If you ask some foreigners living in Italy about which region they like best, Umbria pops up quite often. I would think it would be Tuscany as it is the most popular region, but instead, Umbria seems to get the attention of everyone. Even Italians themselves would soften their voice a notch when you speak about Umbria. What does it have that captures everyone's hearts?
The landscape is beautiful, almost like a painting. The wine is something to boast about and the food doesn't trail too far behind. Artisan products made of fabric and ceramics are not to be ignored too. I, for one, buy my fabric table needs from Umbria when I can. They have a particular style that is uniquely theirs. With my recent trips to the region, I was able to add some Umbrian artisan stuff to my growing food props collection. Somebody please stop me!
This month, I went there twice, to different towns. And I know that I still owe you a post about the towns I visited the other time. Perugia, Acquasparta & Assisi are in my line-up of posts to put together. Then there is also another one that I am dedicating to Montefalco, Bevagna, Spello & Spoleto. All beautiful and waiting to be shared to you. Just please be patient with me. I am in between important projects that I will tell you about when they are final. Meantime, let's speak about the breakfast, wine & oil.
|Spirito Divino Country House|
Believe it or not, I find breakfasts as the most curious meal of the day. Every country has its own peculiarity. And every region in Italy has its own too. Remember my post about the Sicilian summer breakfast? They have granita with brioche or the brioche with gelato.
|Our mini-apartment in Spirito Divino Country House, 2 floors with kitchen|
In Umbria, I had a discussion once with a store owner about the typical breakfast in the area. He told me that on a normal day, there is a slice of bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil then topped with jam, a cup of cappuccino, espresso, hot tea or juice (depends on what you want to drink), local biscuits like ciambelline del bacco. Now everyone spreads jam on their toasts in the morning but I found that what's underneath that jam differs in some places. In our house, my husband taught me to put butter under the jam. Where I grew up, it was just jam or butter or margarine but not together. In Umbria, it's extra virgin olive oil because it's a region that gives importance to its oil.
|Ristorante Spirito Divino in Bevagna|
When traveling around Italy, my husband and I like staying in agriturismi (farm houses), bed & breakfasts, castles, monasteries & dimore storiche (historic houses). The country is full of them. The places have more charisma and history than regular hotels. I like learning about the families who run them, how old the places are and how intertwined they are with the area's history.
|Inside Ristorante Spirito Divino in Bevagna|
During our stay in Montefalco, we veered out of the city walls, into the countryside and in the midst of vineyards and olive orchards. Spirito Divino Country House seemed like a new place but its position was wonderful. It also has a restaurant/pizzeria that is quite popular with the locals. We tried their award-winning Neapolitan pizzas (thick crust) and if you are there, I do recommend that you try one of them. And if you have kids, here's a great thing - they have a tata (nanny) to take care of your little ones in their playroom while you enjoy the food.
|Inside Ristorante Spirito Divino|
If you search Spirito Divino, you might get confused just like we did at the beginning. It has 2 bed & breakfast structures located in Montefalco and another one in the center of another town close by, Bevagna. They also have a restaurant in Bevagna with the same name and where we dined twice. If there's nanny service, good food & wine, then it's the place for us.
|Sagrantino grape vines|
Just a few hundred meters from where we were staying outside Montefalco is the Bocale Vineyard owned by the Valentini Family. They conduct wine tours and on one sunny morning, we listened to Valentino, the son of the owner, explain about the viticulture in their area. They have 5 hectares of land, 4 of which are dedicated to vineyards growing Sangiovese, Merlot & Sagrantino grapes.
With these grapes, they produce two kinds of wine, the Montefalco Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot & Sagrantino grapes and the Montefalco Sagrantino which is made of 100% Sagrantino grapes. Aside from these two kinds of wine, they also have a production of Montefalco Sagrantino Passito, the straw wine made exclusively of Sagrantino grapes and Grappa di Sagrantino made of fermented Sagrantino grapes.
Because our wine tasting didn't coincide with the release of their new Sagrantino wines (to be released in January 2014) and they just finished their old bottles from the previous harvest, we tried their Montefalco Rosso with bruschette drowned with their own production of extra virgin olive oil. It was fantastic!
The also have a very small production of extra virgin olive oil that merits to be mentioned. According to our little 8-year old oil connoisseur, Bocale's extra virgin olive oil was the best he has tried throughout our weekend. Yes, we bought their last can before heading home as proposed by our son.
|Valentino Valentini of Bocale Vineyard|
At the edge of the town of Bevagna, we went to Frantoio Petasecca Donati to learn about the pressing of olives and how they go through the process of becoming oil. The olives were simply pressed to take out their natural oils. Quite straightforward and for that, extra virgin olive oil is considered one of the healthiest oil that exists.
It had been quite an educational weekend, not only for us but also for the kids. Sure, they did not listen so much (probably didn't even listen at all!) to the ones speaking about the olives and grapes but when it was time to taste the bread & oil, they were there too, taking part in the tasting and understanding what and where the food was coming from. They were able to identify which oil they tried throughout the weekend had the milder or stronger taste and which one fit best with plain bread like how they enjoy eating bread sometimes, just like most Italian kids. It had been a well-spent weekend. I hope I was able to reach out a little bit of information to you too.
I am hoping to come out with the post about the Umbrian towns soon. Sigh. I know I promise too much. That's because I am very deep in my backlog of work. I will be sharing a recipe soon though. Thanks and I hope you enjoyed this post!