As with many destinations in Italy, eating is one of the key attractions of Umbria. No frills, hearty and unfailingly local, every day is likely to bring an unforgettable dish.
We spoke to Dave Lorch from CV Travel, who knows the region well, to put together an introduction to the unmissable ingredients on the Umbrian food map.
Of course in Italy it’s no surprise that this region has its own variety of pasta. Locals are very particular about the size, shape, texture, fillings and sauces of the pasta they serve.
Don’t miss: The typical Umbrian variety known as strangozzi – it’s a rough, long noodle-type pasta. Accompanying sauces range from meaty varieties to delicious vegetable concoctions such as aubergine; onion and tomato or sautéed porcini mushrooms.
Other pasta types to try include tagliatelle, gnocci, pappardelle and the small, flat squares often used in soup and known as quadrucci.
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Modest family farming has meant that pork is the staple meat of Umbria. A favourite is roast suckling pig stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, and a variety of other wild herbs cooked on a spit over a wood fire.
Don’t miss: The porchetta sandwich which can be bought from one of the many porchettai found in piazzas across Umbri.
Local delicacy: Try a Torta al Testo, a flatbread (torta) cooked on a round metal or stone griddle traditionally set over coals, and usually served stuffed with grilled sausages, cooked greens or soft cheese and rocket.
Meat is also dried and cured into a wide array of salami, prosciutto and pancetta for delicious affettati (cold cuts). Look out for salumi from the town of Norcia, famous across Italy for its butchers and their skill in preparing a vast array of dried pork products.
Umbria relies strongly on seasonal produce such as mushrooms, wild asparagus, savoy and black cabbage, artichokes, fennel and rocket. The region is also known within Italy for its special lentil variety, which have a meatier texture than most, perfect for hearty soups and stuffing.
Don’t miss: The black earthy truffle that’s a prominent ingredient in Umbrian cuisine. Black and white truffles are used in many risotto and pasta dishes, or grated on top.
Local delicacy: The season for truffles is October through February in Umbria, and at this time you’ll experience them used generously at their freshest, which will prove an enlightening experience.
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Pastries, Sweets & Chocolate
There are many delectable pastries and sweets to be found in Umbria, many of them made with almonds (or other nuts), honey, spices, or candied fruit.
Don’t miss: The Torciglione, a serpent shaped sweet made of ground almonds, flour and sugar, Baci di San Fransesco (kisses of Saint Francis), and Ciaramicola, (sweetheart cake), the latter traditionally associated with both love and Easter.
Perugia, the capital of Umbria is a famous chocolate producer. The Buitoni family started the Perugia chocolate factory in 1907 and since then the chocolate of Perugia has become internationally known especially through the export of its famous Baci (kisses), dark chocolate with ground hazelnuts, and for the city’s annual Eurochocolate Fair.
Umbria produces some exquisite olive oils thanks to its undulating terrain and climate that’s perfect for growing olives.
Don’t miss: Oils with the aroma of artichoke and green tomato and look out for some that have a peppery taste like a Tuscan olive oil. Others have an intense fruit flavour. There is no doubt that you will be packing your suitcase with as many bottles as your luggage allowance will accommodate.
Umbria is probably best known for its white wine produced from grapes grown in the Orvieto area but the rolling countryside covered in vines also produces some delicious red wines including Sangrantino di Montefalco and San Giovese. San Giovese wines are softer and more subdued than the full-bodied, lively Sagrantino varieties.
Don’t miss: Sagrantino Passito, a red dessert wine, often with fig and blackcurrant flavours, that provides a delicious finish to an Umbrian dinner.
To find your own favourite tipple, taste the local wines in the restaurants and vineyards of the region or head to the Museo del Vino in Torgiano to learn more about Umbrian wine.
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When to go
There is a lot to be said for planning your own unforgettable foodie adventure during the spring and autumn when the heat is less intense and the crowds are fewer, perfect for eating and exploring your way along the foodie trail. However the summer in Umbria is also fabulous and sitting under a shady terrace enjoying light vegetable dishes, simple frittata, cured meats and a slice of Pecorino accompanied by local crusty bread – is a true delight.
Where to stay
There are a number of holiday villas, cottages and apartments in Umbria. One unique option is a Il Moliino, once an ancient olive mill that has been restored by its British interior designer owner, combining the best of Italian traditions and contemporary design.
Medieval Perugia, as well as beautiful Lake Trasimeno, Assisi, Montone and Gubbio are all within a 45 minute drive, so there is every opportunity to sample chocolate in Perugia and try local dishes in the many restaurants in these beautiful towns and villages.