GOLDEN DAY THIRTY-THREE: Tag Along With The Tuckerberrys
I admired Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker as actors on LA Law–then I read Tucker’s memoir about their adventures buying a cottage in Umbria, and I became absolutely enchanted by this couple.
In Living In A Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine and Love in Italy, Tucker sweeps you into the moment-by-moment drama, hilarity, and deliciousness of their life in Italy. Especially wonderful sections are where his culinary passions are indulged, and we revel along with him as he savors such regional specialties as truffles, pecorino, lentils, and porchetta. At its core, Tucker’s book is a heartwarming love story–interlacing their marriage, friendships, and ever-evolving passion for all things Italian.
I’m so grateful Michael’s given us this advice for a Golden Day in Umbria:
If you’re out for a peak experience in Umbria, spend a day visiting the Piano Grande and Castelluccio – especially if you’re lucky enough to get there sometime between the end of May and the first week in July when the fioritura takes place. There’s no firm date on the calendar because the fioritura is not a festival planned by mere mortals, but a dazzling explosion of wild flowers and cultivated fields that extends over a vast flat plain some 1400 meters above sea level. Swaths of red poppies alternate with fields of yellow lentil blossoms; miles of wildflowers of every imaginable color extend across the plain until it butts up against Monte Vettore the highest peak of the Sibillini mountain chain at 2476 meters.
You enter the Piano Grande from above after a twisty mountainous drive from Norcia. When you come around the last turn, the plain stretches out below you like a giant oil painting, vibrating in the warm summer breeze. And far in the distance, beyond the fields of flowers, perched above them like an old, trusty watchdog, is Castelluccio, a town with a winter population of fewer than a hundred people – shepherds, mostly, tending the sheep that nibble on the sweet wildflowers and produce a pecorino cheese of unmatched sweetness.
As you descend into the valley and objects come into focus, you begin to realize the vastness of the space around you. There are the sheep, of course, and horses available to ride, picnickers and windsurfers taking full advantage of the rising thermal breezes.
And if you time your trip correctly, you’ll arrive in Castelluccio just in time for your lunch reservation at Taverna Castelluccio (Via Dietro Torre, 8 Castelluccio di Norcia 0743/821158-821100). Order the fresh ricotta, still warm, and spread it onto country bread with a dollop of chestnut honey on top. Start with that just to take the edge off. Then order the water and wine and sit back to peruse the menu. Tagliolini al tartufo nero di Norcia is a good place to start. That’s fresh-made pasta with the local black truffles grated over. Or the strengozzi alla norcina, which is the local dried pasta under a sauce of egg, cream, grated parmigiano, sausages and truffles. Take it easy, though; there’s more to come. Lamb dishes abound, of course. My favorite is the castrato – yes, it means just what you think it means — mature lamb that has been tenderized in that ancient and painful way, then cut into chops and grilled over wood. And don’t miss the lentils, for which Castelluccio is world-famous. They’re smaller than most, more flavorful and have a nuttier, toothier texture. Have them with the homemade sausages. Someone in your party should try the polenta, as well. It’s served with sausages, too, and a sauce of tomato and porcini mushrooms. I’ve never tasted better. Save room for coffee – you’ll need it for the long, slow drive home.
Grazie Michael–my mouth is watering!
I must get to Castelluccio soon. In the meantime, I’ll check out Michael Tucker’s more recent book:
Family Meals: Coming Together To Care For An Aging Parent — it takes place in New York, Santa Barbara, and delicious Umbria…