Although we have managed to explore much of Umbria throughout the years, Norcia is one Umbrian town that we never had the chance to visit on any of our many trips to the region. When we heard the famous Nero Norcia, or Black Truffle Festival was being held while we were still in Umbria, we decided it was the perfect time to visit Norcia. The drive to Norcia, which is situated in southeastern Umbria was a very scenic one as it is located in a plain surrounded by Monti Sibillini whose snow capped peaks loomed over the town under a crystal blue sky the day we arrived.
Norcia, and the largely unexplored Valnerina area where it is found, is famous for it’s outdoor activities and is popular with those interested in hiking, mountaineering, fishing, and hunting local wild boar. Nero Norcia, also known as Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Nero Pregiato di Norcia e dei Prodotti Tipici is one of Italy’s most important black truffle markets.
As well as stands selling black truffles and other culinary specialties of central Italy, many gastronomic events and demonstrations are held throughout the fair including guided tastings of typical products such as wines, salamis and cheeses. This festival is held every year over two weekends at the end of February, and in fact is celebrating it’s 46th year in 2009. Norcians are particularly proud of their black winter truffles and look forward to showing off their famous produce to an international audience each year.
Although in general black truffles are not as highly prized as white truffles by most gourmets, they are none the less delicious and are commonly served shaved on top of pasta dishes or risottos. Black winter truffles grow in the surrounding countryside of Norcia beneath oak and walnut trees, and the black truffle season runs from December 1st to March 15th.
When we arrived in Norcia, the producers were just setting up their stands which wind all through the streets of Norcia. As well as local black winter truffles and the many products associated with it, there were producers from across Italy selling their own specialties including a myriad of different regional cheeses, dried legumes, breads, wines, and of course many varieties of cured meats.
We wandered through the streets of Norcia admiring all the stands of gastronomic specialties on display, and realized that most streets seemed to lead back to the main square. The main square of Norcia, has at its centre the statue of St Benedict by Giuseppe Pinzi (1880), and contains all of the town’s major monuments. The Basilica of St Benedict faces onto the square with its typical Gothic facade. Norcia was founded by the Sabines as early as 1300 BC, but later came under the control of Rome.
The city’s greatest claim to fame however, is having been the birthplace of St Benedict, the founding father of the Benedictine order of monks whose long history spans centuries of European history. Today in fact, St Benedict is the patron saint of Europe.
As well as it’s black truffles, Norcia is famous for it’s pork products, particularly cappocollo, pancetta, guanciale, salami, prosciutto, as well as many cinguale or wild boar products. The butchers of Norcia have so highly perfected the salting and seasoning of cured pork products, that the name “norcineria” is now used for these goods throughout all the regions in Italy.
It seems that every street in Norcia boasts at least one macelleria (butcher shop), and every one was decorated for the festival. We saw some shops with dozens of whole prosciutto hanging on display outside their shops which were decorated with greenery. Other macelleria were decorated with stuffed wild boar, some with the whole animal displayed, while just the heads mounted on plaques were seen on others.
We wandered through a number of these shops admiring the goods on display but since we were leaving Italy soon we forced ourselves to merely window shop although it was extremely difficult to do so. Since we were in Norcia to visit the truffle festival, we really wanted to sample some truffles before we left and searched for a restaurant that had been recommended to us earlier. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Taverna de Massari where we indulged our cravings for truffles with a delicious plate of fresh pasta with shaved winter truffles on top for our first course along with a nice Rosso di Montefalco wine.
We so enjoyed our time in Norcia that we will certainly return when we are back in Umbria this spring and plan at that time to do some serious shopping. Although the winter scenery was stunning on our drive, I imagine it is equally pretty in the warmer months, and I wouldn’t mind checking out some of the area’s hiking trails on our next trip as well.
Delicious Plate Of Ravioli With Black Truffles Shaved On Top
Shop Selling New & Antique Copper
Main Piazza In Norcia
View Of Norcia Surrounded By Monti Sibillini
Wild Boar Heads Outside Of Macelleria
Stand Selling Local Cured Meats And Cheeses