Sunday, February 17, 2008

Eek! I've become a foodie buzzword

Someone has manufactured a new word in the lexicon of the United States: locavore.

After I read the definition, I realized it applies to me. I’m also a carnivore, but it seems that in this era of eco-dining, locavore trumps that one, along with my other trait, omnivore. A locavore eats only foods found locally. I hate to tell my com
patriots, but this is not news. In Umbria, people have always consumed foodstuffs from their own backyards or those of their neighbors.

Just day before yesterday, in fact, Settimia asked Piero if he wanted her to cut Parma ham or proscuitto from over the mountain in Norcia, Parma being not local fare. Of course, he brought home the Norcia. Since Italy’s various regions are chock full of amazing local foods, not to mention wines, being a locovore is SOP, so we didn’t have to invent a name for it.

Another Italian innovation is now called "sustainable cuisine" by the Alice Waters crowd and other serious foodies. This is an elevated way of saying "eat what’s in season, from local sources, and re-cycle everything you can.” The Rome school system came up with this idea some years ago and has been at the forefront of the effort to
keep children healthy by serving them wholesome lunches made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Americans may need a buzzword to get them focused, but when they get the concept, no one is better at making things happen. The sustainable cuisine movement is spreading across the land like natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread.

Then there is molecular cuisine, which we really don’t want to know about here in Umbria. This is where you change the molecules of food and make it
into something it did not intend to become when its mother gave birth to it or a farmer planted the seed. I’m not saying that having my ice cream made instantly at table isn’t dramatic, but I simply can not imagine serving an Umbrian a slice of pecorino cheese with a dollop of prosciutto foam on top. Foam is for cappuccino.

Lucio and Luca, two men from the village of Gaglietole on the mountain behind us, have worked as geometri on several construction projects for us and
Lucio is now putting the finishing touches on some work on Yellow House. He invited us for a “locavore lunch” the other day, though he called it simply pranzo. (My teacher used to say to learn a new word, you must use it several times in a sentence. I actually prefer my own term, “kitchen supper,” when friends come over to eat pot luck around the fire while I scrounge around in the garden for a very local fennel bulb or whatever lettuce the sheep haven't eaten). Anyway. . . if there are to be any princes of locavore-dom, then Lucio and Luca will have to be invested soon. Their father, of course, will be the king, as he is the man who taught them how to turn a 500-pound pig into edible fare.

We had never in our lives tasted proscuitto so sublime . As big as a sofa cushion, it had been curing for two years after being salted, then peppered. Luca sliced, we ate. And ate. Then Mrs. Lucio came in with some penne she threw in the water about the time she realized there were unexpected guests in the front yard. After that, some hot triangles of torta della testa (a kind of pizza bread) came out of the kitchen, followed by something so simple and delicious it made our heads swim: guanciale (sliced pork cheek bacon fried up in a pan), swimming in balsamico and bacon fat, with fresh sage leaves. Then there was more prosciutto and torta della testa, with a side of fresh broccoletti ripassati. Then, apologizing, she brought out leftovers from the previous night’s celebration party for the new prosciutto: a home made cake roll filled with creamy pudding and pineapple. This was all served with merlot from
Baldassari down the road.

When you’re talking about locavores, think about this: there is
local and then there is local. I’m willing to bet that being a locavore here in the green heart of Italy is more rewarding than being one in most other places. Umbrians may not have invented the word, but they invented the concept.
copyright Sharri Whiting Umbria Bella 2008

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