Robbin and I had the great good fortune to spend some time in the beautiful Italian region of Umbria with our kind sponsors, Travel Trade Italia (TTI) and the gracious Strada del Sagrantino, back in October after attending the Travel Trade Global/TTI conference. I had never been to Umbria before so this was a particularly special treat for me. Umbria, “The Green Heart of Italy” as it is often called, is a region incredibly steeped in history and culture going all the way back to their ancient battles with the Etruscans. And while historic battles are interesting and all, today I’m getting into the foods of Umbria instead!
Being the only landlocked region of Italy gives Umbria a unique foodshed compared to the other regions of Italy with their often ample coastlines. Umbria is best known for its more land-based products, many of which are even D.O.P. certified (Denominazioni di Origine Protetta – more about that shortly)— hearty grains like farro, olive oil, cured meats, black truffles, pastas like strangozzi, and unsalted bread with its dubious “history” dating back to the Perugian “Salt War” of 1540.
First let’s discuss DOP certification— Denominazioni di Origine Protetta (or elsewhere, PDO, Protected Designation of Origin) is one of the strictest designations one can find in food quality. DOP’s regulations guarantee that the products are of the hightest quality, not only in the end product but also all of the source materials used to make the product itself; and importantly, in the areas of both production methods and food safety. The products can be traced back to their sources and are directly linked to the regions (and sometimes even villages) where they are produced. They are certified this manner because they are ultimately unique to the region. Things like climate, environmental factors, and the human element of method all influence the designation and tell the story of the products themselves.
The foods of Umbria have several DOP designations— Proscuitto di Norcia DOP is a large (over 8.5kg) dried, cured proscuitto that undergoes a lengthy process of dry salting, rinsing, drying, smoking and curing before it can be sent on its merry way to our waiting tables. It’s lovely red-pink color and delicately spicy aroma and full flavor make Proscuitto di Norcia DOP a favorite among Italian proscuittos.
Another is possibly a little confusing due to its name Pecorino Toscano DOP. And while it says Toscana (Tuscany) in its designation, it applies to certain pecorino from Umbria as well. This is a delicious, nutty sheep’s milk cheese that is curdled using calf rennet, then made into either a soft or hard cheese that is often aged and even used with additional treatments like ash or oil. It is usually found in large cylinders that are then cut for retail sale. The cheeses can have a wide range of flavor depending on the age, going from a youthful slightly sweet to a mor mature spicy and pungent flavor.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Umbria is certainly a product of great pride for the region. We were lucky enough to be in Umbria during the harvest and got to taste some newly bottled oils at several different producers. I can’t begin to say how incredible it is to taste and discover the huge variety in flavor from one producer to the next, even with the same varieties of olives! The DOP designation for Umbria is even subdivided into five sub-regions with special regulations on the quantitiy and combinations of various varieties of olives. They also have to harvest by January 15th each year and bottle within 2 days of milling.
Truffles are yet another one of life’s greatest pleasures, at least for me, and Umbria is well known for its black truffles. You can think of them like a weird cousin to the mushroom, growing underground and normally hunted by truffle dogs specially trained to track the scent and dig them up. (Umbria does have some of the more rare and highly prized white truffles as well, but the black are far more abundant here.) In the foods of Umbria, it is common to find truffles shaved on eggs, in pasta dishes and even in dishes with fish. Yes! Fish! In spite of being landlocked, Ubmria is home to Lake Trasimeno, and the Tiber River runs all the way across it, providing many fresh water fish and even eel.
As we continue our series on the regions of Italy, we will be offering you recipes, often directly from the chefs at the restaurants we visit! The second recipe below is directly from our friend Pasqualino at Locanda del Teatro in Montefalco. And the image in the first recipe for Swiss chard is from a similar dish I had a the wonderful Delizie del Borgo in Bevagna.
In a saucepan, cover chard with water, add salt, simmer 10 minutes.
Drain and rinse under cold water, set aside
In medium skillet, gently crush garlic in olive oil to soften, add chard, saute 5 minutes
Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, cook on low 5 minutes
Season to taste, serve
Chop the garlic very fine, onion and carrots as well,put them in a fry pan and cook them until they get gold; dice the tomatoes and add them together with basil, salt, a pinch of sugar and 2 pinches of white pepper.
Cook for few minutes and add the cream; boil everything together for a little, take it out of the stove and blend everything adding the ricotta cheese.
Once is all homogenous, filter it and serve it warm with a quarter of boiled quail egg,chopped parsley and a hint of olive oil .
Locanda del Teatro Piazza del Comune,19 06036 Montefalco (PG) +39 347 7882235
We hope so much that you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about the regional foods of Umbria! Do you have a favorite Umbrian food? A favorite recipe? Restaurant? Share it with us! We’d love to hear from YOU! UP next the Wines of Umbria!