Here in Assisi, we certainly hope that the November UNTO festival will not in any way be the final or last oil (as in “Extreme Unction”); after all, for Catholics, Extreme Unction has a finality. The final anointing for those in danger of death takes its name from the Latin, unguere (“to anoint”) – and one nearing death here in Italy is “in extremis”
In early November, Assisi launched its first UNTO festival and at first, the name puzzled more than a few of us “locals” as it means “greasy”, “oiled” or “anointed” And “
untuoso” (“oily”) can have the same negative connotations as “unctuous”: “slippery’, “greasy”, “insincerely agreeable or earnest”. Over espresso in the cafés on the main piazza, we speculated on the choice of a name like that for a festival in this gem of a medieval hilltown, albeit a festival highlighted by olive oil tastings.
And then the posters announcing this first-ever four-day festival fêting the historical and cultural links of the typical food products of the area clarified all: UNTO is an acronym for Unesco Natura Territorio Olio. The festival intertwined various local cultural associations, the area farmers, Assisani and visitors in a celebration of not just the prized Umbria olive oil but also its esteemed wines, truffles, prosciutti, salami and sheep’s milk cheeses. And not only gastronomical stars of Umbria took the stage, but also local handcrafts, from Assisi’s traditional embroidery to silks dyed with olive leaves, pompegranate and other vegetative colors.
As visitors wandered the stands set up in front of the 1st-century B.C. Roman temple in the main square, a tango music band enthroned on the town fountain added festive notes to the UNTO days. Small shuttle buses transported visitors to the area olive mills in the Umbrian countryside to watch the pressing of the new olive oils, offered on bruschetta. Other visitors headed into the 14th-c
palazzo municipale for a cooking class highlighting Umbrian goodness.
UNTO: a celebration of “oily”….and we hope it won’t be the last!
An Umbrian tour guide in Italy most of the year, Anne also teaches Umbrian rural cuisine in private homes in the U.S. in February and March (see
Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s and rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for Anne. She writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. See www.annesitaly.com for more on her tours, cooking classes, lectures – and her blog! Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment she and Pino now rent out!