White truffle flan is a great way to start off a holiday meal and represents everything that is great in Italian regional cooking. A simple preparation, with relatively few but pristine and highest quality ingredients and the perception of a difficult undertaking that none of your guests need to know about. The magic of white truffles.
Yields 8 – 4oz. souffle cup portions
WHITE TRUFFLE PARMIGIANO SFORMATO
1 quart Heavy cream
2.5 Cups Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 T white truffle paste (optional…but preferable!)
4 whole eggs
4 T all purp. Flour
Salt to taste
White truffles, fresh (avail. at Via Umbria) to garnish
Heat Cream in a saucepan, add the cheese and blend. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, crack eggs, whisk, add the flour and whisk some more until combined. Add the truffle paste to cream mixture and slowly pour cream into egg mixture. Add the nutmeg and adjust seasoning with salt.
Meanwhile, get souffle cups, and spray with non stick spray. Ladle in the mixture. On top of stove, pour approx. ¾ ” of water into a shallow stove top-ready baking dish. Place souffle cups in the water bath and cover the whole pan in plastic wrap. Cook on stovetop at medium high heat for about 30 minutes, steaming the flans. They are done when the mixture does not jiggle like jello. Serve warm. Unmold from dishes if desired.
Shave white truffles on top of the sformato and serve with crostini and aged Balsamico.
Many of you may have noticed our new wine tasting series happening every Friday at 6 PM. Even though we introduced it just a few weeks ago, we’ve had a ton of interest from our wine-loving regulars here at Via Umbria. To make sure no one misses out on the wine-fueled fun and hands-on learning at our weekly tastings, we thought we’d ask our sommelier, Will Moriarty, to write a blog post introducing himself.
I began my restaurant career as a teenager, eventually and working my way from barback to sommelier. After a few years as the wine director for The Liberty Tavern in Arlington, I moved on to become the floor sommelier at Fiola Mare in Georgetown. I’ve always tried to take the pretention out of wine. In my opinion, wine is meant to be fun and engaging rather than stuffy and unapproachable. Luckily for everyone, Bill & Suzy feel the same way. I joined the team here as our in-house sommelier to make sure every customer has the opportunity to try incredible wines without feeling intimidated—after all, wine is meant to be enjoyed!
We structure our tastings as a simulated wine tour through Italy. Depending on the day, I choose 4-6 different wines that I think best highlight some of our favorite Italian regions. They’re fun and energetic; less like a formal guided wine tasting and more like a casual happy hour (that just so happens to be led by a sommelier).
The communal tasting covers each wine in depth, from its beginnings in the winemaking process to deep-dives in varietals, terroir, palette and pairings. And don’t worry, there’s a sampling of special small bites and snacks from the kitchen.
Teddy here, writing from the farmhouse in Cannara. I am two weeks into my three and a half month stay in Umbria and have quickly been reminded why I couldn’t wait to get back. I wake up to the light activity of our 18 birds (mostly hens, as well as a couple of geese, ducks, and guinea fowl) and say hello to these healthy ladies (and their bountiful eggs!) as I give them their morning meal, along with all of my leftover food scraps as a special treat.
In very un-Italian fashion I prepare a big breakfast – how else can I get through these eggs fast enough? – and a caffe to wash it all down. And now, in the words of caretaker Marco, I commence on the day’s “program”, and this is where things get really exciting. Every day feels like a choose your own adventure, depending on who I’ve seen recently or who has heard that I am in town.
One day I am accompanying Jennifer McIlvaine and one of her groups on a summer tour of Montefalco – visiting a dairy farmer who makes cheese, yogurt, and gelato, followed by a walk through town, then lunch at another farm, this one biologico (essentially the Italian version of organic certification) and dotted with all manner of fruit-bearing trees, an apiary, grape and olive production, and an assortment of animals. Lastly, a requisite wine tasting of one of Umbria’s crown products, Montefalco Sagrantino at Cantina Fratelli Pardi.
And from having seen the Pardi family, I get a late afternoon invite the following week to accompany them for dinner. Patriarch Alberto – who is one of the most engaging, excited, and kind people I’ve ever met (despite not speaking much if any English!) – arrives to pick me up in the early evening. He asks if it’s okay to make a quick stop and I watch him collect the season’s finest harvest from an azienda agricola that is no more than 5 minutes from the farmhouse but I doubt I will ever find again amidst these labyrinthine roads. Onward to Montefalco, and when I ask where we will be going he laughs confusedly to tell me that of course we are eating at the family home. Another stop at a gas station that also serves as a macelleria (meat and cheese counter) to pick up the evening’s secondo: stinco, a very Umbrian pork dish. Another stop at the winery to pick up assorted members of the family and finally I arrive at their incredibly lovely home, right in the heart of the town. What followed was one of the finest examples of family care I’ve ever witnessed, and by the end of the evening it truly felt as if I was not just a witness but a member. We drank late into the night discussing cousin Marco’s love life, the moments and laughter in the house warming brightly as the light outside faded.
Another day, I resend an email that I discover had not gone through the previous week. A response is returned within the hour – an invitation to meet and discuss work opportunities the following day with Roberto di Filippo of his eponymous, biodynamic winery. This is the driving force behind my return to Umbria: I have a fairly compelling fascination with the relationships between soil, seed, plant, and food and beverage products, and I’ve endeavored to learn deeply but also broadly about the elements that comprise these processes. These expeditions have led me to an interest in fermentation, which has been marked mostly by working with beer, some hard cider making, a lot of sourdough bread-baking, and some vegetable lacto-fermentation projects. But the grail of fermentation is wine, and there are few opportunities that exist for me to not only learn about wine and its production, but to examine wine through the holistic lens that drives my curiosity. Roberto’s philosophy on farming is so rich and deep, to the point that the wine seems almost a happy bi-product of the balanced, interwoven relationships between organisms microscopic (in the soil) and fairly large (the draught horses he uses for tilling) on his property. It doesn’t hurt that he happens to make exceptional wines though! Upon receiving my interest in learning any and all things related to his wine production, Roberto kindly extended the offer for me to help out. The only requirement he dictated, though, was that it could not be work for just one day. His justification was loosely as follows: “To understand, you need to touch and feel as much as you can. And you have to share the labor with your peers – there is a unity between the land and the animals and the grapes and the workers, and you must share.” I was truly taken by the quality of his words, and replied simply, “Roberto – `e una bella filisofia.”
My first day of work I helped on a couple of horse-drawn carriage tours through several of Roberto’s plots, serving as a translator for a couple from Canada and trying to actually learn Italian on the following tour of ten locals. Lunch for the employees in the main room of the cantina, and new friend Giovanni was excited to share an oregano digestivo he had made with everybody. It was a delicious way to prolong our midday break! In the afternoon I helped bottle last year’s white wine blend before taking my leave for the evening.
The following morning I joined a ragtag group of helpers to harvest the season’s first grechetto grapes, to be used in a spumante wine that I believe will be new to Roberto’s arsenal. The group was old and young, hailing from France, Senegal, Romania, or just five minutes up the road. All the other foreigners, however, actually speak Italian. I became Los Angeles! to them, or Lau-rence of A-raab-iah because of the bandana I wore draped from the back of my hat to cover my neck (Teddy is a very difficult name for Italians to pronounce). We made it by thanks to some very friendly and patient Italian and also French speakers, which sadly has become even worse than my Italian, but the composite of options helped make most things pretty clear. The other benefit was that the work is really straightforward – you cut clusters of beautiful grapes, put them in a basket, and trade out your basket when it’s full for a new one. Lots of heat, lots of singing, lots of laughs, lots of words I didn’t understand, and lots of grape-juice-sticky gloves. Overall, a truly memorable day!
Any given morning, I can expect a text message on my phone saying, “hi baby, could you come in this afternoon?” It’s a message from my extra sibling, chef Simone Proietti Pesci. In ten minutes I can be at the restaurant where I may be enlisted to de-stem rosemary picked on a walk earlier that morning, prepare a soffrito (the Italian mirepoix of carrot, celery, and onion), or wait tables, the latter of which displaying the deep trust Simone has in me and my very insufficient Italian. No matter the task, work with Simone is always easy – not that I don’t work hard, but Simone runs the most calm, organized, and efficient kitchen I’ve ever witnessed. He is a true master within his space, and just being around him suffuses me with skills that have improved my own abilities in the kitchen. Already in these few weeks I’ve been a helping hand in some truly impressive dining events – a 60 guest, seven course fixed menu inspired by Argentina with live tango performances between courses, and another 60 guest baptism celebration with a lavish buffet spread and many bottles of regional wine. It’s hard to count the times a guest walks directly into the kitchen to say, “complimenti a chef!” and then stay to chat for another ten minutes or so, Simone carrying on the conversation while plating the next course.
In less than a week, I will be joined by my dearest friend and former housemate, who will stay along throughout the remainder of my adventures in Umbria. I find myself constantly grinning with excitement, not only for the value of having someone I love to share with these people, places, and experiences that I’ve known, but at the thought that, despite the head start of my experience here, there are countless new opportunities and moments that await us.
The combination of a love for all that is art, those who produce art, and the concept that is Via Umbria all make for a very happy art curator of the Via Umbria Galleria! Put that all together and we have 3 years of of showcasing incredible art from both international and domestic artists in one of the most intimate and inviting galleries in Washington, D.C. I have had this fortunate opportunity to curate from the beginning when Via Umbria first opened. It is always a wonderful surprise for the those wandering thru the shop, having a relaxing dinner, drinking fantastic Italian wine, or just hanging out with friends, when they open the door on the second floor terrace, and stumble upon the gallery!
Approximately every 6 weeks, a different artist opens a new show with an opening reception that kicks it off. These two hour receptions prove to be different every time making for a fun and educational experience. The artist is available to discuss the works being displayed with any that are interested. The artists clientele and friends, as well as many of our art loving customers all join us in making the evening or afternoon receptions a truly enjoyable time. All while viewing and enjoying the show, you are invited to have some prosecco and small bites coming directly from our kitchen across the terrace. These receptions are open to the public and free of charge. The gallery is also available for private events, and what better venue for your next party or gathering than one surrounded by original art produced by carefully selected and talented artists?
I love the process of finding the next artist and making the decision to show their work. The first meeting, getting promo work figured out together, installation and the opening reception gives me the opportunity to get to know the artist what they want out of their show. It is a challenging and exciting process, as so much incredible art is out there! Having had everything from abstract expressionism to photo – realism, each show has its own unique feel and every artist their own unique personality. Returning guests will experience a different vibe each show! This is the excitement of art and artists that create. Every person has their own preference of art that they prefer, but opening the doors to new possibilities for them to is what I aim for and enjoy doing in the process.
Guests welcome for the duration of the show and all artist’s pieces are for sale. Don’t forget to check out this hidden gem, a very special part of Via Umbria, if you haven’t already!
I didn’t know all that much about Murray’s cheese before my most recent trip to New York City. Basically, I knew it was a famous shop that sold good cheese and was willing to wholesale to me. Now that I’ve been, I’m in love.
Here at Via Umbria we deal with a lot of different cheese producers from all over Italy, the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and the United States. Walking into the shop on Bleeker Street I felt right at home. It wasn’t that I recognized every single cheese they were selling (although there were quite a few familiar faces)—it was that I could tell I was somewhere that cared about sourcing great cheese from great producers. It was awesome, and I was ready to taste.
You may know of Murray’s as an excellent purveyor of fine cheeses, but what most don’t know is that Murray’s is also an affineur (an ager of cheese). A few days after visiting the store, we were fortunate to travel to glamorous Long Island City to tour their “caves” (it’s actually a set of climate and humidity controlled rooms—I don’t think there’s much in the way of caves in Queens). And learned a bit about the history of these cheeses.
If you’ve read my blog post about Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, it’s a pretty similar story. A cheese shop taking care of their cheese decided to reach out to some producers and get things specially for the shop. In the case of NYD, they preserved a whole range of traditional British cheeses. At Murray’s, it was a case of innovation. The team took cheeses that were already in production and began to age them differently. They started inoculating cheeses with different molds and washing rinds of varieties that weren’t typically washed. In short, they were creating some deliciousness. They even worked in a dairy lab upstate with some local milk to make their own cheese from scratch—a delightful cheddar that tastes almost like cheddar-swiss hybrid.
We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to work with the Murray’s team, as well as all the other cheesemakers and cheese lovers that we partner with. Stop on by and ask to try some of our cheeses!
How’s this for a win-win (or wine-wine) situation: join us at one of our upcoming winemaker dinners—we’ve got three scheduled over the next month and a half—and in addition to a delicious four-course dinner paired with incredible wines hand-selected by the winemaker him/herself, you might just end up the lucky winner who joins Bill and Suzy on their Spring 2019 Food and Wine Tour!
Here’s how it works: (1) Join us for one of our three Winemaker’s Dinners featuring the wines from Umbria, Veneto and Friuli, (2) enjoy an evening of fine food and curated wines, all inspired by our favorite wineries in each region and (3) take home a case of that evening’s featured wine. That’s it!
With each case purchased, you’ll be entered to win a space on our 2019 Spring Food and Wine Tour. The hardest part will be deciding which of our three fantastic Winemaker’s Dinners to join:
1. June 7: Wines of Friuli featuring Giorgio Colutta
If you haven’t heard of or tried the wines of Friuli, you haven’t drunk wine. Revered throughout Italy, particularly for their white wines, this evening with Giorgio is not to be missed. LEARN MORE
2. June 15: Wines of Puglia featuring Conti Zecca
Back by popular demand. As interest in Puglia increases, its culinary legacy (and spectacular wines!) are getting more attention in international circles. If you can’t make it to Italy’s gorgeous coastal region for a quick visit, at least you can wine and dine in the Pugliese fashion. LEARN MORE
3. June 19: Wines of Piemonte featuring Coppo Winery
Both a celebration of Piemonte and the Barbera grape, this dinner focuses on the wines of Coppo Winery and the delicate flavors of the region. LEARN MORE
Talk about a no-brainer. Join us for an evening of great food and wine and a chance to spend time with the winemaker and you might end up joining us in Italy next spring. And just to whet your appetite, check out the highlights of our recently completed food and wine tour.
See you around our chef’s table. And see you in Umbria!
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.
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.
Venice is a city of wonder, from the extensive canal system to its unique culture Venice is one-of-a-kind. Around this time of year, thousands from all over Italy and the world head to Venice for Carnevale. Even our owners, Bill and Suzy were lucky enough to experience Carnevale di Venezia a few years ago. This party, which lasts for an entire month, is an attempt to relive the culture and traditions of 18th century Venice. From head to toe people all over this magnificent city dress in traditional garb. You’ll see men in tights and wigs, women’s hair intricately piled miles high atop their heads, and masks, lots and lots of masks. Yet, the most important aspect of any Italian celebration is the cuisine.
For young travelers, like myself, frivolous spending on food and drink can kill your budget and eventually ruin your trip. Venice is one of those cities where you’ll easily break the bank on food, unless you know what to look for. Similar to the French canapés or Spanish tapas concepts,Cicchetti is the Venetian version of small plates. Generally served with a glass of wine, these small bites vary depending on the restaurant you are dining in. Pricing however, is ideal for lunch and evening eats and rarely ventures outside a range of 1€ to 3€ a plate. The best place to find cicchetti is in a bàcari, small local (and often hidden) bar. Some bàcari lean toward the fried foods while others specialize in fresh fish, meats, and cheeses. Cicchetti is the perfect cuisine for Carnevale: quick and easy food that can only enhance the celebration.
Carnevale is a celebration that takes place around the world, just because you can’t make it to Venice doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. This week and next: get out, put a wig and a mask on and enjoy the party!
Every year we mark the fourteenth of February as a meaningful day in our hearts; in celebration of San Valentino, the patron saint of courtly love, people around the world take the time to make their loved one feel special. This third century bishop was from Terni, the second largest city in the region commonly referred to as “The Heart of Italy,” Umbria. As a region, Umbria has brought the world Saints Francis, Benedict, and Rita in addition to Saint Valentine. Though San Valentino was one of many saints from Umbria his remembrance is the most fun to celebrate. Legend has it that San Valentino handed a rose to a pair of quarreling lovers, he told them to hold it between their hands without getting pricked by the thorns. He walked away and after some time the couple found him and asked him to marry them. Just one example of San Valentino’s ability to understand the inner workings of the heart easily explains why we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. Heart shaped candies, secret admirers, endless roses, and fine dining are only a few ways Washingtonians celebrate this Saint.
Here at Via Umbria, as Georgetown’s unofficial ambassadors to the Heart of Italy, we are spending the whole week celebrating San Valentino.
Starting on February 8th, we have a variety of events featuring the most Umbrian/Italian aspects of this homegrown holiday, Valentine’s Day. Discover the perfect vino for your Valentine’s dinner at our Wine Tasting: Stop and Smell the Rosé. Wines featured are hand selected by our experts to epitomize the flavors we seek on such a special occasion. On Thursday, Friday or Saturday come enjoy an intimate meal featuring a special Umbrian Valentine’s menu at our Italian Dinner Party: Love is in the Air. We are also hosting a Couple’s Cooking Class featuring Baci Chocolates. Made famous by the Perugina Chocolate company these chocolate kisses will make your sweetie even sweeter. And no week of celebration would be complete without an exclusive Valentine’s Day Cocktail Class taught by guest mixologist Matt Demma from True Syrups. With drinks inspired by classic romantic movies this class will make your heart swoon. In honor of our own San Valentino we are doing the things we love with the ones we love.
So first off, let me get one thing out in the open – I didn’t always have such warm and fuzzy feelings about fondue. How can that be, you might well ask? Isn’t it just melty, cheesy goodness? Well, my friends, let me just say that fondue taught me the “too much of a good thing” lesson the hard way.
When I was in high school, my family took an epic trip around Switzerland. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow weren’t aware of this already, Switzerland makes absolutely fabulous cheese. For the Swiss, cheese is one of the central pillars of their cuisine, culture, and identity. If you think about it, this makes sense – with Switzerland’s high, alpine meadows full of lush green grass and herbs, raising dairy cows is a natural choice. From these cows, the world has been graced with cheeses like Appenzeller, Raclette, Gruyere, and Comte, to name just a few. And believe me, these are not the presliced, plastic sealed “baby swiss” that you’ll find in supermarkets across the US. Ranging from sweet, nutty, and milky to zesty, piquant, and punchy, these cheeses run the gambit of flavor, while also showcasing terroir and age-old technique.
Anyway, back to my story: From Geneva to Bern, Mont Blanc to Montreux, we saw the sites, hiked the hills, and ate and ate and ate. Our first stop on this grand adventure was the town of Gruyere, where, as you can imagine, the cheese of the same name comes from. The first night we were there, we had a fantastic dinner comprised of a giant pot of fondue and lots and lots of fresh bread.
Okay, hold up – let’s talk for a second. What actually is fondue? Fondue – from the french word fondre, “to melt” – is the national dish of Switzerland. The earliest fondue recipe dates back to 1699 – basically, it advises the reader to melt grated cheese with wine and dip bread into it. To this day, that’s basically what fondue continues to be: cheese, wine, and various seasonings melted down together and then poured into a communal pot which has been placed over a flame (to keep it nice and melty). Long forks are used to dip bread or vegetables into the cheese mixture. Deliciousness and happiness ensue.
So there we were: my parents, my sisters, and me, all gorging ourselves on Switzerland’s national, and most popular, dish. The bread and cheese kept flowing for hours, and, you can rest assured that I kept going well after everyone else had reached their limit. It was absolute heaven… Until, later that night, it absolutely wasn’t. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that I must have eaten at least my weight, if not more, in melted cheese and good lord, did I regret it. Way, way, way too much of a good thing.
It took me awhile to be able to look a fondue pot in the face again, but through hard work and perseverance, I can happily say that fondue and I are good friends again. And not a moment too soon – this February, the Via Umbria cheese counter will be shaking off the late-winter chill and celebrating this decadent and delicious Swiss dish with not one, but two events. First up, we have our monthly Cheese Party next Wednesday, February 1st, where we will be sampling some traditional Alpine fondue. Then, on Saturday, February 25th, we’ll be having our second annual MELT party – a fabulous night celebrating all things cheesy and melty, including some delectable fondue. So come, hang out with us, and indulge in these awesome events! Just don’t pull an Alice – be sure to pace yourself!
I’d say I get this question at least three or four times a day, every day. And do you know what? It is a freaking hard one to answer. I mean, I get it – customers want to know what their monger thinks is the best of the best. Sure, fair enough. But I always end up launching into a spiel about different cheeses tasting better at different times of year… Different cheeses being more or less appropriate in varying situations… The fact that my mood changes and with it, my “favorite” cheese… The fact that the words “best” or “favorite” are completely subjective.
But more often than not, I receive a reply along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…
But really. What’s your favorite cheese?”
And that’s when I turn to my dear friend, Harbison. Named for Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the “grandmother of Greensboro”, this wonderful little cheese hails from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. And while I stand by the fact that I crave different cheeses at different times, different cheeses are good for different things, (I’m sure you get the picture…), this is the cheese that I turn to time and again as my tried-and-true, year-round, no-qualifiers-needed favorite.
So what makes this particular wheel my go-to? Well, let’s count the ways – first, it’s a straight-up beautiful cheese. Whenever people come to my counter looking for something “different” or want to impress at a party, I always point them to the Harbison. It’s striking – modeled on the famous Vacherin Mont d’Or from Switzerland, Harbison is a 9oz circle of ooey gooey cow’s milk covered in downy white mold, which has been encased in a ring of spruce bark, mottled with blue, white, and green.
In addition to the fact that it looks gorgeous as soon as you unwrap it, the best way to serve it is also a bit different than your average cheese. Instead of cutting it into wedges as per usual, I usually advise that customers use a butter knife to slice off the top rind, thus turning it into a self-contained cheesy dip. Believe me – it’s something that’s going to stand out from your average hunk of cheddar or a wedge of brie.
And finally, let’s talk flavor – while not, in my opinion, a real stinker, Harbison is chock full of flavor, making it ideal for a wide range of people. I always find tons of meaty, mustardy flavors hiding beneath it’s surface, along with a silky, spreadable texture that just won’t quit. True story – the year that I discovered Harbison, I brought a couple of wheels home for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for my family, one of those wheels didn’t quite make it to the holiday table – I ate an entire wheel by myself for breakfast. That whole self-control thing goes right out the window when you get a perfectly ripe wheel of Harbison.
I’m so happy to announce that Harbison will be Via Umbria’s Cheese of the Month for January! We’ll be exploring this decadent, savory, umami-filled cheese next Wednesday, January 4th at 7:30pmat our Monthly Cheese Party. You may still feel full from the holidays, but believe me, you won’t want to miss it!
If you’ll hold my hand we’ll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly we can fly up, up and away
—Up, Up and Away, The Fifth Dimension
Early to bed, early to rise is not our typical modus operandi during our visits to Umbria and our Saturday night activity – dinner for 25 in our farmhouse, highlighted by an outdoor fireworks display to celebrate one of our guests’ birthdays – did not presage well our ability to rise early for our Sunday activity.
But rise early we did. Both from bed and from the ground.
Arriving at the Cantina Dionigi at 6:24am, a full minute before the drop dead deadline of 6:25, we were greeted warmly by our good friend Roberto Dionigi, one of the family owners of this venerable Montefalco winery. We were also introduced to Eleonora Lolli, marketing director for Balloon Adventures Italy, Umbria’s new hot air balloon tour company. In just a short while we would slip the surly bonds of earth and float peacefully above the val d’umbria.
Balloon Adventures Italy is owned, operated and piloted by Peter Kollar, a recent emigrant to Umbria who had the good fortune to purchase a property next door to the Cantina Dionigi. Peter chose the property because it featured a good sized open, flat piece of land ideal for launching and landing his 18 passenger balloon. That he became fast friends and associates with the Dionigi family, whose name is emblazoned prominently on Peter’s balloon, which he boasted is the largest in Italy, is just the sort of good fortune that seems to happen often in Umbria.
Peter’s Germanic roots were apparent from the moment we met him in the field where our balloon was being prepared for its flight. Against a backdrop of the enormous mongolfiera, he barked commands to our group of 16, barking at us to stand here, to stay away from that, to get ready to board the basket and how we would brace for landing. His bark turned out to be much worse than his bite, however, as he punctuated his necessary commands with humor and grace. By the time the balloon was fully inflated and we had scrambled aboard the basket, it was clear to all that our pilot was in control of the balloon, its passengers and the situation. He admonished us not to worry about anything. Unless he seemed worried.
And with a few revs of the engine – well, rather a few bursts of flames from the ignitors that Peter constantly used to replenish the balloon with hot air – we rose, slowly, gently and peacefully from the field. Until we could look down directly on Peter’s hangar, his house and Roberto’s expansive fields of sagrantino, merlot and grechetto. Until we were a thousand feet high and were able to see across the valley to the beautiful glimmering cities of stone that dot the mountainside – Assisi, Spello, Trevi, Spoleto. Until we reached two thousand feet, floating languorously in the cool morning air, the golden yellow sunlight bathing the hills as a patchwork of vineyards unfolded below us, giving way to the hilltop Etruscan beauty that is Perugia and the small shimmering outline of Lago Trasimeno in the distance. We topped out at three thousand feet on a day that Peter described as “too perfect,” a morning so completely windless that steering the balloon through the usual air streams that pilots ride to bring them to their landing spot did not exist. And so our pilot cut short our adventure, expertly guiding us into a field just below another of our friends’ wineries, coming to rest among a grove of olive trees. The property owners, startled to see an enormous balloon descending into their grove came running to give us assistance, but the only help Peter needed was for them to show him a route that his Land Rover and trailer could take into the grove so we could pack the balloon and basket and take our group back to the Cantina.
After deflating and packing the balloon we were transported back to Roberto’s winery, where our group was treated to a fabulous breakfast of fruits, sliced meats and cheese and Roberto’s Grechetto, Montefalco Rosso and Sagrantino wines, served, of course, after the obligatory glass of champagne or prosecco that marks every successful return to earth of the balloon and its passengers. In the gleaming, new Dionigi tasting room, with its unmatched view of the val d’umbria and Assisi and Spello, we bonded with our fellow passengers, shared our reactions to the unforgettable views and the experience of seeing this land, which we have seen so many times from ground level, from a new and truly wondrous vantage point.
Umbria is known as “the green heart of Italy” and its majesty is well apparent to all who wind along its wandering lanes, who hike its gentle slopes, who explore its jewel like hill towns. To take all of this in from above, however, to drink in its panorama a full three hundred and sixty degrees, floating along on the soft morning breeze like a feather in the wind, is a truly unforgettable experience.
I seriously doubt whether any members of the Fifth Dimension ever experienced the thrill of a balloon ride. But they certainly nailed it in their 19xx hit, Up, Up and Away –
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
Bill and Suzy
For more information on Balloon Adventures Italy or to book your own aerial adventure, contact Eleonora at +39 366 314 0558 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their website at www.balloonadventures.it.