Monday, June 17, 2013

We Promised Parking Hints -- Here They Are

        We promised to do a post about parking in various Umbrian towns because so many visitors come by car and then don't know where to park. We don't know everything and we are ready for input from anyone who has a better idea to offer. For now, here are some  hints.


      If the lines for parking spaces are blue, you must pay for parking. Parking areas also have a P on a sign either at the spot or directing you there. Be careful not to park in a handicapped space. To pay for parking, you must find the machinetta, the self-service machine. Use coins if possible, as some won't make change. The search for the machinetta can be frustrating -- they are usually mounted on a grey column and have a P sticker. The prices can be different depending on the place, so add money until the display shows the approximate time you want to leave. Then push the green button and collect the ticket. Now you must go back to your car and place the ticket (not upside down) on your dashboard so that the police can see that you have paid and are not using an expired ticket. (At some places with blue lines and no machinetta, you may have to go in the nearest bar and ask if they sell parking tickets. If so, put it on your dashboard as you would a ticket from a machinetta).

        We like parking in the Orvietano parking lot because from there you can take the elevator up to the top of the town. We also prefer the steeper road up to Todi, which is reached coming from Ponte Rio -- there is a bridge, then an immediate right. There is a small building right at the corner. It's a straight shot up the hill to the gates of the town. Turn right there and follow the walls (and signs) around to Orvietano parking. If the elevator isn't working, there is always a shuttle bus every fifteen minutes. If you stay past midnight, you will have to walk down the steps, which are reached by taking the road next to Oberdan restaurant down to where the stairs begin. It's a parklike walk. If you think you will be later than midnight, you must pay the parking in advance so that your token will open the gate to get out of the lot. Otherwise, you'll have a problem.
        If you prefer to drive up to the top, chances are you won't find parking. There is a parking lot at Piazza Garibaldi, which is usually full, and there is some public parking in front of San Fortunato church, which is also usually full. If you don't find a place, you'll have to drive back down and start over, which is why we really like Orvietano and the elevator.
         If you decide that driving straight up the hill is too daunting, take the next road to Todi, after the train station, and you will wind your way to the top. You will arrive at a round about at Porta Romana gate to Todi. Facing the gate you will follow the walls around to the left, passing the big Bramante church (Consolazione) and staying to the left until you see the sign for Orvietano parking directing you to the right.

       *** The Orvietano parking lot has a gate at the entrance. You will take a green plastic token from the machine at the gate. You will keep this token until you leave. The token is electric and the clerk will use it to see how much to charge you. You will put it in the gate to get out. See above for after midnight departures.


      In Orvieto we like to park across from the funicolare station, which is halfway to the top of the town. Follow the signs up to the centre, up and up until you arrive at the big parking lot on your right. The funicolare station is where the shuttle buses come to take you up to the piazza of the Duomo. Also, right here is the Pozzo di San Patrizio, the historic deep well that early inhabitants used to bring water safely up from the bottom of the rocca. Buy a ticket for the shuttle for 1 Euro inside the funicolare station. You will probably want to walk back down the hill to your car, as the streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries.
       Your other option is to follow the signs to the train station and park there. You would then take the funicolare from there up to the station mentioned above, take the shuttle, etc.
       Although we often buy ceramics at the southern exit from the E45, sometimes we like to go up to the old town. The ceramics museum is a good one and there are many small studios with working artists. Therefore, drive up to the centre, following the signs. Outside the gate of the town, there are some parking spaces. If those are full, there is a bigger lot just down the road across from the cemetery.


      Thank goodness for the wonderful Mini Metro. To catch it, get off the E45 when you see the sign for the stadium (stadio) at the Madonna Alta exit. You will find a very big parking lot and the Mini Metro station there. Buy a ticket from the machine and hop on this very clever transport system. Get off at the last stop and you will be steps away from Corso Vannucci. The parking here is free.


       We like to park across the Via Flaminia (SS3) from the town and walk across the old ponte  (bridgeand down to the town. It's a very dramatic way to enter Spoleto. What you need to do is find the San Pietro church, which is on the map, across the highway from the town. Follow the road to the left and you will arrive at the entrance to the walkway across the old aquaduct. Park there. With camera in hand, walk down the path and across this amazing bridge. When you arrive on the other side, look back and take a photo. Then walk down to the little piazzetta with the fountain with the face. You are now above the Duomo. This parking is free.
      Trying to park in the town is difficult because there is a series of one way streets and if you make the wrong turn or the parking lot is full, you will have to start all over. You could try Piazza Liberta', which is where the tourist office is located, as well as the Roman theatre. There is a machinetta here.


      Assisi is the most famous town in Umbria and, therefore, can be overwhelmingly full of tourists in the summer. We take the road that passes through Santa Maria degli Angeli and drive up towards Assisi until we are almost to the top. There will be sharp turn to the right and to the left, you will see a piazza where the entrance to the big parking lot is located.
This parking lot also offers underground parking, which is very nice in summer. There are also restrooms. To get to San Francesco duomo, you will have to walk up the hill, but not nearly as far as if you park other places. You take a parking ticket when you enter the lot and pay at the booth before you leave.
       If you turn to the sharp right, as mentioned above, you will find another public parking lot on the right. From here you can walk through the entire town of Assisi to reach the Duomo, which can be interesting in cooler weather.


       Parking in the main piazza is iffy and the machinetta only gives you one hour. Plus, sometimes you can get up there, especially in tourist season, and find the road is blocked.
So, you should either 1) go in the Borgo Garibaldi gate on the west side of the walled town. As soon as you enter the gate, go left around the wall. There will be parking places along the wall, marked with blue lines, or, 2) turn left at Borgo Garibaldi outside the walls and go as far as you can toward the roundabout at the lookout point, Ringhiera Umbria. There are also parking spaces just beyond the lookout. From here you can walk up the Via Ringhiera Umbria to the Museum of San Francesco and the main piazza.


      Coming down from Montefalco, Bevagna will be on the left just as the road turns sharply to the right. The landscape is flat here. The first entrance to Bevagna can be seen from your car. There is a parking lot before the bridge outside the walls to the right. The lot can be seen from the road. Otherwise, if you go to the other end of Bevagna (towards Foligno), you will find parking outside of that gate, as well.


     Norcia is surrounded by a heart-shaped wall. We usually turn right along the wall and then left again at the point of the heart. There is parking along the wall and across the street from the gate that leads into the town on Via Roma. This is the closest way to arrive at the main piazza. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013



Siro's (Torgiano) roasted tomato caprese
     It’s time for an update: Umbrian restaurants that we know and love. This is by no means a complete list and we welcome suggestions. (Don’t forget to look on a previous post for some of our favorite outdoor eating spots).
      NOTE: We’ve included the closing day when we know it. We’ve also included a phone number. As for website links, the problem is that some places don’t have webpages and those that do often don’t translate into English. We hope we've given you enough info so that you can google.

       San Terenziano

    We have a new arrival on the piazza in ST, Buongustaio, which means “gourmet” in Italian. There are about twelve tables. The food is traditional and good. The location is convenient and easy to find for visitors to the area. Tel. 347-366-1689

      Nash and Cash still have their pizzeria, which is on the road between San Terenziano and Grutti. Since the bright lights inside are rather blinding, you might prefer to order take out or sit outside if weather permits. There are menus for pizzas with tomato sauce (rosso) and pizzas without (bianco). Pizzas here are expected to be shared with the whole table, so groups of four often order at least three. There are several sizes.
Closed Monday. Tel. 0742-932191


La chef at Le Noci
Le Noci
is always a local favorite and has been ours for fifteen years. Their pastas are wonderful, their local wines excellent, and their meats are well cooked. Avoid Sunday lunch or you will learn the real meaning of Slowww Food. Try to arrive for dinner a few minutes before eight to place your order before the locals wander in. Closed Friday. Tel. 0742-98371


         Casale dei Frontini is a typical agriturismo located on the road between San Terenziano and Todi at the village of Frontinano. You will see a big olive pressing stone at the entrance. The menu is what's cooking today, always good and always local. Call to book. Tel 075-8852174.


    The Dinosauro pizzeria has enjoyed a resurgence since the Oste lost their lease in ST and moved to Bastardo. Dino has good thin crust and lots of choices of toppings. Vegetarians will find lots to eat, as well as lovers of salumeria (cured meats) and salciccia (sausage). Closed Monday. [You would think the local pizza parlors would realize that if they both close on the same day somebody is missing out on selling pizza to the starving masses who now have to drive to Bastardo (6 km)].  Tel. 0742-98771

Bisteca at La Vecchia Cucina
      La Vecchia Cucina has been a favorite of ours since we arrived in 1997. Giovanni, the owner, and his son fly private aircraft and ride horses, in addition to serving the best Chianina bisteca fiorentina this side of Florence (see our earlier post about that succulent dish). They also serve good pasta (eggplant with sausage is terrific) and local wines. They used to close on Wednesdays, but now they close on Monday. Tel. 0742-97237

      Locanda del Prete in Saragano is the restored section of the medieval town. The views are beautiful and the setting is lovely. It’s a nice restaurant, so dress smart casual. Call in advance. Tel. 0742-98636


      This is a town to savor, from the wines to the oils to the restaurants. We enjoy two sister restaurants, the informal Federico II (Tel. 0742-378902) on the square and the charming Coccorone hidden away (follow the signs or ask at Federico II). Federico II offers both light fare and full traditional meals inside and out. Since they also sell wine, they have a wide selection of the best wines along the Sagrantino Wine Route, as well as throughout Umbria. Coccorone has a small terrace, as well as a lovely dining room. Dress is smart casual. Coccorone (Tel. 0742-379535) is closed Wednesdays.

      For a wonderful holiday dinner, we love Villa Pambuffetti. Housed in an Italianate villa, the hotel and restaurant offer old style elegance. The food is excellent, overseen by Alessandra Pambuffetti, and the sommelier is Mauro, her husband. Alessandra’s cousins produce the well-respected Scacciadiavoli wines. Her cooking classes are wonderful interactive experiences followed by lunch with wine in the dining room. Closed Monday.
Tel. 0742-379417

      Olevm (Oleum--the Romans did not have a "u") is a tiny place with big flavor. There are only a few tables inside and even fewer outside. In the back is a little deli. There is a wide variety of oils to taste and the soups are very good. Find it on Corso Mameli about halfway down. Call first if you want an outside table or have a large group at 0742-379057.

      Also on the piazza is the more sophisticated Aurum in the boutique hotel/spa, Buonadosi. In summer, there is a terrace in the back with beautiful views as well as tables in the piazza. The inside space is sleek and more upmarket. Closed Wednesday. Tel. 0742-379357

      A lot of people really like Alchimista across the main piazza from Federico II and in summer when the tables are outside, it is very pleasant. In the colder months, the dining room is in the cellar. There is a shop for wines and oils on the ground floor. Closed Tuesday. 0742-378558

       We tried Spiritodivino and it must have been a bad day.  The food and service did not live up to the décor and location, not to mention the hype. We had to beg for attention, though the inside of the restaurant was empty. The terrace was almost full and there was only the manager and one bus person working. The manager stood off to the side and chatted with a friend while we waited almost half an hour for our wine. Perhaps you will have better luck. Closed all day Monday, Tuesday lunch. Tel. 0742-379048

      There are some attractive ristoranti on the street leading down to the big arch, Corso Mameli. We haven’t tried them all, so please let us know what you discover.


     We’ve written about Taverna del Sette  before – it’s a hidden treasure in the historic center of Trevi. It’s on the tiny Del Sette street off the Piazza Mazzini. Tel. 0742-780741.


    We discovered Zenzero one Sunday after shopping the monthly outdoor market at Pissignano. Located right on the lazy Clitunno River near Fonti del Clitunno, the outside tables offer a shady respite from hot summer days. The food is good, too. Tel. 0742-780241. The address is actually Via Chiesa Tonda 50, Fonte Pigge.


    If you’re going there to buy ceramics, you just might get hungry. On the E45 just before Deruta, there is Antico Forziere (075-9724314), an upmarket restaurant in a rustic setting. In the historic center of Deruta there is Taverna del Gusto (075-9724120), which is a good restaurant with a few outdoor tables. It’s right around the corner from the excellent ceramics museum.


     Hungry for lunch, but not time to spare from sightseeing or shopping? Try Fiaschetto, which offers a flat price antipasto buffet on weekdays. Other times, enjoy their lengthy menu of Umbrian specialities, pizzas and more. Get off the E45 at Ripabianca, go to the crossroads at the Due Torre shopping center, go under the highway, follow the road south and the restaurant will be on your right. Closed Wednesdays. The restaurant is officially in Collepepe. Tel. 075-8789347.

      Alberata is a little place with a different menu every week. Closed on Wednesday. Call to book at 075-8789345.



    Al Leone (075-8788020) offers a good menu of tasty local dishes, as well as pizza. There is outside dining in summer. Park in the lot behind the church – the restaurant is just across the street.



    For a long time, there weren’t many good places to eat in Todi. That has changed. Here are a few of better ones. The town isn’t big, so you’ll find these pretty easily.
     Osteria delle Valle is a very small place with a big reputation, well deserved. John, a Scotsman, is the chef and the food is really good. Tel. 075-8944848.
     Oberdan is also very small and started out as an enoteca. The menu is limited, changed daily. There is very nice outside dining in the summer. The waiters can be a bit dogmatic about your wine choice, which can be a bit frustrating. 075-8945409
     Mercataccio is one we really like. Really good food in a historic setting. Go down Via Cavour and turn down the staircase at Via Mercato Vecchio. Tel. 075-8944799
     La Scalette is down the staircase at Via Scalette not far from S. Fortunato church. Their terrace is nice and shady. We like the meat dishes. Tel. 075-8944422
     La Mulinella has very good food in a location outside the town, at Ponte Naia. Turn down the road to the swimming pool. Tel.  075-8944779 
     Roccofiore is an upmarket place to have lunch in the summer. The terrace is lovely, with a view of Todi. They make their own wines. Go to Localita’ Collina, Chioana di Todi. Tel. 075-8942416.
     Pane & Vino is casual and relaxed. The antipasto keep on coming. Tel.  075-8945448
     Umbria is a traditional trattoria with a view. Tel.  075-8942737

Lake Corbara

       Along and above the lake are restaurants appealing to both those coming from Todi and those from Orvieto.
     Titignano is one of those places you don’t forget. How marvelous that they are able to serve an endless array of dishes to more than two hundred people and it is all delicious. It is also a great price: 25 Euros for a dozen courses with water, coffee and wine. The setting is spectacular, too: a medieval town on a hill overlooking the Tiber river, with the duomo of Orvieto silhouetted on the distant horizon. You’ll need to book here for Saturday and Sunday lunches. Lunch begins at 12:30 and ends after 4 pm. You can always stay in one of the rooms if you don’t feel like driving home. Titignano is located on the north side of the Tiber, about half an hour from Todi or Orvieto. Tel. 0763-308000

Pasta with fave and beets at Trippini
       Trippini is one of our newest finds. A tiny restaurant in the hilltop village of Civitello del Lago, it is home to one of Italy’s hottest young chefs.
Be sure to book as there are only six tables. The view here equals that of Titignano, though it is on the south side of the lake. We’ll be back with more on this one. Fixed price four course lunch 35 Euros.  Sophisticated cuisine, good service. Closed Monday. Tel. 074-4950316
Osteria del Belvedere
       Osteria del Belvedere is on the moderate end of the price scale, but it definitely holds its own on taste. There are both seafood and meat choices. Seafood is brought in fresh from the Mediterranean port of Civitavecchia. Pasta with vongole (clams) or scoglie (mixed seafood) is very as good as on the coast and costs less. Located about halfway between Todi and Orvieto on the south side of the lake. Tel. 0744-950140.


Il Re Beve at Castello Casigliano is great for Sunday lunch, on the terrace in summer or in front of the blazing fire in winter. They have good meats and the location is lovely. Get off the E45 at the Collevalenza exit.  Closed Wednesday.  Tel. 0744-943428


       Tric Trac, which is on the piazza near the duomo, is a good place to stop for lunch or an aperitivo when you’re sightseeing in Spoleto. Tel. 0743-44592.


       Spello is a beautiful little town, which is a good place to go after the crowds in Assisi. We’ve been to La Bastiglia (Tel. 0742-651277), which is upmarket and sophisticated with one Michelin star, as well as the more trattoria-style Il Mulino (Tel. 0742-651305) and Il Pinturicchio (Tel.0742-301784).


      We love Assisi, but don’t often stay there for a big meal. We’ve been to the Ristorante San Francesco, which was nice and had a good view of the valley. Tel. 0758-12329.


     Vinosus, a small restaurant on the left side of the duomo, is our choice for lunch in Orvieto. There is a lovely small terrace and a good wine list. Closed Sunday evening and Mondays. Tel. 0763-34107. 

     San Francesco, around the corner from the cathedral, is a good place for a quick buffet lunch – it’s open every day.

    Norcia, Preci, Casteluccio

     Vespasia in Palazzo Seneca, Norcia, is a beautifully restored cardinal’s palace with an excellent restaurant. It's pricey, but the atmosphere is lovely. Tel. 0743-817434.

     Grotta Azzurra is owned by the same family as Palazzo Seneca. It’s a big trattoria with traditional food near the main piazza in Norcia. Tel. 0743-816513.

       People travel from all around to Il Castoro in Preci, a town a few miles from Norcia. The food is really good. The location is near the national park and various hiking trails. Tel. 0743-939248.
        Castelluccio is about 25 km from Norcia up in the mountains. It’s a spectacular location, worth the drive. The town overlooks the vast fields of lentil and other legumes, so it’s great place to buy beans and grains to take home. The farro and lentil soups in any of the small restaurants are always good.


        Siro is a little hotel with really good food. It’s worth the trip to Torgiano. For a large group the house antipasto is impressive and delicious. Tel. 075-982010. Book on Sunday for lunch or if you are a large group.


       Il Convento is a good restaurant in a beautifully restored convent. The town of Corciano is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy. 075-6978946.


     4 Piedi & 8.5 Pollici is a tiny ristorante behind the EMI supermarket in Bastardo. Chef Laura will make homemade pasta at your table on request. The menu changes daily. Book at Tel. 333-997-9958.

      Pizzeria d' Oste was located in San Terenziano for about ten years. When they lost their lease they moved to Bastardo. Same good pizza.  Closed Monday. Tel. 0742-960287.

         Monti Martani
   Standing high on the mountain above the valley that runs from Todi to Perugia and Assisi, Trevi to Spoleto is Il Rifugio, aka Rifugio San Gaspare, a rustic restaurant with a stunning view. Follow the signs from Bastardo to Giano dell' Umbria to Monti Martani. Giano is a lovely little village which you will drive through until you reach the road that goes up (ever up) the mountain. Il Rifugio is near the antennae that you can see from the bottom. Inside is a large fireplace where the meats are grilled. There is also seating outside. Tel 0742-90189.

Montecastello di Vibio

     Home the world's tinest theatre, Montecastello di Vibio is also home to Il Grottino di Zio Toto', a small restaurant with very good food. You can eat outside in summer. Tel. 075-8780652

Sharri Whiting, 2013



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dancing the Liscio in the Piazza

The festival in San Terenziano is in full swing. Whole families come for dinner in the piazza, enjoying local specialities like strongozzi with funghi porcini at picnic tables beneath the trees. At nine the music begins in front of the medieval borgo and everyone between 8 and 80 dances the liscio accompanied by a crooner (or crooness) and a brace of accordians. The streets are filled with baby strollers, long legged teenagers, and elderly ladies and gentlemen strolling under the stars. Gelatos in hand, they sway to the music, watching their neighbors dance. It could be Cinema Paradiso, so magical is summer here in Umbria.
--Sharri Whiting

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pane: From Wheat Field to Baker to Table

Wheat growing in central Umbria

Pane sciapo
        On my walks in the countryside I keep passing wheat fields so green I want to roll around in them. Eventually those grains will ripen, be harvested and milled, and metamorphosize into the piece of saltless local bread on the table next to my plate. The lack of taste discourages mindless nibbles while we wait for the antipasto, but it's terrific for a scarpetta ("little shoe" of bread) to soak up the not-to-be-abandoned olive oil or juices from my dish or for bruschetta with new olive oil.

      To be honest, I really adore the thickly crusted and divinely chewy casareccio in Rome more than the sciapo (saltless) bread they make in Umbria, at least for nibbling. Sometimes, though, history trumps taste, and in the case of this traditional Umbrian bread, I respect the history. This particular bread has been baked here without salt since the mid-16th century, invented in rebellious response to the Pope's blockade of salt to this landlocked region. While it's not the best to eat on its own, it serves very well as a delivery system for olive oil or gravy. 

     The most famous of the saltless breads comes from Strettura, a tiny village on the Via Flaminia between Spoleto and Terni. We went over there the other morning in time to see the raised loaves slid into the fiery wood-burning ovens at Forno Vantaggi. It's said their combination of local spring water, mixed grains and no salt is the best in Umbria. 

Raking out the coals
     The bakers had been working since before dawn and the risen loaves were ready for the oven. But, first, the forno had to be made ready for them. Behind three openings, about twelve feet of smoldering coals burned like Dante's Sixth Circle of Hell (the one reserved for Epicureans). The baker first raked the red embers into an iron barrel, leaving the oven ready for baking at 300 degrees Centigrade. Then the loaves were slid in and the doors closed. 
The risen loaves

The old recipes
In the workroom, various flours, eggs, and other ingredients awaited their turn to become cookies, sweet breads, or tozzetti (aka, cantucci or biscotti). Forget the Inferno, this place was obviously Paradise. On the counter was the recipe book, its pages marked by the fingers of bakers from previous generations. We nibbled warm slices of pizza bread, the tasty flat pane made by Italian bakers to test the heat of the ovens.

Torta al Testa
       Pane di Strettura is only one of many breads made in Umbria. There is torta al testa from the Province of Perugia, historically made on a flat stone in the fireplace or oven. This flat round bread, often served warm from the oven and cut into triangles, is called crescia in Gubbio and pizza sotto il fuoco (cooked under the ashes) in Terni. Today it is often cooked on top of the stove like a pancake in a pan called a panaro.  

    At Easter, Umbrians eat pane formaggio (cheese bread). There is also pan nociato, bread with nuts, and pan caciato, bread made with olive oil, pepper, nuts and Umbrian pecorino (sheep cheese). We are not suffering from lack of choice here in central Italy.

    Note: We visited Strettura as part of the annual Beecoming Festival, which offers events of all kinds in Umbria in late April/early May.

Copyright Sharri Whiting 2012




Friday, February 10, 2012

Snowed in with Internet, phone, and the miraculous bed heater

Italy is snuggled up under a blanket of snow after the second big storm in a week. Last Friday, our drive to Umbria from Rome, normally a two hour trip, took eight hours.
We were stuck twice in snow and ice climbing the hill to San Terenziano from Todi Ponte Rio. When we finally arrived on Via Palombaro, we were forced to leave our car at La Casetta Rosa and walk down through the drifts to Yellow House. Luckily we were bundled up in thick coats and fur hats, accumulated during our days living in
Boston. It was dark and we picked our way in the light of a tiny pocket flashlight--we expect adrenalin rushes when we visit the Namibian bush, but not here in the placid countryside.
And yet, unlike the inhabitants of this house a century or more ago, we have the Internet, Satellite tv, space heaters for our feet, and the magical body sized heating pads that go under the bottom sheet of the bed. (If you ask me, this latter invention ranks right up there with the creation of pizza).
Like our forebears, we are busy keeping the fire burning and the soup pot bubbling on the stove. The water taps are dripping and we've put on the snow tires in case our neighbor is able to clear the road with his tractor. We are well stocked with pasta, vino, and cat food for Winona.
So far, so good.
PS The bottle tree is holding its own in the snow, reminding us of blue skies and summer sunsets.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Olives waiting to be pressed at a frantoio, Umbria

      In the aftermath of the current olive oil scandal sweeping across Europe, four or five multi-nationals will be chastised for blending oils from several Mediterranean countries and selling them as 100% Italian, or, as Extra Virgin when they aren’t.  This European network of inter-locking corporations, defined by La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper (Dec. 26, 2011) as a cartel and an agro-mafia, will probably be fined. 

     Consumers across the globe will be left with a bad taste in their mouths, determined never again to buy Italian extra virgin olive oil, which has always been thought by many to be the best.

Old olive trees, Puglia
     As a result, thousands of small independent producers, often with families dependent on the annual harvest to put the next year’s food on the table, will be unfairly tainted, tarred with the same brush as the mass market suppliers. They may be producing DOP oil (Protected Designation of Origin, an EU designation), recognized as the best regional extra virgin olive oil, but they might as well be making the same sorry swill stocked on the shelves of supermarket chains around the world.

      Whose job is it to police the industry? There are regulations in place in the European Union and fraud units assigned to the daunting task of finding the cheats in the olive oil trade.  The U.S. passed regulations about olive oil categories in 2010, but they are voluntary. Nobody has enough inspectors. It’s the perfect situation for fraud.

       So, what is the consumer who loves olive oil to do? 
TTPPT:  Taste Trust Price Producer Travel  
Taste.  Educate your palate, just as you would if you were buying wine. There are plenty of alternatives to mass-market olive oil. Specialized olive oil stores have opened around the world and many offer customers the opportunity to taste the oil before they buy it.  Look for the freshest oil. Don’t go for the clear bottles, which don’t protect the oil from spoilage as well as dark glass or tins. Use your oil in a few months and store it in a dark, cool spot.

Trust.   Find a specialty shop that sells oil and develop a relationship with the owner or buyer.  Ask them to set up a tasting of several oils or set one up yourself. (See how the professionals do it by downloading Olive Oil IQ to your smartphone or tablet).

Price.  You get what you pay for, just like when buying wine. You may come upon a jug wine or a mass produced olive oil that’s pretty good, but if you want DOP extra virgin olive oil, or a bottle of DOCG vino, you will have to pay more than 5 Euros or 5 pounds or 5 dollars for it if you want a product that has been picked and pressed by a local producer in the traditional way.

Producer.   Find the producers whose oil you like and ask your local shop to let you know when the new oil arrives. Every year will be slightly different, dependent on the harvest, but eventually you will recognize a group of labels that offer the oil you want.

Travel.   If you’ve followed the wine routes, think about traveling the olive oil routes. All across the Mediterranean, from Italy to Spain to France to Greece, as well as in the New World, there are places to taste and buy local extra virgin olive oil.  Often wineries will also produce oil, so check the websites of the wines you like. Make the experience a part of a culinary vacation, as way of educating yourself to know what good oil tastes like, as well as to experience the ambience that is an essential part of a local olive oil culture. 

    This blog post was originally posted on

copyright Sharri Whiting 2012

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So said Pliny and he was probably right

The good green stuff
          "Sip the wine and splash the oil." Pliny the Elder (Rome, 1st C AD). Good old Pliny, always there with a pithy comment. 

           The third week of November is the highlight of our year, when ten friends from four countries arrive on Via Palombaro to spend a week picking our olives, drinking the local garage wine, and catching up on what has happened in the U.S., the Netherlands, Namibia, England and Italy over the last year. 

           What is it about olive picking that is so engaging, so refreshing to mind and body? Is it the fresh air? Is it the respite from ongoing (and often tiresome) responsibilities? A chance to get back to basics, to the relationship between humans and the land? A moment to be with friends, without cell phones ringing or texting, appointments waiting, chores to do?

Pickin' and grinnin'
    There is nothing more satisfying than standing with your upper half hidden within a net of olive branches, filling the basket across your chest with the fruit that has emerged after another flinty Umbrian winter, drenched spring, and bone dry summer. Looking from the house, it seems that the olive trees have each grown a set of denimed legs. 

            The aimless chatter of familiar voices emits from the trees like birdsong, spiced with laughter, hoots and hollers, and sometimes a song (our Swedish friend comes from Todi to pick with us and amuses himself by singing Scandinavian folk tunes). Occasionally, a mild expletive that soars across the field, when a basket full of olives is dropped, if the olives begin to roll off the net and down the hill, or if a ladder shifts, throwing its occupant to the ground. 

The end of the day
           With regard to our friend, Pliny the Elder, we can't say that the Olivistas exactly sip the wine during Olive Picking Week. We probably splash both the vino and the olio, if truth be known. We work hard, we have fun, and we end up with something tangible and delicious: nuovo olio, the new oil, fresh, green, something we contributed to producing with our own hands. It's not digital, it's simply delicious. 


Monday, July 4, 2011


Steak tagliata at Lo Scoiattolo
       Never let it be said that we fail to meet our responsibility to report on the ristoranti around Umbria. It may require a lifetime of eating, but our mission and our focus are unwavering. How else would we justify those extra 5 kilos?

      Here's the latest list of favorites:

Taverna Sette
Taverna Sette in Trevi
    Run by a group of energetic ragazzi (young people), this place is sophisticated, charming and downright good. Partners in the business are the charming Sara Damiani and Gherardo Mugnoz, who are responsible for the ambience, beginning with the intriguing torches that draw diners from the piazza up a narrow stone vicolo to the ristorante. Chef Alfredo Santovito is inventive, turning local ingredients into tasty dishes with a twist. My favorite antipasto is the Ricottina, which is light, fresh and fluffy, served with toasted walnuts and a drizzle of honey.
Tomino cheese antipasto at Taverna Sette
    Find more details at The address is Vicolo del Sette 8, Trevi. Take the road up to the top of Trevi and come down to Piazza Mazzini to find it. They're closed on Wednesdays. Call 0742 78071 to ask for a table in the secluded atrium.

Lake Trasimeno from Lo Scoiattolo
Lo Scoiattolo is on the road up the mountain about 4 km above Tuoro on the right.
    We were feeling peckish while driving over the mountain on our way to Cortona from Gubbio. We passed this place, with its plastic tables and chairs out front, and thought it was a bar. What we needed was lunch. Rounding the curve, we came upon an astounding view of Lake Trasimeno, an unmissable photo opportunity. Since we were there, since we were hungry. . . . We walked in and saw the ristorante in the back. This is a great find for lunch on a gorgeous day. We ordered the succulent local white beans and delicious steak tagliata.

How to Get There  Lo Scoiattolo is directly on SS416, between Lisciano Niccone and Tuoro. Tel (+39) 075844119 Call if you want to reserve a veranda table overlooking the lake.

Taverna del Gusto in Deruta
    Our friend, Grazia Ranocchia, a Deruta city councilwoman, turned us to this one, which is right across the street from the comune building in the old part of Deruta. The official address is Via MastroGiorgio, 5. Ask Luciano to bring out an array of the ristorante's  antipastos, which are really delicious. Then perhaps share two or three pastas -- the fava bean and pecorino pasta is wonderful.
Tel: 075/9724120  Parking tip: park outside the gates to Deruta, as parking spaces can be sparse inside.

Roccofiore near Todi
     We wrote about Roccofiore several years ago for Luxury Travel Advisor magazine and then happened to go back recently with friends. We had forgotten the wonderful view of Todi from the terrace, not to mention the wonderful carpaccio Chianina. The atmosphere is quintessential upscale Umbria, with postcard landscapes to see in every direction.
Go to Roccofiore for details and directions.
Residenze l'Alberata in Collepepe
     For years, we've driven to Collepepe when we've needed foodstuffs on a Sunday morning. The deli/grocery there has prepared goodies, as well as staples to make Sunday lunch. Eventually the Andreani family built a few rooms upstairs; now they have opened a restaurant in their Sala del Gusto. They serve on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only. The location is unexpected and charming, though you will have to climb three flights of stairs to get there (think of it as penance before you dig into the menu). There are different menus every weekend, with fixed price meals available, as well as ala carte.
Pasta with zucchini at l'Alberata
Go to Home Cooking for details.

   I suppose now you are wondering when I will recommend gyms in the area to work off all this eating, but no. Take to the countryside, where walking is a pleasure for the senses and always justifies the caffe and cornetto in the village bar afterwards.
Buon appetito!

copyright Sharri Whiting 2011


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Most Amazing Place in Umbria


       Sometimes words really aren't necessary. In the case of the Gran Piano near Castelluccio during flower season, all you need to know from me is how to get there. 
      Drive 28 km. from Norcia, up and up and up into the Sibillini Mountains, about 5,000 ft. Come around that last curve, slam on your brakes, grab your camera, and marvel at the astonishing view of this vast high plain, surrounded by velvet green mountains, filled with wild flowers as far as the eye can see.
                                          Drive down across the plain. . .


Get out of your car and wander. . .

Visit the town of Castelluccio


     This is all you need to know. The spring flower festival happens in June, but the Gran Piano is beautiful anytime. In fall and winter, you might encounter cross country skiiers or hikers coming down from the trails in the national park for lunch in Castelluccio where the lentils are legendary; in summer you will see green mountains with that seem to have giant mossy patches -- look closer and you'll see they are forests. 

      Buon viaggio.
copyright Sharri Whiting 2011