Tag Archives: georgetown

In Search of the Perfect Ham

In my first blog post, I mentioned an aged country ham from southern Virginia. I was referring to the sublime Surryano Ham by Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. The name is a pun on the Serrano hams of Spain and the smokehouse’s location in Surry, Virginia, only a stone’s throw from the origin of the famed (and now mass-produced) Smithfield Hams.

This hickory-smoked ham is designed to be sliced thin and eaten raw like prosciutto or jamón. But the Surryano is even smokier even than the Südtiroler Speck (Speck Alto Adige) that we carry regularly. Despite the reputation that American cured meats are inferior to their European counterparts, chefs across the nation agree that this ham rivals any other prosciutto. Furthermore, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse embodies what we so value about Italian cuisine: attention to locality and quality. Edwards uses locally raised heritage breed hogs, as Italians have done for centuries, to create products that Americans have been making for centuries.

The famous Surryano Ham.
The famous Surryano Ham.

Now comes the sad part: in mid-January, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse burned down, losing all of its inventory. The Surryano Ham, which must be aged for two years, will not return for a while.

Here at Via Umbria, I originally wanted to carry an American ham as a point of comparison to our Italian prosciutto crudos. I began digging thorugh laods of ham literature, so looking for a ham that could live up to Surryano’s legacy. I found a few promising producers and reached out for samples. The first, Colonel Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams, responded the same day with a personal call from the owner, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey. The Newsom family has been making country hams commercially for several generations, and the family tradition goes even further back.

Nancy's Preacher Ham.
Nancy’s Preacher Ham.

I decided on two hams, both of which are now in our case at Via Umbria. The BBQ Ham is a cooked ham which Nancy calls a “Preacher Ham,” because you only want the best for the preacher on Sundays! It’s a smoky deli ham that’s great solo and would send you to the moon in a sandwich. We also stocked up on prosciutto. This is a dry cured country ham, cold-smoked, and aged breathing the open air of Kentucky! Its not quite as in-your-face smoky as the Surryano, but still amazing. We’re talking a complex balance of sweet and salty, of smoky and porky. It’s a testament to what American curing traditions can achieve—and I’m not the only one who thinks so. The “Preacher Ham” is the first (and only) American ham on display in Spain’s Museo del JamónNancy was the first American and the first woman to be invited to the World Congress of Dry Cured Hams. This “prosciutto” is really something to behold, and I’m really excited to work directly with a producer with such high attention to tradition and quality.

 

Scott Weiss

Choosing what to stock at Via Umbria Read more

In my first blog post, I mentioned an aged country ham from southern Virginia. I was referring to the sublime Surryano Ham ...

Dishing With Chef Jennifer McIlvaine

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

How did you get your start as a chef?

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

What made you decide to do that?

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

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

How did you get from Seattle to Italy?

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

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

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

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

What was that like?

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

How did you get into leading eno-gastronomic tours?

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

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

How do you like to cook at home?

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

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

 

 

A chat about her transcontinental culinary journey Read more

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

Wine Wednesday

Nestled in the verdant, rolling hills of Umbria, the Terre Margaritelli estate was founded in 1950 by Fernando Margaritelli. The Torgiano vineyard simply produced grapes until 2005, when Fernando’s grandson met winemaker Federico Bibi. Soon, they were working to transform Terre Margaritelli into one of Umbria’s premiere organic wineries.

In preparation for Via Umbria’s Terre Margaritelli Winemaker Dinner this Saturday, we sat down with Federico to learn what the winery is all about.

“The idea,” Federico explains, “is to produce innovative wines without losing the tradition and the history.”

Umbria is a farming region known as the green heart of Italy. “Fifty, seventy years ago we were very poor,” Federico says. “The wine was not just a drink — it was actually a big part of the meal. Wine was the easiest and cheapest way to add calories to a meal, which would often be lentil soup, or chickpeas, and sometimes bread.” The region’s naturally sharp, acidic wines, Federico notes, were also used to disinfect drinking water.

A snapshot of the harvest at Terre Margaritelli.
A snapshot of the harvest at Terre Margaritelli.

As winemaker, Federico makes sure that Terre Margaritelli’s selection is both accessible and in keeping with Umbrian tradition. “We have very interesting blends. All of our wines are easy to drink, no matter the structure. I say I love to make complex wines, not complicated wines, because I love to finish the bottle.”

The grechetto, a Terre Margaritelli specialty, is the traditional white grape of Umbria. It’s an acidic, alcoholic grape without many perfumes. “Many people ask me, ‘then why do you use it?'” laughs Federico. “It’s considered indigenous, and in Umbria you will find it everywhere. Its beauty is in its strength.”

The grechetto is used to make Terre Margaritelli’s Greco di Renabianca, a rich, full-bodied white which ages for 3 months in oak barrels, called barriques, and then at least a year longer in the bottle, which balances the wood with the strength of the grape. In turn, the wood gives the wine a hint of perfume.

Wine barrels made of French oak.
Wine barrels made of French oak.

To develop the barriques, “we went to twenty different forests in France and tried out the wood from each one,” Federico recalls. “And now we have barrels made of French oak from the forest of Bertrange. It’s a very old forest, and a very light wood.” The oak barrels help to mitigate, but never dilute, the strength of the grape. They also allow the wine to maintain a low level of oxidation and remain fresh.

From start to finish, the Terre Margaritelli process is marked by a tireless commitment to vision. The vineyard’s organic farming methodologies are developed with extensive research. “We don’t fertilize the soil. We will grow fava beans to replenish nutrients and rest the fields, but we don’t need to add anything to the ground. It’s already there. We start from the vines. It’s just about the grape.”

A Terre Margaritelli tell-all with Federico Read more

Nestled in the verdant, rolling hills of Umbria, the Terre Margaritelli estate was founded in 1950 by Fernando Margaritelli. The Torgiano vineyard simply produced grapes until 2005, when Fernando's ...

Talking Olive Oil with Expert Federico Bibi

In late 2015, scandal rocked the Italian olive oil industry. An anti-fraud investigation found that several major olive oil companies were passing off low-quality oil as extra virgin, and charging customers accordingly. Wondering what all the fuss is about? We sat down with visiting olive oil expert Federico Bibi of Trampetti Olio to figure out the difference between extra virgin and everything else.

“Extra virgin olive oil is mechanically extracted olive oil. There are no chemicals involved in the process,” Federico explains. “It’s very simple.”  Farmers harvest the olives and bring them to a mill, where they’re pitted and smashed. The resulting pulp is processed first in a centrifuge that divides solids and liquids, and then again in another centrifuge that separates water from oil.

“If chemicals are involved in any part of this process … like, to make the oil easier to extract, or if there is heat involved … it’s not extra virgin olive oil,” Federico clarifies.

Trampetti, Federico’s small olive oil company, has done things the extra virgin way since the beginning. In 1999, while studying at university, Federico and his friend Massimo wanted to get into the food and wine industry. But wine was tricky. “Growing the vines … it’s complicated,” Federico says. “For olive oil, it’s much easier. You need olive trees, then you process the olives, and you get the oil.”

A view from the Trampetti olive grove.
A view from the Trampetti olive grove.

The flip side? “Earning money from olive oil … it’s really, really hard. The process is very expensive. Sixty percent of the production cost of olive oil is just about harvest,” he laughs.

Growers have several options when it comes to harvesting their crop, but not all are methods are created equal. “Basically, you can decide to pick the olives at peak harvest,” Federico elaborates. “You can do that when olives are still green, but harder to harvest, or you can wait till they are more mature, which is much easier. The same person in the same season can harvest almost double the quantity in one day just because the olives are more mature.” This route cuts production costs in half.

Even more cost-effective is the popular approach of stretching nets under the trees and waiting for the olives to fall. “That costs nothing,” Federico smiles. “But here is an example I use all the time when I do olive oil tastings: would you prefer to eat an apple straight from the tree when it’s nice and perfectly mature, or from the tree when it’s overly mature, or from the ground?”

Trampetti does things the hard way, and harvests olives at their freshest. “Our focus is to make an olive oil with the maximum amount of antioxidants,” Federico notes. This makes Trampetti olive oil healthier, and gives it a longer shelf life.

Via Umbria is flush with Trampetti.
Via Umbria is flush with Trampetti.

“The flavor is damaged by oxidation, so a high level of antioxidants means the flavor will stay.” With Trampetti olive oil, “whatever you get in January will be the same in June, or September.” But that’s not common among other brands. “Too often, people will buy oil that stays good for 3, 4, maybe 6 months, then loses its flavor and starts to become sweet.”

Trampetti’s product, of course, costs more than the average $7.00 bottle at the supermarket. “It’s very important to explain to people why there is such a big difference in price for different olive oils,” Federico adds. At Trampetti, quality isn’t compromised to slash retail prices.

But all this is just the tip of the olive branch. Learn more on Wednesday, February 24th at 7 pm for a guided olive oil tasting with Federico himself. See you then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The difference between extra virgin and everything else Read more

In late 2015, scandal rocked the Italian olive oil industry. An anti-fraud investigation found that several major olive oil companies were passing off low-quality oil as ...

Spritz O’ Clock

When the clock strikes cocktails, know where to go! At Via Umbria, Spritz O’Clock is every cocktail connoisseur’s favorite time of day. Featuring local spirits from area distilleries, our daily happy hour offers the finest libations this side of the Potomac.

Wipe a long day away with a light, bright Aperol Spritz. Prosecco and an orange garnish give this Italian favorite a crisp, fruity finish. Request Campari in lieu of Aperol for bittersweet notes.

A classic Aperol Spritz. For a bittersweet finish, replace Aperol with Campari.
The Aperol Spritz debuted in Italy in the 1950’s, and has been a national favorite ever since.

Nurse a Negroni made with Green Hat Gin from New Columbia Distillers, the first craft distillery to open in Washington, DC. Gin aficionados will also savor our classic G & T, featuring Vigilant Gin from DC’s oldest-newest distillery, Jos. A. Magnus & Co. 

Invented in Florence in 1919, the Negroni is an Italian classic.
Rumor has it that the first Negroni was mixed in Florence in 1919 at the behest of Count Camillo Negroni.

Or, if you’re feeling old school, kick back with our timeless Manhattan, the grandfather of American cocktails. Our rendition sings with a healthy dose of award-winning Roundstone Rye by Catoctin Creek Distillery, the first distillery in Loudon County since Prohibition, and a splash of Capitoline Sweet Rose Vermouth, jointly produced by New Columbia Distillers and Etto Restaurant. An elegant Luxardo maraschino cherry adds the finishing touch.

Whether shaken or stirred, even Mr. Bond would agree that our martini is to die for. This quintessential cocktail derives its smoothness from Royal Seal Vodka, another Jos. A. Magnus specialty spirit. After one sip, you’ll see why the martini has been called “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”

Quench your thirst Italian-style with a simple Campari & Soda, or revel in a sweet spot of Limoncello, MandarinettoConcerto, or ‘5’ Cinque Aperitivo, courtesy of artisanal liqueur producer Don Ciccio & Figli.

So, what are you waiting for? Breeze by any day after 4 pm for Spritz ‘O Clock, the happiest hour at Via Umbria.

Watch and see how to make a perfect Aperol Spritz with ease.

 

All about the Italian Happy Hour Read more

When the clock strikes cocktails, know where to go! At Via Umbria, Spritz O'Clock is every cocktail connoisseur's favorite time of day. Featuring local spirits ...

A Blizzard To Remember

On Friday afternoon when the flakes began to fall, owners Bill and Suzy Menard said they weren’t going anywhere. Restaurants and businesses shuttered up and down Wisconsin Avenue, but Via Umbria had no such plans. The store had recently moved to Georgetown, and everyone agreed this blizzard would be a perfect opportunity to get to know the neighbors.

A snowy Wisconsin Avenue.
A snowy Wisconsin Avenue.

Scott Weiss, Via Umbria’s resident charcutier, stayed until close that evening with a handful of other staff. “I saw a lot of cases of wine leaving,” he recalls. “We probably sold 6-8 chickens that day … normally we sell about 6 chickens a week.”

By nightfall, the blizzard was in full force. Everyone trekked over to the Georgetown Inn, where they stayed two to a room and made the journey back to the shop on foot the next morning. The glow of the Via Umbria storefront was the only light as far as the eye could see, and the neighborhood took note.

“We were packed all weekend,” Scott remembers. “All the seats were filled in the cafe downstairs, and the communal tables up in the Laboratorio and Galleria were full too.” Chef Simone cooked for coworkers and patrons alike in the Via Umbria demo kitchen, and Scott trotted out his barista skills to keep a steady stream of espresso flowing all weekend. Guests tucked in to the cafe’s stash of boardgames, enjoying endless rounds of Battleship, Quiddler, and Apples to Apples.

“It was fun, because we got to see a lot of people who otherwise would have been busy or working,” said hospitality and events manager Lindsey Menard, who spoke with the Georgetown Current about what it was like to be one of the few neighborhood spots open during the storm.

Many thanks to everyone who dropped by. We hope to see you soon!

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday to DC's big blizzard Read more

On Friday afternoon when the flakes began to fall, owners Bill and Suzy Menard said they weren't going anywhere. Restaurants and businesses shuttered up ...

Good For What Ales You

The rolling green hills of Italy have always been known for providing rich culinary experiences: savory plates of pasta, distinctly cured meats, flavorful olive oils. And of course, everybody knows about Italian wine. But there’s one more thing that’s steadily been rising through the ranks of Italy’s already abundant food scene: craft beer. And although many Italian breweries are small or relatively young, they all boast big flavor and creativity.

Recently moving into the spotlight is an Umbrian brewery located in Pontenuovo di Torgiano, Fabbrica della Birra Perugia. The brewery is a contemporary interpretation of ancient history, which began in 1875. During its earliest days, when it was the only brewery in Umbria, beer was distributed by cart with the help of powerful Maremma horses to get the beer to the train station and a few grocery stores and taverns. Today, they continue the tradition of fine Italian brewing and export to several countries across the world.

Birra Perugia beers are authentic expressions, handcrafted from natural raw materials and Umbrian spring waters. And just last year, Birra Perugia put Umbria on the beer map with Calibro 7, which won Beer of the Year 2015 at Beer Attraction, an international beer festival in Rimini. The intensity and creativity of this beer topped all others in one of the most competitive categories in the beer world. Via Umbria is proud to bring this unique and award-winning beer, as well as four other varieties of Birra Perugia brews, to the DC area.

 

Birra Perugia Golden Ale Birra Perugia Italian Red Ale Birra Perugia Chocolate Porter Birra Perugia Calibro 7 Birra Perugia Classic IPA
GOLDEN ALE AMERICAN RED ALE CHOCOLATE PORTER CALIBRO 7 CLASSIC IPA)

Golden Ale is light in color, with fresh aromas, lively taste and rich flavor. (5.2%)

American Red Ale is an amber colored ale, with an intense fragrance and an enveloping and decisive taste. It is inspired by a pioneering style that marked a decisive stage of the American craft beer revolution. (6%)

Chocolate Porter is a dark colored ale, with an enchanting fragrance, delicious notes of cocoa, and a full-bodied flavor. (5.3%)

Calibro 7 is an exuberant and original Italian Pale Ale, with strong citrus and tropical aromas. The creative recipe uses no less than seven different hops, resulting in an unconventional and irreverent fruity taste. (5.5%)

Classic IPA is produced with only malt (100% Maris Otter Flor) and English hops (East Kent Golding). The strong dry hopping gives resinous and balsamic sensations, with well balanced bitterness. (6.2%)

Haven’t tried any of these yet? We highly recommend that you do. Whether you’re a beer aficionado or just entering the world of craft brews, we’ve got the perfect event for you. Join Via Umbria on Wednesday, February 17th, to celebrate the month of Fe-brew-ary. This event is free to attend, with brews and bites available for purchase all night. Let us know you’re coming by reserving a spot, or just drop by to see what it’s all about!

The rise of craft beer in Italy Read more

The rolling green hills of Italy have always been known for providing rich culinary experiences: savory plates of pasta, distinctly cured meats, flavorful ...

Virginian Charcuterie, Italian Style

Last week, I had a visit from Filippo Gambassi, the owner of one of our newest charcuterie purveyors, Terra di Siena. Terra di Siena is a Tuscan salumi producer. Over the last two years, they’ve started making their signature charcuteries in Virginia, more than 4,000 miles away from Tuscany. Lovers of Italian cured meat will ask, how is this possible? The pigs are different, they’re eating different food – even the air is different! Filippo, whose family has been making charcuterie for generations, understands that too. At his farm in Virginia, he has built facilities that replicate Tuscany’s rich environment. Additionally, he has worked with breeders, scientists and farmers to make sure that his heirloom pigs are authentic to the Tuscan tradition. And he’s made great progress.

Now, subtle differences aside, Filippo’s product in the USA is already excellent. Here at Via Umbria, we carry a number of different salumi and whole-cured muscles, including Terra di Siena’s prosciutto. And, let me tell you, it’s some of the best stuff in our case. So, stop on by and ask for a sample! Regardless of whether you ask for salumi or salami, you’ll be getting the best cut in town.

 

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Replicating Tuscany's signature meat in the US Read more

Last week, I had a visit from Filippo Gambassi, the owner of one of our newest charcuterie purveyors, Terra di Siena. Terra ...

Photodiary – Arte Modus Wine Tasting

Redesigning our store would have been difficult without the help of premium architects and designers. One of these influencers is Ezio Mattice, the man behind Artemodus Design Studiowho helped us create our wine display for the new Via Umbria.

Arte Modus

On Thursday, we hosed a wine tasting in his studio in Georgetown, where guests got a taste of what the new Via Umbria will be offering in the way of food and wine.

 

Ezio Mattice

Via Umbria Arte Modus

 

A tiny guest makes an appearance
A tiny guest makes an appearance

 

Via Umbria owner Suzy Menard and guests
Via Umbria owner Suzy Menard and guests

 

Panzanella Salad
Panzanella Salad

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Via Umbira's Dick Parke pours Fontecolle Sololoro wine
Via Umbira’s Dick Parke pours Fontecolle Sololoro wine
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Via Umbria owner Bill Menard talks with Ezio and guests

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Two of the featured red wines of the evening.
Two of the featured red wines of the evening.

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Farro Salad with aged parmesan
Farro Salad with aged parmesan

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Italians DC

The mastermind behind our wine display! Read more

Redesigning our store would have been difficult without the help of premium architects and designers. One of these influencers is Ezio Mattice, ...