For a “menu a kilometro zero”, head to Scheggino, Umbrian medieval hilltown gem on the Nera River. Follow the twisting stone-vaulted backstreets, leading up to the 11th-century S. Nicola church, and just past a narrow alleyway, you’ll come to the huge wooden door of Osteria Baciafemmine, named after il Vicolo Baciafemmine (“Narrow Alleyway Kiss-the Girls”). According to an old village legend, young people would head in summer heat to the shady alleyway, so conveniently narrow that getting away without a kiss was improbable.
Scheggino is known for its truffles and the Nera River’s yellow trout (“fario”) and crayfish. The noble combination of the trout with the truffles is the culinary singularity of Scheggino, distinguishing it from all other villages in the Nera River valley area, la Valnerina. And the “kilometro zero” cuisine of the Osteria Baciafemine certainly sets this tiny family-run restaurant apart from any other in Scheggino.
The young boys of the family, Leonardo and Alessandro, are often playing on the steps leading down from the kitchen into the restaurants various rooms: one was a home of a farm family, another was their wine cellar and yet another was a stall. Young Mamma Elisa presents guests an almost-completely “kilometro zero” menu: foods produced in the immediate vicinity, assuring seasonal freshness and limiting transport (and hence environmental pollution). The acquiring of products “a filiera corta” (“short production line”) is becoming increasingly diffuse in Italy, particularly in agricultural areas. But here at Baciafemmina, not only are all the meats and vegetables from their nearby farm, Colle del Sole (well… not “kilometro zero”but close: 1. 5 km away), but the trout and crayfish come from the Nera River a few hundred yards away and in season, the surrounding woods give up their porcini mushrooms, truffles and snails to the able hands of the farmwomen cooking in the restaurant kitchen.
[lcaption]Leonardo and Alessandro play as Mom serves at table[/lcaption]
Elisa’s husband Paolo runs the hundred-acre family farm and raises the sheep, pigs, fowl, cows as well as the fava beans, high-protein triticale wheat, the alfalfa and clover for fodder.
Not only does Paolo raise the vegetables and meats you eat at his wife’s restaurant but – with care and attention – the very fodder for these animals as well.
I had to try the “strangozzi a culo mosso con gamberi di fiume”. I knew the sauce would have crayfish and that the pasta would be the thick eggless spaghetti we call in Umbria “strangozzi” (“pici” in Tuscany) but did not understand the term “culo mosso” (as used in cooking!). nor did my husband Pino. Elisa explained with a grin, “You have to move everything when you roll out that pasta!” Pino relished the grilled trout and the orange cream dessert was a winner.
Between courses, I chatted with Paolo’s mamma, Manuela, as she kept an eye on her grandsons. While proudly showing me the restaurant dining area, once a medieval wine cellar, she energetically acted out the stomping of the grapes in the “canale” (huge stone vat) years ago. Every fall, the Osteria Baciafemmine re-evokes ancient wine-making, inviting restaurant guests to join in.
As we left, Elisa was carrying dinner plates to guests in one dining room, serving tired farmer husband Paolo in another room, and keeping an eye on her sons as she whisked about. “How do you do it?” I asked.
“Con molta paziena,” she smiled.