Entering Umbria

The day we left Rome, we stopped for lunch in a small Umbrian hilltop town called Todi. Jay had heard it was pretty, and we were not led astray. It was just our kind of town – mostly locals, no one spoke english, and a nice variety of shops selling the local specialties. We did a bit of shopping in the sleepy and ancient looking center of town and took in an unbelievably beautiful view from the top of the hill.

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Lunch was just down the hill from the center, and after a bit of maneuvering in the steep narrow streets we found a perfect parking spot. The restaurant had a small shaded courtyard for outdoor dining, and the stone walls provided needed coolness for the warm afternoon.

Since Umbria is famous for their salumi, or cured meats, we ordered the mixed salumi plate for one of our antipasti. The plate included cured beef, cooked ham, turkey breast, pork mortadella, wild boar mortadella, two kinds of venison sausage, and the house specialty: cured duck salumi. As you can imagine, they were all absolutely delicious, so I’ll just talk about our especial favorites. Wild boar mortadella. Really not overrated – it was so delicious, and with a perfect texture and light but specific flavor that had us almost fighting for the last slice. The duck salumi was everything they told us – intense flavor, but fatty and smooth. It’s making my mouth water thinking about it. It went perfectly with the local wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco; big, tannic, and full of rich red fruit and earthiness.

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The other antipasti was a grilled mortadella. Believe it or not, before I came to Italy I didn’t think I really liked mortadella. That changed last year after a visit to the birthplace of mortadella, Bologna. However, I had never heard of grilled mortadella until we came here. Usually, mortadella is very thinly sliced and served cold. This was thick, hot, and generously drizzled with balsamic vinegar (And what is wrong with that??!). The smell when they brought it to the table… salty, meaty, kind of like hot sausages but even richer. It was amazing – really the first truly surprising and inspiring dish this time around. It’s a good thing they gave us two slices.

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Our pastas were a saffron risotto with fresh grated cheese overtop, and a spaghettoni (fat spaghetti) with black truffle. They were good, but the salumi was better. I enjoyed the saffron risotto – it was perfectly cooked, well seasoned, and the saffron was not too overpwering. The spaghettoni was literally covered in layers of black truffle, inside and out, which sounds amazing, but honestly I was a little underwhelmed with the flavor. Umbria is known for both summer and winter black truffles, but the summer truffles, although tasty, are comparatively bland. I will have to visit during winter truffle season next time!

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The truffled smoked pork chop, which we shared for our entrée, was awesome. Lots of fat, flavor, and salt, and the truffles, although mild, complemented the dish nicely. There were also some porcini mushrooms thrown in, which I liked. Apparently they are not in season, and so were frozen. However they added a nice texture and subtle flavor to the dish.

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For dessert, we shared a polenta cake smothered in custard and wild blackberries. We paired it with a Sagratino passito, a sweeter, more concentrated version of the local red wine, Sagratino di Montefalco. It was a beautiful pairing and a nice finish to the meal. Jay went in to use the restroom before we left, and came back out with a couple of glasses of digestive. Apparently the proprietor was bottling his homemade thyme infused liquor that day and offered Jay a taste. It was heavenly – the kind of unexpected extra that leaves you almost heartbroken, knowing you will probably never find anything like it anywhere else.

Overall, Todi was a successful stop, a beautiful and friendly introduction to Umbria. Gorgeous views, fun food, and interesting shopping. Next, on to Norcia.

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