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Food for the Senses in UmbriaNovember 3, 2008 By: Sharri Whiting De Masi
The scent of chocolate is in the air at Eurochocolate festival in Perugia every October. Surely this must be heaven— there is so much of the rich brown confection everywhere. The festival began here because this is the home of Perugina Chocolates, producer of the famous baci and a company with a very romantic history.
Luisa Spagnoli was a young woman in the 1920s when she and her husband took in a wealthy partner and founded their candy company. Luisa was the creative one and was so well known for her dark chocolate that what is called cioccolato nero elsewhere in Italy is called “Luisa” here in Perugia. There are other stories about Luisa and her invention of what became the baci, said to be inspired by her business partner, with whom she carried on an illicit love affair. Don’t pass judgment. Just pass the chocolate.
Perugina, the chocolate company, offers a wonderful chocolate making class— four hours of heavenly aromas and tastes for a maximum of 14 students— which culminates in the certificate of Master of Chocolatology. Though the class is in Italian, the language of chocolate prevails though an English translator that can be hired for larger groups. This is the most fun thing we can think of to do and we are going back next month to do it again.
We also went to the satellite festival, the second annual Ceramics and Chocolate Celebration in Deruta. Painters in Deruta have been making majolica ceramics for more than 500 years, and studios can be found in every nook and cranny in the historic center, as well as down the hill. The Museum of Ceramics here is one of the best in Italy.
For the celebration, Deruta ceramics artists paint thousands of collectable coffee mugs, which are sold from kiosks on the piazza. Free hot chocolate flows, thick and creamy, and locally produced chocolate candies and cocoa mixes are on sale. Grazia Ranocchia, the city councilwoman whose portfolio includes the economy and the ceramics industry, walked with us through the beautifully restored central piazza. She explained that the city is trying to protect the brand of authentic Deruta ceramics, which is being threatened by copycat products of lower quality from you-know-where. The city hopes that Deruta ceramics will soon carry the DOP label, which the government awards to protect products that are quintessentially Italian.
We went with Grazia to her family’s factory, Maioliche Originali Deruta (MOD), to see the spectacular new Canaletto table lamps collection, with the amazing scenes of Venice— a follow up to the first limited edition of lamps depicting the paintings of Brueghel. There are only 50 lamps in each collection, hand painted by the great ceramics artist Walter Pituello. Grazia will be taking the collection to Veneto in November, to be shown at one of the Palladian villas outside Venice. She says American decorators snapped up almost every one of the first collection.
We know that Mother said don’t eat dessert before you eat your dinner, but we did it anyway. After the chocolate, there was the Roccofiore Winery’s annual harvest dinner. The winery is part of a small, elegant complex near Todi, which includes a boutique hotel and spa. After the first three courses, which were themed around dishes made from locally produced goose served with Roccofiore’s 2006 vintage, there was dessert— roasted chestnuts offered with the late harvest Passito Collina d’Oro. We were hoping to win the spa package by correctly guessing the weight of the goose because we really needed to work off that fabulous dinner. Alas, some thin young fit Italian woman was victorious, so we will have to walk it off on the country lanes.
Read more of Sharri’s Umbria blog at http://umbriabella.blogspot.com.