The typical bread consumed in Umbria is an oblong loaf which is strictly unsalted. The custom of bread without salt originated in our region in 1540 when Perugia rebelled against the tax that the Papal government had imposed on salt and decided to reduce its use as much as possible.
In the farmhouses bread was made once a week. When the bread became hard it wasn’t thrown away: in the Winter it was used to make pappa with hot water, and in the Summer Panzanella was made with soaked bread and seasoned with oil, salt and vinegar and in the richest version tomatoes and onion was added.
Mazzafegato, otherwise known as sambudello in the Tuscan Tiber Valley, is made predominantly from red pork meat, which is richer in blood, and otherwise would not be used (liver, heart, lungs, and leftover meat from other butchering processes), a small part of pig skin is then added, and then it is seasoned with salt, pepper, a small amount of garlic, lemon rind and/or orange rind and, extremely importantly, fennel flower that, together with the coarse pork meat, strongly characterises this cured meat. The mixture is left to rest and stuffed into the natural pork intestine. The mazzafegato is the last cured meat to be prepared, after all of the others have been prepared, when all of the leftover bits from the butchering are left on the counter, the so-called “clean-up of the counter”. During the butchering season every family that owned pigs made mazzafegati which was eaten straightaway or, less commonly, conserved in lard, oil, or in grain or semolina.
Ciaccia sul panaro
Focaccia is the food that substituted bread as it was quicker to prepare as it didn’t require leavening. We are talking about a very simple bread made with a dough of flour, water and a pinch of bicarbonate which is then rolled out on the panaro, a stone fire-proof plate which is placed directly onto the embers of the fireplace. Once cooked, the ciaccia is filled with Umbrian traditional cold cuts and cheeses.
Vinsanto is a fortified wine typical in Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine, produced by selecting the best bunches of white grapes that were then left to dry attached by string to the nails in the beams of the kitchen ceiling. When drying took place the grapes were pressed and the must was transferred into barrels in which the vinsanto from the previous production had just been taken out. During this procedure particular care was taken to ensure that the sediment of the previous production known as “mother yeast”, remained in the barrel, as a vital ingredient for the good outcome of the current production.
The drunken crostino
The drunken crostino is traditional cake from the Alta Valle del Tevere area that was usually eaten at carnival. It is a very simple dish made from a mix of almonds and chocolate mixed with rum, coffee and alchermes and then spread on toasted bread.
Torcolo is a typical Umbrian cake. It is a type of sweet ring-shaped cake made with flour, eggs, milk and sugar. It was born as a poor man’s cake, made with simple, readily available ingredients. Its shape seems to recall the crown of flowers that was affixed to the recomposed body of the patron saint of Perugia, Saint Costanzo, who is celebrated on the 29th January with this cake.