There was much talk on facebook (and in real life too naturally) of the Marche in New York City recently, via a programme called “Marche Is Good” — a month long October celebration of this Region of Italy’s bounty (http://www.marcheisgood.com/ and http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11175654.htm) and it is a showcase that I uphold eagerly, enthusiastically and wholeheartedly! (Yes, an exclamation on top of three fawning adverbs.)
Who knows the intricate whys and wherefores that account for this Region having been less ‘attractive’ in a crowd pulling way, compared with other parts of Italy. Jokes are still levelled at your average Marchigiano, the way they are at a Genoese or a Scotsman, for their being particularly ‘thrifty’ in their attitude … and an even older stance is downright disparaging as well as disquieting, going something like this: “It is better to have a hanged man in your house, than a Marchigiano knocking at your front door”. The reason for this otherwise incomprehensible warning is that in the past, before Italy became a united nation, the Marche were one of the Pontificial States, and henchmen were drawn from the Marche to act as tax collectors for the popes — and they were never very pleasant and were often the ruination of any business concern.
It may be one Region politically and economically but there are two distinct subsets to its geography, with the the southern part (roughly from Porto San Giorgio down to the border with the Abbruzzi) being spoken of as the “le Marche sporche”, or “the dirty Marche”. I find this incredibly offensive still, even though I have got used to the expression, and realise that it is all about accents and language as opposed to hygiene. The southern part of the Marche’s accent, you see, is tainted with inflections that ‘muddy’ a proper, more ‘northern’ accent. Despite this, I would say that all marghigiani are very united, and proud of their background and history as well as their artistic and gastronomic legacy … and that they value hard work and eschew showiness. I suppose ‘reserved’ would be a good adjective. I have an ancestor who migrated Rome-wards from his native town called from San Severino Marche, so I can boast some marchigiano blood in me as well (though I am not sure anyone would qualify me as ‘reserved’). That said, I never got to know the Marche closely, and the Marche sporche more properly, until I met my husband and his family … and until I got to spend many a summer holiday with my in-laws and my kids near the coast at Porto San Giorgio. Here is a link to give you an idea of what treasures are to be found in the Marche:
Anyway, last Sunday my husband and I went off to spend the day at a small village just a few kilometres into the Marche once you’ve left Lazio, and not far from the town of Amatrice which gave birth to the famous “amatriciana” pasta sauce with tomatoes and pork jowl. Eighteen years ago the village of Trisungo started holding a two-day festa over the last weekend of October called “Marrone, che Passione!” (“A Passion for Chestnuts”) and it’s still going strong. Just as with many a town ‘sagra’ or festa it’s basically all about eating and drinking, relaxing and forgetting about your troubles for a bit. My husband has family ties to the place and we were invited to join some relatives for lunch. The menu was polenta with a pork sauce and pecorino cheese … eaten over wooden boards in a garage, talk about no fuss! AND it took no time at all to clear up after coffee was served, leaving us more time to chat and/or carry on visiting the sagra. Funtastic as well as fantastic!
I started taking photos the minute we got out of the car and tried to capture the spirit of the occasion. Reviewing the photos a couple of days later, two things struck me. One was the massive amount of food and variety of food products crammed into so small a town space, and all of it top quality and I expect most of it organic. Grains and pulses, honey, unpasteurised cheeses, apples, potatoes, jams, cured meats, breads, flour, nuts, dried fruit and jarred fruit and vegetables, chestnuts, olive ascolane, biscuits, liqueurs and so on and so forth.
The other was the net contrast to the elegance and sophistication that Italian food can, and undoubtedly does, offer depending on the gastronomic context. The reason I continue to uphold Italian food overall is because … everyone gets to eat good, appetising food and not just the rich and not just the sophisticated. And the latter also appreciate ‘la semplicità’, i.e. a good Italian simple meal or street food because — what’s NOT to value about it?
Here is a view of Trisungo and its bridge. It was amazingly hot for this time of year and the sun was shining brightly. This dessert wine is called “vino cotto”, i.e. “cooked” wine … the Marche’s answer to sherry and supposedly good for one’s digestion. A massive jar of peaches in their syrup … eat your heart out Delmonte! Will you look at the throng! And yet there didn’t seem to be any jostling or poking in the ribs … it was all very civilised. In the distance is a banner reading “Petrucci” — that’s the local miller, they have flour of excellent quality, made from wheat grown in the vicinity and in nearby Abbruzzo. People queueing up for their panini and what have you, for their lunch. The local speciality and the namesake of the festa: the chestnuts! The “marroni”. In a huge vat …
Being fired up! Dining al fresco under an awning or tent or whatever these constructions are called.A stall selling stone ground flour for polenta making, lonza, wild boar sausages, fresh pecorino and truffles … oh and apples too, but special ones.
This photo can’t impart the scent of … fried pizza being made! Petrucci sold bread, pizza and cakes as well as the flour.And here is Mauro Petrucci himself, hard at work behind the counter.
On the left, at the bottom of the hill, is the river Tronto … and revellers enjoying their day.Children tearing up the stairs, in a hurry to get to goodness knows where, laughing and making a lot of noise just as children should do!
Not your typical panino filler but there you are: angus beef tagliata! Corn on the cob! I had to stop and take in what awaited me … and look up at the brilliant blue sky. Noise, noise everywhere but a lot of poise too to marvel at. Tens and tens of different jams … I bought some rosehip jam, some cucumber jam and ‘uva fragolina’ (fox or concord grape?) jam. All the fruit and veg organically grown. The jams merited the approval of the Coldiretti (http://www.ambienteterritorio.coldiretti.it/tematiche/Ogm/Documents/Coldiretti%20organic%20agriculture.pdf) More outdoor eating, picnic style. Unpasteurised cheeses … The porchetta man … The fire would be lit later on … to warm up the wine and make a version of vin brulé. The sign says “You will die … but you won’t die of thirst!” … And here are all the drinks on sale …Polenta and/or spelt soup anyone?
These are artisanal liqueurs … made from berries and fruit … including elderberry and peperoncino! Pink apples from the Sibillini mountain area … Cool dude with shades at another porchetta stall … Local pulses and grains that have received Protected Geographic Origin … lentils, chickpeas, beans, broad beans, vetch, barley etc … More cheeses … And here is a Chaucerian ribald note … someone has called his cheese “trombarolo” … In Italian, a trumpet is called a “tromba” … but when you bend the noun into the verb “trombare” … said verb means to … ahem … engage in sexual intercourse, shall we say? Someone told me this man was the genius who thought up the slogan but I expect they were just taking the mickey. For your information, the full slogan reads like this: “Trombarolo Cheese is like Methane Gas … it gives you a helping hand” which of course sounds like total nonsense in English but which, instead, rhymes in Italian and is a spoof reference to a TV ad that said “il metano ti dà una mano” (methane gas gives you a helping hand). Whatever … the veiled reference is hardly mind boggling. The small village of Trisungo is not far away from the Umbrian border and the Benedictine town of Norcia … and the Valley of Castelluccio, famed for its tiny lentils (amongst other goodies). And yes … here I did buy a lot of goodies. These black and white beans are called “monachelle”, meaning “little nuns” – a reference I suppose to a nun’s habit of yore? Black with the white wimple? These are Cinderella beans … “little cinders” is how they translate. All kinds of honey mixed with all kinds of flavours … not something I would be drawn to but interesting nevertheless. Poor lady, she looks grumpy but it’s only the photo (my fault). She is justifiably proud of her wares … see below … And she won a prize for her bread and cakes! Love the name of this cheese company: Illuminated! And here is a nod to modernity. Ascoli Piceno is a beautiful town in the Marche that is famous for its fried meat-stuffed olives, suitably called “olive ascolane”. This was a kiosque shaped like an oliva ascolana selling freshly deep fried olive ascolane, ha ha ha. The olives and the also-fried sweet custards called “creme” are served in paper cones, called “cartoccio”. Finger food à la marchigiana … I was surprised to see the innovation of truffle in some of the fried olives.
Here is a glimpse of the fried custards (creme). Prosciutto and salami … Taste this cheese … go on … you know you want to ….Pork jowl … guanciale … mmmm.
Plants infused with truffle ??? wow! I know of a friend in Canada who might be very interested in this.
Spelt from Monteleone near Spoleto — again, not far away in Umbria. Bought loads of the stuff … we have a long Winter ahead of us, no? I even bought some saffron strands. The man told me that I was to use 4 strands per person, roughly, when making a risotto. And that the strands should seep in hot water (not boiling) for at least two hours ! and four even better. I had never heard of that amount of time before, interesting. Venison salami … Wild boar salami … The one and only: lenticchia di Castelluccio (Castelluccio lentils mentioned above). More gorgeous jams … I bought three kinds to go with cheeses including one called “sapa” made from grape must.And I think that’s quite enough now. What follow are just … well, just … photos, to give you an idea of the atmosphere of this small town in the Marche.