Today, as an elderly Umberto served me his famous cioccolato caldo con la panna (hot chocolate with whipped cream)…..
….what memories of nippy November mornings in Perugia in 1969. I had studied Italian in Perugia for three months that fall and my roommate Margaret and I had found a “deal” on a double room in a backstreet apartment: rent was only 15,000 lire a month. No, not a fortune (inspite of all those zeroes): about $24 monthly (or $12 each).
It was icy cold in November and December that year, though, and our room had no heat. We’d study in our beds with gloves on. Our “study break” would be at Umberto’s Antica Latteria (“The Old Milk Shop”) where we’d warm our hands over cappuccino (no heat there, either).
Umberto and I sat today at the same corner table where Marg and I used to sit, sharing memories as we talked about our “fiftieth anniversary” of morning connections over cappuccino.
He looks exactly the same. When I ask him when he’ll sport a wrinkle or two, he tells me with a grin that the whipped cream keeps them away. At age eighty, he’s still at his Antica Latteria daily, whipping up cream by hand, off and on all day: the task takes hours.
Umberto proudly showed Pino his treasured steel paoilo (he has two) holding the cream that he’ll whip (always – and only – by hand):
The young Umberto first started working with three others at the Latteria (milk shop) in 1954 when it was a co-operative. In 1975, there were just three soci and by 1984, only Umberto and one other partner, Nando.
As of 1990, Umberto and his son, Francesco, work as a team at the Latteria, making espressi and cappuccini, and hot chocolates, each often topped with panna montata (whipped cream).
I asked Umberto about retirement. With a twinkle in his eye and a grin, he replied, “Sono pensionato, si, ma perche’ devo stare a casa, passando le giornate in una poltrona?” (“I am retired, yes, but why should I stay at home passing my days in an armchair?”)
He told me that his wife would like him at home seated in an armchair near her, “but I just can’t,” he told me, “and in any case, our son Francesco needs me. I want to be here.”
Now and then, when you drop in at the Antica Latteria, Francesco will be assisted by his smiling wife, Anna (and then Umberto’s home in an armchair near his wife…..maybe).
Francesco’s hand-written sign on the side of the espresso machine gives strict advice on how to best enjoy an Antica Latteria specialty, espresso con la panna:
1.Do not ever put sugar on top of the whipped cream!
2.Do not mix the cream – or it will melt!
3. Do not wait (chatting…) for the whipped cream to melt but eat it at once, immersing it in the coffee!
Some customers pair the espresso – or cappuccino or cioccolato caldo con la panna – with the temptations in the glass case near the espresso machine:
Near our table, Umberto energetically whipped cream for filling the maritozzi, a soft bun split in the middle and lathered with just-whipped cream. As he swiftly whisked, he shared nostalgic memories with Pino and me about the changes in Perugia over the years…
…as did Carla and Fausta sitting at the table next to us. While sipping her espresso, Carla reminisced fondly about walking Perugia’s backstreets, holding her mother’s hand, to this very spot for a special morning treat: il maritozzo con la panna, a soft bun lathered with the Latteria freshly-whipped cream.
Those maritozzi still draw many a perugino – and not only. Pino succumbed, too.
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