Italy Trip 2017

PART 1 : Naples & Sorrento



PART 2: Sorrento, Pompeii, Cantina del Vesuvio, Positano



PART 3: Sorrento (Staying Local)



PART 4: Capri, Quanto Basta Ristorante



PART 5: Ravello, Villa Cimbrone, Amalfi, Atrani



PART 6: Family time at Altabella Properties



PART 7: Time with Vicky & John

Italy Trip 2017: Food Adventures

This is a short slideshow of some of the delicious places we ate at in the Amalfi Coast and Tuscumbria (Tuscany/Umbria).



Italy Trip 2017: Portraits & Pictures

This past summer we went on another fun-filled trip to Italy. We had the opportunity to explore parts of the Amalfi Coast and Tuscumbria (Tuscany/Umbria). Below is a slideshow of some of the portraits and pictures that we took.


For both the casual and experienced traveler, Italy is a wonderful place to visit. From its exquisite dishes, savory wines and sweeping landscapes to its architectural marvels and artistic masterpieces Italy offers something for everyone.

While our family has traveled throughout Italy over the years, there is one particular area that is nestled in between a narrow stretch of land bordering both Tuscany and Umbria that holds special significance for our family as it has become both a place of family gathering and a favorite holiday destination.

We call this area "Tuscumbria" as it is neither fully Tuscan nor fully Umbrian as a result of the constant border changes over the past centuries. While the area of Tuscumbria is not officially recognized by the Italian government and the boundaries have not been legally demarcated, we recognize this area as belonging to both Tuscany and Umbria because of the cultural similarities found in many of its small towns. As of today, this area loosely stretches from the environs of Cortona through the small towns in the Niccone Valley (up to Umbertide) to the small lake towns dotting the northern shores of Lago Sul Trasimeno. Indeed, there are some who believe that Tuscumbria should encompass a far bigger geographic area (to include Assisi, Cortona, Perugia, Gubbio, Todi, Orvieto) but we will leave that up to the experts to define.


Tuscumbria offers something for everyone and is an excellent place for families with children or for those who want to escape the heavily touristed areas and is truly a hidden gem of Italy. We love Tuscumbria because it offers the best of both Tuscany and Umbria along with a wide variety of activities for families and adventurers alike. With beaches (Lago Sul Trasimeno), golf courses, horse back riding, bicycling, truffle hunting, wine & olive oil tasting, vinyard tours, concerts, water parks, agriturismi, villa rentals and five star restaurants at three star prices Tuscumbria is an ideal travel destination for anyone.

This travel blog will outline some of the most basic and, in our opinion, most important information that you will need to plan your visit to Italy with a strong focus on the Tuscumbrian area of Italy. Because this area is both a part of Umbria and Tuscany regions, many towns and cities belonging to these two magnificent regions along with some of their restaurants, places of interest and accommodations will also be touched upon and talked about.

We are also big technology fans and will be providing our readers with information on tech gadgets that we believe will enhance (not detract from) one's travel experiences.

It is our hope that this travel blog will serve as resource for people who plan on taking their next trip to this wonderful part of Italy.  If you have any reviews or comments you would like to submit please contact us and we'll be happy to consider adding them to this travel blog. Reviews of restaurants, places and accommodations will be periodically added to and/or updated.

Please always keep in mind that change happens constantly so please make sure to use this travel blog only as a supplement to the travel research you are conducting as doing so will further ensure that your travel information is both current and reliable.  

Thank you for taking time to stop by our travel blog and we hope you check back periodically for upates, news and views on everything Tuscumbria!





Umbria, Italy’s Best-Kept Culinary Secret, Is Budding

(Picture taken in Umbria at Altabella Properties, 2015)

 

Umbria, Italy’s Best-Kept Culinary Secret, Is Budding

By ERIC ASIMOV via The NY TIMES

NORCIA, Italy — Norcia, a small town in Umbria, is little known outside Italy. It’s not a celebrity hill town like Siena or a religious destination like Assisi, but in Italian food its name is even more resonant.
Norcia has been famous for centuries for its butchers and the extraordinary array of cured meats they produce. Last month it acquired a wider and sadder renown as the town closest to the epicenter of a deadly earthquake.

Norcia, like most of Umbria, was touched but not transformed. The most serious damage was just south of Umbria, in the devastated towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, which, like Norcia, lie in the foothills of the volatile central Apennine mountain range. San Pellegrino di Norcia, a village near here, was leveled; many of its residents are still living in tent villages (where, photographs show, volunteers and field kitchens have been dispatched to produce pasta and tomato-meat sauce from scratch).

Good food may seem like a low priority when nearly 300 people have lost their lives and thousands more their homes. But in Italy, it is an obvious panacea in a disaster.

The salumifici of Norcia (NOR-cha), where the magnificent prosciuttos and salamis are produced, are intact. “To be honest, we were much more scared for our lives than for the meats,” said Paolo Viola, the owner of Norcineria Viola. “It didn’t even cross our minds.”

Structural damage in Umbria was extensive, but there were no reports of fatalities, largely because the province had been decimated by earthquakes in 1979 and 1997, and most buildings had already been rebuilt to code.

The immediate problems for the province’s food producers and restaurant chefs are logistical, according to Ramon Rustici, a pig farmer outside Assisi, who said that many small roads remain closed. And their long-term concern is that the disaster will deter people from coming to the region to eat, just as gastro-tourism has begun to take off here.

Umbria is known in Italy as the nation’s “cuore verde,” its green heart, where the landscape still reflects ancient traditions — agricultural, artistic and spiritual. But the rest of the world knows little about the region and its cuisine: its gold-green olive oil, its rich red wines, its diverse grains and its unmatched artistry in salumi.

In the great medieval hill towns like Bevagna, Assisi and Todi, built by counts and cardinals to show off their wealth, there are restaurants with professional chefs who cook in a modern, creative style. They spin global variations on the classic Umbrian dish porchetta, a juicy roast of pork tightly rolled around garlic and herbs. But they do not seem to cook much certifiably Umbrian food.
“The young people here will take a Japanese cooking class or a tapas class, but not an Umbrian cooking class,” said Letizia Mattiacci, who teaches in her home kitchen in the hills above Assisi, where I visited several weeks before the earthquake.

“Their mothers and grandmothers make this, and it’s not interesting to them,” she said, gesturing at the hand-cranked pasta roller she uses to cut fresh strangozzi, long noodles that are fat and pointed at both ends.
Ms. Mattiacci is part of a new wave of cooks, farmers, chefs and bakers working to preserve and popularize the food of Umbria, which has long been upstaged by its neighbors.

Like Parma in Emilia-Romagna, Umbria produces spectacular aged prosciutto; like the Roman province of Lazio, it has richly flavored sheep’s milk cheeses and vegetables; like Tuscany, it boasts ancient traditions of making bread, olive oil and wine, and it has a staggering variety of beans and pulses. Umbria is Italy’s largest producer of black truffles, which are lavishly used in season (but not as prestigious as the ones from Piedmont).

Umbria’s size — just over 3,000 square miles, smaller than Connecticut — may have limited its global audience, but the scarcity of tourists has helped preserve traditional cooking.

Many restaurants, like Centro de lu Munnu in Foligno, which is run by three generations of the Savini family, still produce classic Umbrian dishes like pasta with potato and veal ragù; tomato-braised snails; and torta al testo, a griddled flatbread that perfectly sets off the region’s salumi.

The restaurant’s name means “center of the world” in old Umbrian dialect, referring to an ancient belief that Umbria, because it is in the center of the Italian peninsula, is the center of the world.

“Umbria is small, so from ancient times, each area had its own way of calling things, and many of them are still alive,” said Diego Mencaroni, who manages an international artists’ retreat, Civitella Ranieri, in a grand and ramshackle 15th-century castle in Umbertide.

From the top to the bottom of the Valle Umbra, a distance of only about 40 miles, the pasta made by Ms. Mattiacci has at least six other names: umbricelli, ciriole, anguilette, manfricoli, bigoli, picchiarelli. Not only the names are different; from one hilltop to the next, recipes and tastes can vary tremendously. “Whether you mince the garlic or cut it into slivers, or what you use to marinate the chicken for cacciatora, here it makes a big difference,” Ms. Mattiacci said.


Umbrian cooks traditionally agree on one thing: Fresh pasta here should be made of nothing more than flour and water. Women pride themselves on being able to make tender, springy pasta without eggs, using a vigorous full-body kneading motion they call “a culu mossu” (with a moving butt), which looks something like dancing a samba. (For modern or modest cooks, the constant movement of the food processor is a good substitute.)

Umbria is landlocked, and its native vegetables and fruits, both domesticated and wild, have always formed the basis of its cuisine. “Everywhere you find growing nettles, flowers, asparagus, fennel,” said Romana Ciubini, a native Umbrian who is the chef at Civitella Ranieri, as she prepared sambuca (elderflower) sprigs for deep-frying.

Ancient and native strains of beans and pulses are being unearthed and cultivated anew. Most of Umbria’s foods that carry the European Union’s D.O.P. label (certifying that the product is characteristic of a specific place and produced there to traditional standards) are in this humble category: farro (wheat) from Spoleto, lentils from Castelluccio and several kinds of broad beans.

Roveja, a kind of pea that was cultivated for centuries in the Apennine foothills on Umbria’s eastern border and later thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in 1998, when a woman digging a basement found a buried jar of them. Now they are carefully nurtured, sold at premium prices and prized for their nutritional properties and earthy flavor.

“Those were considered food for poor people, even for animals,” Ms. Ciubini said. “And now they are served in the best restaurants.”

The prettiest landscape in the province, the Valle Umbra, runs from Perugia, the Umbrian capital in the north, to Spoleto in the south. It still looks like what it was in antiquity: the bottom of a shallow lake chain that was later drained by the Romans.

The valley’s soft green hills, spreading views and famously fertile soil all derive from this history. Today, the landscape is largely unchanged from that painted in 15th-century frescoes by Giotto and Piero della Francesca in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis, as depicted in churches around the region, loved the Umbrian countryside so much, he insisted on being carried from his grand church on the rocky mountain to die on its grassy floor.



For centuries, Umbrian farmers were small producers of diverse crops, fully occupied by feeding their own families and supplying the local castles and monasteries. (Both the Franciscan and the Benedictine orders were founded here and lived rather grandly at times.)

In the 20th century, agricultural and transportation technology inspired many regions of Italy to move toward large-scale farming, planting acres of tomatoes, olive trees and grapevines to meet international demand. But Umbria mostly kept its polyculture family farms, and the province fell behind others in culinary production, tourism and self-promotion.

Ramon Rustici, a young farmer in the hills above Assisi, said that today, the region is reaping the advantages of maintaining the old ways. “When times became very hard for Italian farmers in between and after the wars,” he said, “the families here sustained ourselves, instead of losing our land.” Now, under the custodianship of three brothers, the Fratelli Rustici pig farm embodies modern values of sustainability and animal welfare.

Even the earthquake has brought Umbria some welcome attention. Filippo Gallinella, an Umbrian legislator, called last week on Italians to support the region by choosing products like prosciutto di Norcia and Castelluccio lentils for their cesti natalizi, baskets stuffed with delicacies that are traditionally made and exchanged at Christmastime.

If Umbria is truly famous for anything, it is for salumi, salt-cured pork products that expertly use every bit of the animal. The attention is all focused on this town: Norcia, so synonymous with sausages and salamis that anywhere you see a restaurant dish labeled al norcino, or alla norcina, you know it will be enriched with pork fat and flavor.

Umbria is on about the same latitude as other places that produce magnificent, naturally slow-cured hams: Virginia and Kentucky, the forests of southern Spain where Iberico pigs prowl for acorns, and the breezy Zhejiang province of China, where Jinhua ham is made.

Umbrian prosciutto, which has a protected status similar to the famous hams of Parma and San Daniele, tastes quite different from those. Prosciutto di Norcia is aged for at least two years, not 12 to 18 months, allowing the meat more time to cure, contract and concentrate its flavors.

Like the best jamón Ibérico, it is red and meaty, not pink and limp. Gino Migliosi, who cures prosciuttos for the Fratelli Rustici farm, said he leaves them to cure for two and a half years in caves dug into the hillsides outside Norcia — in the traditional way, relying on natural temperature fluctuations, breezes and yeasts instead of the climate control or convection fans that many modern producers use.

Umbrian prosciutto and salumi are wonderful, but are prized in Italy, so very little makes it beyond national borders. Local cooks like Ms. Ciubini use small amounts of local prosciutto, guanciale (jowl) and pancetta (belly) to add richness to traditional cucina povera, the cooking of the poor. (In Italian, that phrase is not as patronizing as it sounds in English; it is a respectful description of the art of thrifty cooking.)

Ms. Ciubini, when faced with stale breadcrumbs, may create a classic panzanella salad or thick tomato soup, but she can also make them into a really luxurious dish, in which they are soaked in eggs, milk and grated cheese, then squeezed out and pinched into gnocchi.

For a simple sauce, any seasonal vegetables are braised with olive oil and minced salumi while the gnocchi have a quick boil; the vegetable pot is deglazed with white wine, the gnocchi drained, and all is tossed together over low heat in a huge pot. At Civitella Ranieri, Ms. Ciubini often makes this for the visiting painters, poets, sound artists and graphic novelists — all of whom have a hot, handmade lunch delivered daily to the studios where they work.

“Cooking everything from scratch takes a lot of time,” she said. “But it is the only kind of cooking that is worth the work.”



FOR THE FULL ARTICLE: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/dining/umbria-italy-food-cooking.html?ref=dining&_r=0 

 

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