VALTOPINA – Where a Truffle is Not Forever
No, “a truffle is not forever” – so enjoy them while you can. Due to a rainy spring and summer, this has not been a good year for olives, grapes, chestnuts or hazelnuts – but truffles are in abundance – and prices are down.At the late November Mostra/mercato del Tartufo (the Truffle “Show-and-Sell” fair) in the tiny mountain village of Valtopina, visitors wander from stand-to-stand tasting samples of Umbrian food specialties – and choosing favorites to purchase and take home. Truffles reign at this fair – and if the white truffle is king, the black one is queen. At the Valtopina fair, you can purchase fresh truffles, truffle pates, polenta flour with truffles, olive oil with truffles, truffled cheeses, and truffle butters. And if you’re looking for a special gift, you might wish to choose the gift box.And not only, for this fair is a colorful kaleidoscope of flavors with Umbrian specialties headlining – but culinary specialties from all over the peninsula enticing visitors, too. As you enter the food tent, you’ll see packets of chickpeas and farro are lined up like stalwart shoulders with jars of the famous Cilento (southern Italy) white figs in rum – stop for a taste – at the next stand.At Giuliva’s stand she’ll offer you tastes of her Umbrian cheese breads, baked with the stone-ground flour of the family water-powered mill in the Assisi mountain area. Try a slice of her nut bread and rocciata (a rich Umbrian strudel), too but watch out: you might end up buying some to take home. Wander over to a nearby stand for tastes of goat’s milk cheeses – and you’ll want to try the many pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses, too. And then come the honeys.
Honeys for sale, too
Brilliant scarlets draw you to the chili peppers stand: after all, this truffle fair is a kaleidoscope of colors as well as flavors. After you learn all about the hottest chili peppers in the world, taste the olive ascolane (stuffed olives, typical of Ascoli Piceno in the Marches) at the same stand – and enhanced with a glass of the Marches area red wine. Then move on to tastes of prosciutto wild boar salamis and mortadella (of wild boar meat, too) – and what a surprise to see a huge mortadella of the Chianina beef.
Pino could’t resist a taste of Norcia prosciutto and vendor Alessandra made sure he tasted it on the Umbrian hearth bread, la torta, We wandered past displays of lentils and other Umbrian legumes, corn flour for polenta, varieties of wild mushrooms and stopped for a taste of Umbrian olive oils. Only one olive oil stand this year: a dearth of olive oil due to climactic disasters in central Italy. Southern Italy fared better: the Puglia olive varieties on sale were testament. And after you taste the Puglia olives, try a specialty of the adjoining region, Calabria: the red onions of Tropea. Umbrian onions are on sale, too – braids of them – sold by an elderly onion grower of Cannara (near Assisi and famous for its onions).Ready for sweets? The Sardinian almond-filled torrone (nougat) – seasoned with wild myrtle – is not to be missed. Or try the Umbrian tozzetti.And if wish to take home a special gift, consider the gift box at the stand near the exit and the logos on the lid gives you a hint of the content: “A truffle is not forever.”Inside? Truffle butter, olive oil with truffles and fettuccine.No, a truffles is not forever – but in Valtopina, you can feast on them in late November. If tastes from all the food stands are not enough, book dinner in the adjacent food tent.Highlights of the menu the night we were there? Frittata with truffles, ravioli stuffed with pheasant and black truffles and grilled pork chops with truffles, pears, pecorino cream sauce.Buon appetito!
Read about a favorite eating spot in Valtopina
Read about the Giove restoration near Valtopina
Click here for more on Umbrian November culinary highlights
Read more on truffles – and truffle hunters
Click here for more on truffle enticements
Read about how truffles highlighted one of my US cooking classes
Read about another Umbrian truffle festival
Read about the Giove restoration here
Read about a sagra near Perugia starring peperoncino
Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)