to find and sells quickly (I’m not kidding people go crazy for this). If you’re entertaining for the holidays this is the cheese to get. 

Stressed about entertaining friends and relatives at your home? Read more

The holidays are here! Are you ready? Stressed about entertaining so many friends and relatives at your home? Well stop! There are ...

Honoring Suzy Menard at Lord & Taylor

I am Suzy,  never Suzanne.

I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could do anything and to always feel comfortable speaking up. We enjoyed dinner together every night with lively discussions around the table. As children we were meant to be seen and heard.

My parents were leaders in all they did and they passed on a strong sense of family and community to all of us. My mother came from a large family – I have 41 first cousins on her side. Whether it meant babysitting for my younger cousins for free or having family live with us in hard times – we took care of each other. We always had room for everyone My mother would throw huge elaborate parties for business and for us kids. We loved hearing a knock on the door signalling that someone was driving by and wanted to drop in. We never ran out of food at the table or space for someone who needed to crash. Sometimes as an adult it is tough staying friends with my relatives on Facebook – but the memories of playing football and cards together balances out their crazy political positions.

My father was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Iowa and went on to hold many political positions and ran for Governor in the ‘70’s. We knew from a young age that our behavior would reflect on our parents. It was not an option for us to misbehave or get into trouble. So minor infractions like being 5 minutes late on curfew or neglecting to unload the dishwasher were the biggest trouble we got into (boy were my folks lucky). As Iowans we were used to seeing all of the presidential candidates around town – as Worthington’s we were used to seeing all the Democratic candidates around our kitchen table. Dad was pretty influential and it was important to get his early support. So while other kids would be playing video games (like Pong) I was knocking on doors collecting peanuts for Carter.

My passion for politics lead me to DC. I loved Iowa, but after visiting Georgetown as a teen-ager – I knew that DC had my heart. No longer collecting peanuts for Carter – I was part of a new, inspired Fundraising team with the audacious goal of raising $12 million for Walter Mondale. The money was raised (really does seem like peanuts today) but unfortunately was not enough and we suffered the biggest political landslide in history. It wasn’t enough to discourage me – and the upside was that I made a best friend who became my husband. The family back in Iowa had heard me talk throughout the election about my buddy Menard – they hadn’t met him but clearly liked him. Toward the end of the campaign when I started talking about my new boyfriend Bill – there was some slight hesitation and disappointment. Cleared up easily when I started referring to my new beau as Bill Menard. At least something good came out of that election

We continued to work in politics and made many friends over our wins and losses. Today it is strange to see friends we knew in their 20’s & 30’s become Top Level Advisors and Party Leaders.

After much thought we decided to start a family in Washington – we were both hooked on the city. Austin was born the summer after our big Dukakis loss (again – at least something good came out of that election!) We decided to take a break from politics – Bill started at Georgetown Law and I decided to stay home with Austin. I have always felt fortunate that I had the choice of working outside of the home or staying home. I was one happy housewife. Lindsey was born just shy of Austin’s second birthday. We had two great kids, Bill was working at a big firm downtown, we were making new friends in our neighborhood. Life was Good. Why not make it better – we had always talked about having a big family with the number of kids ever changing – but we definitely wanted to have more. We were surprised, frightened and excited when we discovered that we were expecting twins. Identical boys – Teddy and Davis.

Bringing the twins home to a house with a three year old and not quite five year old was probably the most daunting task of my life. But as always we settled into a routine that worked. With so many children running around there was no chance of just one of us raising the children – it was all hands on deck. If someone offered to help out I never said no. Bill has always been a great dad and involved in the kids lives. Its truly been a partnership raising our kids.

We have had several adventures in Italy over the years. After Bill’s first year at law school he signed up for summer school in Florence. We had a little apartment on the other side of the Arno. Bill would take the bus to Fiesole to study American Constitutional Law in the mornings and Austin and I would explore Florence. Visiting the parks and public pool, shopping and eating a lot of Gelato. Bill would finish class and we would leave Austin home with my cousing who was traveling with us and Bill and I would go out discovering Florence. Over the three months there we met several Italian friends who we are still in touch with today. Bill proudly graduated Law school with Lindsey on his shoulder a proud father and JD.

When the twins were turning 5 we took all four children to Italy. We were in the Cinque Terre and took cooking classes with a local Chef who was fabulous. It was the early stages of the internet and he was a big early believer. He promoted his courses with great success online and wanted to set up a small company where he could provide extra virgin olive oil, traditional balsamic vinegar and coffee to his clients in the states. Always looking for a challenge – we immediately agreed to work with him and went through the process of figuring out how to import food products from Italy.

When this hobby turned into more of a full time responsibility we had the option to shut down or go all in with a bricks and mortar store. Never one to walk away from a challenge we set our sights high and joined forces with good friends to open up Bella Italia in Bethesda. Now we were really learning how to import products from Italy.

Our trips to Italy became more focused and we travelled throughout Italy finding new products and meeting new families who were passionate about their craft. Eating, drinking, and shopping became my full time job. The more we travelled the more people we met and the more we became rooted in Umbria. Several of the artists we were doing business with had become part of our family. All trips to Italy had a stop in Umbria. When we decided to buy a home in Italy – there was no doubt that we would buy in Umbria. And as a result our Italian family has expanded. Zia Augusta joined us for Teddy’s graduation, our oldest son Simone calls me Mommy, and of course we practically kidnapped Jennifer and her two children last spring when we were short in the kitchen. When we visit in Italy we have friends and neighbors (our family) who will drop by with a piece of cheese they saw at the market and wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to try or stop by for a drink and stay for dinner.

Our summer dinner parties in Italy are a blast – often introducing our Italian neighbors to each other. Their talents, their commitment to their art, their promise to continuing tradition is inspiring and makes us return to DC wanting to shout from the rooftops – come and see what these amazing people have done.

I am fortunate to have met my partner in life at a young age. Hard to believe it will be 32 years in December. Raising four kids together was a challenge – running a business 24/7 is an even bigger challenge! Only possible remembering at the end of the day we love each other and we love what we do.

Anyone who knows me knows that I use a lot of inappropriate words. The only word to me that is truly inappropriate is NO. When we began the buildout of Via Umbria our vision was confusing to others. Contractors and Architects are used to cookie cutter projects – is it a Restaurant? Is it a Market? Is it a Cafe? Can you sell wine? By design we are a bit of everything – an Italian Village under one roof. It truly is the reflection of all of our many amazing experiences in Italy and a tribute to the incredible artisans, chefs, winemakers, and people we have met there. It took a lot of patience and a lot of guidance to create the feel that we wanted. And then came the permitting – DC is definitely used to cookie cutter projects and there is no permit for “Italian Village under one roof”. But we knew what we wanted to create and weren’t willing to give up until we found the permits that we needed.

Now the task of building a team to work with us who shared our vision. Finding a team who believe in what we are doing is no easy task. But over time and with a lot of on the spot learning we have created our Italian home in Georgetown. Going from Bethesda with a staff of 4-5 to Georgetown with a staff of 40 was a challenge.

Walking into the store today puts a smile on my face – I am greeted with a Buongiorno and I see people taking care of people. I love the people I work with.

Via Umbria is a family business. Our kids are all involved in some way. The boys clock in when they are in town visiting and they spent two weeks this summer travelling around Italy with Bill meeting old friends and discovering new producers. Our daughter Lindsey works with us full time. Who better to look out for the store than family? Lindsey grew up visiting Italy, she knows the families and she definitely knows the products. She is my daughter and my best friend. She is the perfect sounding board. She is my fashion consultant and my voice of reason. She is a talented young woman and I feel blessed to have her running the business alongside us.

Suzy’s Words of Wisdom:

Think outside the box
Treat people with respect
Everyone is family
Set Expectations High
Speak your mind
Always take the risk
Love with your whole heart
Never say No

Lord & Taylor Local Iconic Women Series Read more

I am Suzy,  never Suzanne. I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be ...

Strong Women in Fashion

Rolling out the red carpet, last Thursday we joined forces with three other local businesses, here in Georgetown, to create an experience like no other. With gorgeous gowns from Signature Dresses and Lili the First, breathtaking hair and makeup done by Illusions Salon of Georgetown, this fashion show was not really about the looks. Rather, to us Strong Women in Fashion was more than just a fashion show, it was a way for us and our collaborators to reach out and give back to the community.  All proceeds from the event, including ticket sales, were donated to Suited for Change. For those who do not know, Suited for Change is the leading nonprofit organization that provides professional attire, mentoring, and job-readiness skills to women seeking financial independence in the DC area. Overall we want our message to be clear: Female Empowerment. Uniquely yet unsurprisingly, the four businesses that collaborated to create this event are owned by women. As the idea for this event sprouted, the owners began to ask themselves, what does it mean to be a strong woman? Every person you ask will give you a different answer, but we agreed across the board that a strong woman is someone who believes in herself and believes that nothing can hold her back. In fashion, the runway is the epitome of strength, all eyes are on the model, what she is wearing, and how she wears it. And in life, clothing has the innate ability to empower women; when she looks fierce she feels fierce, and when she feels fierce she is fierce. For this fashion show we did not go out and hire runway models, instead we found women that everyone can relate to: DC Fashion and Lifestyle bloggers. These bloggers are the women we take the final word from regarding what to do, what to wear, and where to eat. Truthfully, any woman could have strutted her stuff down our red carpet runway, and that was the point. Strong Women in Fashion was never about us, it was and still is about the people we can inspire.

Photo Credits: Jeremy Goins & Snapshots by Sierra

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More than a Fashion Show Read more

Rolling out the red carpet, last Thursday we joined forces with three other local businesses, here in Georgetown, to create an experience ...

Cheese of the Month: Ogleshield!

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Emily Shifflett

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

Cherries have Blossomed

Cherry-Blossoms-Washington-DC-March-23-2012-01-1068x710

As a millennial born and raised in the wonderful state of New Jersey, I did not know all that much about the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. Other than the fact there’s an annual festival to celebrate the beautiful trees that line the waterfront, there is a limited amount of common knowledge available about the Cherry Blossoms. From my perspective, to most of the nation, they just exist. However, when I moved to DC about six months ago, I told myself I would learn the quirky secrets behind this city. In this case, my research led me to the Cherry Blossoms; as per the scientific method I cataloged my thoughts and observations as I learned the history behind this breathtaking foliage.

Initial thoughts on the Cherry Blossoms:

“George Washington and the Cherry Tree” At the age of six, young George Washington received a hatchet as a gift. A little overzealous (as any six year old wielding a hatchet should be) George supposedly chopped down his father’s beloved Cherry Tree. When his father saw what he had done George admitted “I cannot tell a lie…I cut it with my hatchet.” Celebrating his honesty in lieu of punishing his wrongdoing, George’s father praised his son’s honesty was worth a thousand cherry trees. Clearly, it makes sense that a city named after our first president would host a festival dedicated to a tree he is legend for cutting down.

Question:

Why do we celebrate the Cherry Blossoms here in Washington DC?

BS bs-ae-cherry-blossom-fest-2013-p2

Hypothesis:

Beyond the George Washington tale, I have in fact been to the festival before and my impression it that this is a great family friendly fun experience and an amazing way to open up the city for a season of outdoor fun!

Research Shows:

In 1912 the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gifted the city 3,000 cherry trees to honor the close relationship the United States and Japan share. Even though the first 2,000 trees that arrived in 1910 were diseased, the two nations could not be deterred from outwardly expressing their appreciation for one another. These trees were such an important gift that First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda (the wife of the Japanese ambassador) planted the first two trees in West Potomac Park on the north bank of the tidal basin. Impressively, in 1981 the United States sent clippings from the trees to Japanese horticulturists who were desperate to replace some of the cherry blossoms, which were destroyed in a flood. Since the original festival celebrating the successful 1912 planting, these blossoms have been annually celebrated since 1934 (excluding a hiatus during WWII until 1947). Helium balloons, floats, parades over the course of four weekends is how DC currently celebrates the Cherry Blossom festival. Welcoming some 1.5 million people to the city from all over the country.

Parade-2

Afterthoughts and Commentary:

The National Cherry Blossom Festival draws attention to our national pride and to the positive relationships we as a nation formed across the world. These trees were a gift from Japan to us; still over a century later we give them the same respect as when they first arrived. To my disappointment, the festival has no foundation in the George Washington story. Turns out the Cherry Tree and the Cherry Blossoms were two separate plants. Regardless, this festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the beauty our change of season brings us. Get out, hit the streets, bring your mom, your kids, your grandma, the Cherry Blossom Festival is fun for the whole family!

P.S: We are celebrating this beautiful festival here at Via Umbria with a Cherry Jubilee Cocktail Class on Wednesday (3/23) and a series of themed Italian Dinner Parties (3/23-24-25). For more information and tickets please visit: //viaumbria.com/events/

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As a millennial born and raised in the wonderful state of New Jersey, I did not know all that much about the ...