Today Eating Italy goes to picturesque Medieval hill town of Todi, located in the center of Umbria. We're talking about the food and wine of Todi with Alessandra Mallozzi of Discovering Umbria. From their office in Todi, Alessandra, born and raised in Todi, along with her brother own and run Discovering Umbria. They offer private, individual and small group tours and holidays focussed on the food, wine and culture of Todi and Umbria.
Creating activities that allow guests to meet and interact with the small family-run wine makers, olive oil producers, cheese makers and locals with in-home cooking workshops, Alessandra delivers customized experiences to make your visit truly special. She and her brother are both certified sommeliers by the Italian Federation fo Sommeliers, Hoteliers and Restaurateurs. Because, Alessandra lives and works daily with the local producers and the food & wine of Todi and its surrounding area, she has quite a bit of knowledge and experience in this area. Today she shares some of her tips for eating your way around the city....
1) What made you start Discovering Umbria?
Ah, this is a very good question! Well, at that time both my brother Leonardo and I, we worked for other companies, but we always had the dream to start our own business. We had the opportunity to do it when we took over a small travel agency in our town, Todi, at the beginning of 2006. We were (and are!) keen to pursue our love for travel, good food and wine and, above all, for our home-land Umbria and to put all these passions together: the result was our project that we decided to call, after a brainstorming of few...seconds, "Discovering Umbria."
The name was due to the fact that, while Leonardo and I were setting and planning the itineraries to offer to our guests, we also stumbled on, or should I say, “discovered” many beautiful secret places. We even got lost several times, although we were born and raised here: Umbria has really a lot to offer to travelers, there's always a place that you've not visited, a little hamlet where you've never been, even a local food that you've never tasted before.
2) Today we've narrowed our focus to your birth city of Todi. Besides the food (which we will get to next), what do you especially love about your city?
Definitely I love the way of living. In Todi and in Umbria, in general, the way of living is still very traditional, “slow” as it is called today. I'm not the kind of person who needs to be under the pressure of modern rhythms that a big metropolis can offer. Then, I'm in love with the amazing landscape that surrounds us, this immense extraordinary beauty that we, Umbrians, are so lucky to enjoy everyday. I'm so fortunate to have a stunning view from the window of my kitchen in Todi overlooking the surrounding countryside, and I never tire of admiring it every single day of the year.
3) What is unique, particular and/or special about the cooking of Todi, especially in relation to other cities and regions in Italy?
The cooking of Todi is obviously part of the ancient Umbrian culinary tradition based on simple ingredients like legumes for example, chickpeas, lentils and fava beans, considered in the past "the meat of the peasants, of the poor people." We have a very special version of Umbrian flat bread that is traditionally cooked not on the testo, that sort of large flat pan, but on the fireplace under a thin layer of ash and for this reason called "pizza sotto 'l foco," translated as pizza under the fire.
Along with the rural cooking, Todi is also famous for some special recipes used to prepare the food that in the past was available only for the wealthy and rich landlords: game, wild boar, hare, pheasant and, above all, a wild pigeon, cooked in a very particular way typical of the Todi area and named "palomba alla ghiotta." It is a very old recipe that even has different “schools of thought” regarding the admitted ingredients to make the "ghiotta," the special sauce obtained by the liquid that comes out from the palomba (it is carefully collected in a special rectangular tray, called a “ghiotta,” while the bird is roasting on a spit) and the other ingredients, like chicken liver, sage, rosemary, garlic, vinegar, black pepper and so on...
Another special product that is typical of Todi is definitely our white wine "Grechetto." Thanks to its unique characteristics, in 2010 it received the prestigious recognition D.O.C, denominazione di origine controllata, controlled designation of origin guaranteed. Grechetto is complex and elegant and it can be paired not only with vegetable-based first courses but also with soft cheeses and white meat, like one of our typical dishes: roast chicken with potatoes.
4) What tips do you have for visitors so that they can fully enjoy and experience the food of Todi and its region?
Well..Umbria and Todi are not the best places for those who don't like or don't eat meat. In the region cured meat, salame, prosciutto & Co. are considered a sort of religion. Just imagine that the Italian word for the butcher who specializes in pork processing is “norcino” that means “person from Norcia," the Umbrian town known since the Middle Ages for the abilities of these artisans. If you are a vegetarian, although with some difficulties, you can survive: as I mentioned before, our legumes are fantastic and so is our cheese, the“pecorino” made with sheep's milk, can be a very tasty replacement.
Slow living also means that restaurants are not open all day in town. Lunch is generally not provided before 1pm and dinner, not before 8pm. Remember that here everything is scheduled for the locals!
Regarding markets in Todi there is a weekly “mercato” held every Saturday morning just outside the main gate of Porta Romana. In Umbria the mercato is different from the farmer's market very popular abroad. Here you can find fresh food but also housewares, plants and flowers, clothes, shoes etc. In case you miss it, there are still several small bottega, like butcheries and fruit and vegetables shops in the old town and in its vicinity where you can find fresh and local products.
5) What 5 regional dishes, foods, desserts and/or wines would you say every visitor to Todi should not miss?
I'm a certified sommelier so..I'm happy to suggest 3 different dishes paired with 3 different wines.
Baccalà fritto, fried salted codfish. Given that Umbria is a landlocked region, dried codfish was the only kind of sea fish available in Todi in the past, with the exception of lake fish, of course. Baccalà goes perfectly with our fruity and dry Grechetto di Todi doc.
Lentil soup dressed with our extra virgin olive oil with the Moraiolo variety; that it the Umbrian olive tree variety par excellence and the richest in antioxidants, paired with a young red wine based on Sangiovese grapes, widely cultivated in Todi with very good results.
Cinghiale, wild boar, cooked on low heat for many hours paired with the "muscle" red wine of Umbria, Sagrantino di Montefalco docg.
6) What are your 5 favorite eateries in and around Todi right now?
There are many wonderful places in Todi and in the villages close to the town. Here are my tips for those who would like to enjoy a full day of food tasting in the old town, inside the Medieval circle of the walls, starting from...breakfast!
Pasticci e Bontà – Via G. Matteotti 96, Todi: Family run-pastry shop, the best in town for its high quality products. The wonderful cakes, desserts and croissants are made by the owner Maurizio. Don't miss cornetto filled with the custard cream made only by eggs and natural ingredients. Tel. 075 8942826
Vineria San Fortunato – Via dei Condotti, Todi. This new wine-bar is located close to the stairs of San Fortunato Church. Very cozy place and friendly staff, it is perfect for aperitivo thanks to the rich wine list of Umbrian wines and very good Italian options. Tel. 392 371 4140
For a great lunch or dinner my favourite addresses are both very close one to the other:
Enoteca Oberdan – Via Ciuffelli 22, Todi. Run by the talented Elsa, it offers very special menus based only on fresh ingredients. Huge and accurate wine list. Ask Elsa for a perfect wine/food pairing! In Summer it is possible to dine out in the magical atmosphere of Giardini Oberdan, called by the locals “Giardinetti”. Tel. 075 8945409
Antica Osteria della Valle – Via Ciuffelli 19, Todi Chef John prepares wonderful specialities, based on Umbrian tradition and new cuisine, with an international touch. Tel. 075 8944848
In case you desperately need a great typical Italian snack, appropriate both before and after dinner, don't miss:
Pianegiani Gelateria – Corso Cavour 40 – Todi. The oldest gelateria in town founded at the beginning of 1900, it is famous for its amazing artisan ice-creams. In Spring and Summer “al fresco” tables in the cozy little square “Piazzetta della Rua”, dominated by the fountain with the Eagle, the coat of arms of Todi since the Middle Ages. Tel. 075 8942376
7) Which food & wine festivals in and around Todi would you highly recommend?
One of the points of strength of Todi is its position. Located in the center of the region, from here it is possible to reach all the most important towns and wine areas of Umbria in a few minutes. My favorite wine&food festivals are located in two different parts of the region, but just about half an hour from my home-town.
Orvieto con Gusto - It takes place the 1st weekend of October. It includes several food events like dinners with special products coming also from other regions of Italy, and it ends with the Passeggiata dei Sapori, a food & wine walk in the beautiful historical center of the town.
Enologica Montefalco - On the third weekend of September. Located in the village that gives the name to the area of production of one of the most prestigious Umbrian wines, Sagrantino, Enologica includes wine tastings of Montefalco doc/docg wines, guided tours to some wineries, conferences and the Festa della Vendemmia, grape harvest festa on the main piazza on Sunday.
8) What would your best ever “food lover’s day in Todi” look like? Where would you go and what would you eat?
If it would be my last day ever in Todi, I have no doubt: I'll run to the local “porchettaro”, the traditional roast pork butcher, whose kiosk is just outside Porta Romana gate, and I'll have my beloved panino!
Thank you so much, Alessandra! Don't you want to go straight to Todi, spend a few days with Alessandra, drink wine and eat a panino and the palomba in ghiotta with her, and possibly pick some olives for the olive oil harvest?! If you're thinking of visiting Todi or Umbria, I'd suggest talking to Alessandra of Discovering Umbria. You're sure to have an amazing and truly local experience!
**All photos in this post are Alessandra's and used with her permission. Many are from her Instagram page where you can find other gorgeous photos of Todi, Umbria and its food.
Piazza del Popolo in Todi
Eating Italy is an interview series focussed on finding out how locals eat throughout Italy. Once every few weeks we'll take a virtual food-lover's trip to a specific spot around the boot. I'll ask my food-loving friends to share their insights and tips on where, what & how to eat in their home city or region.
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