Umbria is a foodie’s dream. The array of dishes to sample can be overwhelming. If you’re like most visitors, you’re going to have to prioritize. Be sure and leave space at the top of your list for our collection of hidden treasures. These gastronomical specialties are well known to locals, but are only just beginning to acquire fame in the outside world. Leave room in your suitcase, you’ll want take some of these delicious treats home with you.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Umbria’s rich soil and mild climatic conditions are perfect for growing olives. This optimal combination of soil and weather allow the fruit to mature slowly, producing a specific amount of acidity. Olives are harvested during early in November, before the maturing process is complete; this ensures the perfect amount of acidic flavor. Umbria produces some of Italy’s finest olive oils, which are renowned for their gentle, fruity taste.
PROSCIUTTO DI NORCIA
Prosciutto di Norcia is one of the finest examples of the delicious, thinly sliced, slow-cured ham. This particular prosciutto hails from the town of Norcia. In Italian, the term “norcino” refers to an inhabitant of Norcia, but it also refers specifically to the skilled pork butchers of this small town in southeastern Umbria. Nocia’s “norcini” are artisans whose skills have been held in high regard for centuries, not just in Italy but throughout Europe.
Umbria is the leading producer of truffles in Italy. Its climate and rich terrain provide the perfect soil for growing truffles. The famous black truffles of Norcia (tuber melanosporum) prefer the hills and can be found near oaks and walnut trees. These treasured fungi are usually purplish black with white veins. Olive oils are often infused with Norcian truffles and are used widely in Umbrian cuisine.
For over 2,000 years, the Chianina has been reared in Umbria’s verdant Tiber Valley. The Chianina is one of the most highly-prized breeds of cattle in the world. It has a distinct white color and is noted for its huge size. And, of course, the meat is excellent. The Chianina produces Italy’s famous bistecca alla fiorentina, or Florentine-style steak. Chianina steaks can be grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, and are often seasoned with salt, black pepper and olive oil.
LENTILS OF NORCIA
The lentils grown in the high plains of Castelluccio are sown in the spring. In July and August the plants are cut and dried in order to remove the seeds. Castelluccio lentils are quite different than other lentils: the climate and soil of Umbria produce a bean with a thin skin and soft consistency, allowing for them to be cooked without having to be soaked first. In keeping with centuries-old tradition, the lentils of Norcia have always been organically cultivated, without the use of chemicals and always processed by hand.
Umbria has a long tradition of sheep farming and, consequently, cheese-making. Umbria’s pastures are responsible for some of Italy’s finest cheeses. Among the region’s best-known cheeses are its Caciotta, Crescenza (a fresh, creamy cheese), Black Truffle Cheese, Scamorza, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Pecorino, Provolone, Nanetta (fresh, un-fermented cheese) and Ravigiolo.
THE CANNARA ONION
For centuries onions have been grown in the rich, sandy soil around Cannara. There are three main varieties of Cannara onions: The Rossa di Toscana or di Firenze has a deep red round bulb, which is flattened on top. The Borettana di Rovato is straw yellow with a flattened bulb. The Dorata di Parma has a golden bulb shaped like a spinning top.
THE LAKE TRASIMENO BEAN
The Lake Trasimeno bean has been grown from time immemorial in the damp valley floor, which accounts for its excellent quality. Rich in vitamins, protein and mineral salts, this delicious legume is a nutritious and versatile ingredient that can be used in soups and salads.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. It’s derived from the stamens of the saffron crocus flower. Saffron is cultivated in two towns in Umbria, Città della Pieve and Cascia. These towns host saffron festivals in October, when the crocus flowers are harvested by hand. Saffron gives a light yellow-orange coloring to foods and is prized by chefs the world over.
Umbria’s capital city of Perugia is home to world famous Baci chocolates and is often called the Chocolate City. It houses one of the most important Nestlè headquaters and is home to the world famous Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina (Perugina chocolate school). There are also numerous other small artisanal chocolate shops throughout this area which produce exceptional chocolates. Every October, Perugia hosts Eurochocolate, an annual festival dedicated to the chocolate of Umbria. The festival attracts over one million tourists and features everything from theater and music performances to cooking demonstrations and chocolate art exhibits. When the weather is warm you can’t walk through town without catching the scent of chocolate wafting through the air.