Norcia’s place in the sun

May 7, 2013 / Food & Wine
Norcia, Umbria
Black gold: a truffle from the Norcia area of Umbria(..part of this great series of five notes.)

Cured pork and artisanal cheeses aren’t all Norcia has to offer: there are the three varieties of black truffle, plus Chianina beef, Fario trout from the Nera river, and lamb from farms in the National Park of the Sibillini Mountains. Truffles are harvested, usually with dogs, in three seasons: from December to the first half of March there is Tuber Melanosporum Vittadinis, while Tuber Aestivum is found from June through August and Tuber Uncinatum from October to December.

The winter truffles are the most desired and expensive – Flavio offers diners a choice between Aestium and Melanospurum Vittadinis with his handmade tagliolini. He also serves truffles with roasted lamb from the Sibillini. During the Truffle Festival in February, the whole town is infused with the earthy scent of the rough black jewels, which are weighed and sold to visitors from kiosks along streets lined with dozens of Norcineria, the ubiquitous butcher shops hung with prosciutto and salami.

castelluccio-norcia4Twenty miles away, at more than 5,000 feet, is the Piano Grande di Castelluccio, a vast pastured plateau (15 sq miles) rimmed by a circle of mountains. The plain bursts into spectacular bloom in late June when the lentils and other beans flower. (The incredible Festa della Fiorita is 3rd and 4th sunday in June!) Castelluccio lentils are protected by European Union PGI status; the area also produces farro (spelt) and Roveja peas, which are prized by Umbrian cooks, including Chef Flavio.

Who goes to Norcia? Those cognoscenti who prize the Norcineria meats and the other specialty foods available here, along with Europeans who trek and cross country ski the national park. More and more international travelers began discovering this foodie paradise after the completion of the 4-kilometer tunnel through the mountains, making Norcia just half an hour from Spoleto.

Good girl! She found a truffle

Umbria's perfect food: the black truffle
Grating truffles over fresh pasta after the truffle hunt
Norcia: home of Umbrian truffles, legumes, salumeria and St. Benedict
castelluccio-norcia8

castelluccio-norcia7

Sharri Whiting

by Sharri Whiting

Sharri writes about food, wine and international travel from Umbria, where she and her husband grow olives. In addition to articles, she writes a blog,  UmbriaBella. Her app, Olive Oil IQ is a portable encyclopedia for foodies and culinary travelers (iTunes & Android). Follow her on Twitter: @umbriabella and @oliveoiliq. Facebook: www.facebook.com/UmbriaBella, and www.facebook.com/oliveoiliq

12 Responses to “Norcia’s place in the sun”

  1. David Ewing

    Great article.
    Small factual quibble: As I understand it, farro is not spelt; rather the name for it in English is emmer wheat. Could be wrong.

    Reply
    • David, my research agrees with you! I love the stuff! If you get the chance, my blog is all about food, travel and more. An admitted Italiophile (both the wonderful foods and travelling there) and long to return almost as soon as I come home!

      Reply
  2. Gioia, fresh truffles grated over buttered pasta!!… Sob, impossible for me to have here in California!! I’ve tried the farmed California varieties which are a no-go being they have a flavor reminiscent of old rubber. To taste even the smallest slice of a fresh Italian truffle is to realize the true definition of the word ambrosial (“food of the gods”). Thank you Sharri…

    Reply
  3. Norcia is a lovely spot to stroll and take photos. I prefer Umbrian villages to Toscana because they are, in general, less crowded woth tourists. I especially liked the shops with the clinghiale in or outiside the shop windows. Everything else there is a bonus. Driving there is not difficult for the first time traveler either.

    Reply
  4. Thanks, Sharri, sounds wonderful! We’ll be arriving in Italy in less than two weeks for our annual visit and will try to make it to Norcia this time.

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  5. Thea Reynolds

    I know what we will be doing that first Sunday at La Casetta Rosa. Thanks so much for this wonderful posting.

    Reply
  6. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks, Shari, for your note and let us hope for a pause in all this rain: truffle hunter Italo told me today all the “tartufari” are getting worried – as the truffle needs rain but not too much. Sun and warmth needed too.
    Hope you have less rain in the Norcia area than we are having now in the Assisi area!

    Reply
  7. Fiona

    Totally agree with John, although our locally grown truffles in Australia are supposed to be very good.
    I will be visiting in Septmber, i had originally planned to visit Norcia after reading other articles, but somehow got distracted from the idea….. Now im back on plan!
    I am travelling alone and will not have a car… Can anyone tell me the best way to travel from Cortona, Tuscany to Norcia, any advice would be helpful!

    Reply
  8. Domemic Piccolomini

    Yes we liked your note Sharri! Ah! Norcia and Castelluccio two of our favorate places. The Pork Products, Cheeses and Truffles of Norcia, and the Lentil Fields in Bloom in late June surrounded by the beautiful Sibillini National Park, are worth a visit. The roasted Lamb is from the area is not to be passed up. This region of Unbria is truly beautiful. Barbara and I visit this area every year when we go to Italy. Thank You Sharri!

    Reply
  9. Hi Sharri,

    Our visit to Norcia was incredible (for one who lusts after Italian delicacies). OMG, the fresh pasta with shaved truffles, the Casteluccio lentils and the farro! I always bring bags of the lentils and farro home with me and use them as special treats! I can smell the truffles from here!

    Reply
    • Domemic Piccolomini

      Phyllis, My wife Barbara and I will be in Norcia, Casteluccio and Pretare next week for 7 days starting on August 31. Yes we can smell the Truffles and taste the lentils and lamb already

      Reply
      • Domemic, by now your trip must be winding down and I hope it was a huge success! We will be going back to Italy in the spring but not to Umbria….this time a couple of weeks in Roma (so much we didn’t see the last time) and then up to Tuscany for the 4th time, for a further two weeks. I am almost counting the days! I wish we could live forever so that we could return to Italy over and over and over but other countries beckon. Luckily the list is not too long and we just might be able to squeeze another trip to Italy in after visiting the others! I certainly hope so…

        If you get the chance, perhaps you might like to have a look at my blog stories about our visits to Italy. Here’s a link to one of the posts http://oracibo.com/735/back-to-italy/ Ciao!

        Reply

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