In contrast to some of the more robust regions of Italy, such as Tuscany with its active practicality, Umbria often seems romantic in the eyes of those that pass through it -
"Umbria! The name seems to describe a countryside of faint shadows that populate valleys, and gather in ancient hilltop cities, filling the air on deeply silent nights . . . . Here the sun shines gently through a transparent veil, so tranquil and limpid are the waters that flow . . . . The world will find a treasure of innocence and contentment here that will redeem its many sorrows and losses. And until that moment blessed Umbria will appear as a hallowed refuse for all reasons, troubled souls, an island of salvation for anyone who has raised the distress signal on his ship of life".
Umbria's landscape of lush green rolling hills, picturesque forests and clear blue lakes does give the go region a look of a fairytale land. The landscape is dotted with historical buildings, non more historical than the monasteries of Assisi, founded by St. Francis of Assisi. According to legend St. Francis picked worms up out f the ground to prevent people from trampling them and he is also have said to have bought honey and wine to the bees to help them survive the winter, saved lambs from the slaughter and freed rabbits from traps and called all animals his brother. The poetic world of St. Francis's Cantico della creature (canticle of the creatures) is said to have been inspired by Assisi in Umbria. Every may a medieval costume feast is held in Assisi, but possibly the the dismay of St. Francis himself, wild boars are roasted and spelt soup is enjoyed by all. It is also from these same wild boar that the principle product of Umbria is made . . Wild boar prosciutto. Due to Umbria's rather sparse population, farming and animal breeding her is less intensive than other regions of Italy. Food here comes from the meadows, lakes and woods, even the cooking equipment of the region is made of naturally grown materials, no stainless steel here. The regions principle flatbread, al testo, was cooked on a natural testo made from a disk of local river gravel, but unfortunately now they are made from rather less romantic cast iron.
The best food of Umbria is often referred to as "black gold", this term could refer to the black wild boar prosciutto but its the regions amazing black truffles.. White truffles also grow in Umbria in the area around Val Tiberina, Orvieto and Eugubino-Gualdese. But the regions famous black truffles flourish around the towns of Norcia and Spoleto. Of all the truffles found in the region the best varieties are known as the muscat variety which is found in winter.
The prosciutto's of Norcia are the undisputed pride of the region, no part of the pig is wasted here, some parts are eaten fresh, some are made into sausages and eaten a few days later, and other parts a cured as salami, prosciutto and lardo. The regions pride and joy prosciutto is made from the boars hind leg, which after a long and exacting process is dry-salted then kept in salt for about a month. The salt dehydrates "drains" the prosciutto, after this the lt is washed off and the leg is reshaped, seasoned with salt and pepper then hung for the long drying process, around seven or eight months in total, but some are aged for over a year. The two key factors of any good cured product is salt and time. Other cured products made in Umbria include capocollo hams, salami, head cheese and the famous Coglioni di Mulo, "mules testicle" salami.
Another regional speciality is Porchetta, which is a whole pig stuffed with its entrails, fennel and local herbs. Porchetta is not just eaten hot it is eaten in sandwiches cold and a sliced meat in antipasti.
Umbria has an inland sea, Lake Trasimeno, and a great number of streams. The Tiber flows through Umbria, so freshwater fish are eaten here regularly, carp, trout, perch, barbel, bleak, tench and even eels.
Wines of Umbria
Although Umbria is commonly known as the green heart of Italy, unfortunately in terms of wine making it has long been overshadowed by it's neighbouring Tuscany. Umbrian wines such as Orvieto and Montefalco are relatively well known, often despite a somewhat dubious reputation for quality (click here for more about The Wines Of Umbria).
Typical Dishes of Umbria
Spaghettoni - handmade country style thick spaghetti (shoelace size).
Impastoiata - polenta with beans
Norcia-style woodcock - stuffed with giblets, sausage, thyme, marjoram and olive oil.
Cardoons with egg.
Frittata with truffles.
Hare stuffed with olives.
Polombacci - stuffed wild pigeon.
Wild boar prosciutto with fennel.
Carp wrapped in Porchetta.
Clitunno river trout with black truffles.
Torciglione - twisted sweet dough spirals.
Ciambella - spiral shaped cake flavoured with sweet almonds, pine nuts and sugar.
Maccheroni dolci - sweet macaroni.
Pinocchiata - cake made of pine nuts and melted sugar.