Saints and Truffles
And Wild Boar, Oh My!
Story and photos by Tom Weber
everyone, and I mean everyone, getting out of Dodge for Ferragosto
(the Festivals of August and Feast of the Assumption) I finally
relented and joined the nationwide exodus. Destination? Umbria,
the "land of saints," specifically Norcia in central
It is here, in the very heart of medieval Italy,
one of just five regions that are totally landlocked - cut off
from the seas that straddle the Bel Paese's coastline -
where there are more saints-per-kilometer than any other spot
in the entire country. Noted Umbri sons and daughters who
were canonized by the Vatican include Saints Francis and Clair
of Assisi, Saint Rita of Cascia, and Saints Benedict - the founder
of western monasticism - and Scholastica of Norcia.
My Grandfather's What?
Less divine, but equally renowned, are the world-famous
DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta - Protected Designation
of Origin) agricultural products from the area found inside butcher
shops/delicatessens located on just about every street corner: rare
and expensive ($1,500 per kilo) black truffles, delectable pork and
wild boar salamis and sausages with colorful, or off-color, names like
coglioni di mulo (mule testicles) and palle del nonno
(grandfather's balls), mutton that share their destiny with Cleopatra's
eunuchs called castrato (castrated), the benchmark high-plains
lenticchie (lentils), and plenty of pecorino (sheep) cheeses
to suit just about everyone's palette.
Norcia - Three Millennium and Counting
An ornate and charming retreat in the high country of
Umbria that has a history spanning more than 3,000 years, Norcia is
famous today for its array of pork products, and its savory cuisine
highlighted by the black truffle.
Noted for its nearby hunting preserves, especially wild
boar, people come to Norcia to experience an intact, low-rise medieval
walled city, but stay for the pork. Because of the - pardon the pun
- "link" between the city and its pork products, swine-only
butcher shops are uniquely called norcinerie vice macellerie
around the rest of the country. You cannot walk down a street or alleyway
in Norcia without passing by a norcineria or two, or three.
Enjoy the Pork and the Sights, Too
Pork aside, Norcia is well worth the visit. Its mountain
air and relatively broad main streets and quaint flowered alleyways
make for a pleasurable stroll through medieval times.
Surrounded by the Sybilline mountain range, this village
sits flat, unusual among the towns of Umbria. It's enclosed by a full
circuit wall with tall arched gates that have survived since the 14th
century AD, which makes Norcia an easy and relaxing town to go on foot
to see the main sights.
The Pulse of the Village
Join your fellow travelers in Piazza San Benedetto
(St. Benedict's Square), the town's circular main square. There, all
in one place, you'll find the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall Palace),
the Basilica of St. Benedict, the arched Portico of Measurements or
Merchants Loggia, the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, and La Castellina
(the Papacy Fortress built by Pope Julius III, which now houses the
Civic Museum). Within strolling distance of the main square are the
Teatro Civico (Civic Theatre), the World War I monument and the
Porta Romana (Roman Gate).
And, of course, never far from sight, no matter where
you are in the village, are the countless norcinerie where a
part of someone's grandfather's anatomy hangs in full view for all to
For detailed tourist information in English on everything
Norcia, visit the Bella Umbria website: www.bellaumbria.net/en/.
Rocchette, Italy; Northern