I first came to look at a house here in Lubriano on the basis of an entry in the Slow Food Guide Osteria d’Italia. My reasoning being that it is always good to have one really good restaurant a town, especially for when special people like my father come to visit. We had tried to get a table at Il Vecchio Mulino a few years back, calling from the shores of lake Bolsena to find that the little restaurant was fully booked and that tables on the terrace were out of the question. And everyone wants a terrace table when the weather permits, even when the sun slants into your eyes, because spread out below you is the valley and the vista across to Civita di Bagnoregio, perched up in mid-air on a rocky outcrop, her bell tower straight amongst the dying town.
That first visit was on a hot and dry September day and we came though Lubriano to look quickly at the house – which seemed to Leonardo to be too much of an undertaking but had captivated me with a photo of a garden with a lone fruit tree and that view over to Civita – on our way to another inspection. We drove off the autostrada and along roads that wound through vine-covered hillsides, past tiny abandoned looking churches and farmhouses; both of the tumbledown and charmingly restored variety. We drove down into the town of just 900 inhabitants, where the old centre is basically stretched out along a ridge, like a kind of verandah onto the Valle dei Calanchi with her indescribable but sort of eerie beauty.
After looking at the house, with a sort of sinking feeling knowing that Leonardo would try to talk me out of it, the kids and I found time for a quick bowl of pasta with fresh funghi porcini at Il Vecchio Mulino, it seemed the right thing to do, having finally made it to Lubriano. The dining room was almost empty as Emma and Alberto made their usual commotion about the table, but out on the terrace a French couple and some other foreigners were finishing their lunch. I saw the view again and started working out ways I could convince Leonardo.
One of the things I always order at Il Vecchio Mulino is the Bruschetta con Lardo alla Colonnata. Being as we are, almost in Umbria, and very close to Tuscany, this is Pane Sciapo territory. Sciapo means unsalted, and Pane Sciapo is the standard and traditional bread in this part of Italy, historically because they were not on the Via Salaria salt route. But I’m quite partial to salt, and being fond of the dark and dense Roman Pane Lariano, I was quite dismissive of Pane Sciapo before I really got to know it. Being light and very dry, unsalted bread toasts easily and makes the perfect bruschetta, ready to be doused in olive oil or rubbed with a little garlic. The real raison-d-etre of unsalted bread however, is its compatibility with salami, prosciutto and other cured products. Which brings us back to the Lardo di Colonnata, a slab of pork fat with just the lightest streak of flesh through the middle but cured – between slabs of marble with salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic – so that when sliced ever so finely and layed onto a just toasted bruschetta and flash grilled for just a second imparts its flavor to the bread. No need to say any more. The other must order antipasto at Il Vecchio Mulino is the Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan classic made using ripe tomatoes, onions and stale bread.
The next reason to love Lubriano was the valley itself, with walking paths down below the old houses and crooked alleyways, with cows and donkeys, picnic tables and and old mill. Places to gather blackberries and chestnut trees ready to drop their autumn harvest.
Our third reason was to quickly become the butchers’ shops, especially Stefano Olimpieri’s little shop at the beginning of the old centre. In the end we bought the house and Leonardo didn’t even need any convincing, blindly throwing his faith behind me and my hand sketched plans and dealings with the local tradesmen. In a town of Juventus supporters Leonardo found a Roma stalwart. In a world of big brands and pre-packaged everything we found a little shop selling locally raised meat and full of house cured pancetta and guanciale, with house roasted Porchetta every Saturday.
A rough guide to cured meats in (central) Italy.
Names and specialties vary from region to region. This is just the tip
of the iceberg.
Prosciutto Crudo – cured pork, from Prosciutto dolce which is ‘sweeter’, to the saltier and gutsier varieties of Tuscany and Umbria. San Daniele, perhaps the most famous Prosciuto from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, is a dolce, as is Prosciutto di Parma.
Hand cut – tagliato a mano – suits more rustic aged prosciutto, like Prosciutto di Norcia.
Prosciutto Cotto – what we English speakers call ham. Pink ‘cooked’ pig. The weakest string in the Italians’ bow. Look for ‘arrosto’ which is a seasoned and roasted version.
Pancetta – Cured pork belly. In central Italy pancetta is flat, and is generally cured but occasionly smoked. For me a little chopped pancetta lifts almost everything, from winter minestrone to pasta with zucchini or broccoli, everyday lunch staples.
Guanciale – pron. goo-an-chale – cured pork cheek, similar to pancetta but with more fat. The traditional ingredient in Roman fare such as La Carbonara and L’Ammatriciana.
Lonza The lonza is the nice round fillet piece (found in middle rashers of bacon). Stefano cures and hangs his ready to be finely sliced and served as part of an antipasto along with perhaps a good aged Pecorino. Also called Arista in its uncooked form, a nice cut as grilled slices or a mini roast.
Porchetta – Whole roasted pig, seasoned with rosemary, salt pepper and sage.
Lardo alla Colonnata – Colonnata is in Northern Tuscany near the famous marble quarries of Carrara. The famous Lardo, cured between slabs of marble and seasoned with salt and pepper, rosemary and sage was packed by the quarrymen for their lunch.
Il Vecchio Mulino, Via Guglielmo Marconi, 25A, Lubriano Viterbo, Italia tel, +39 0761 780505 Park in the space in front of the Yellow Church, Madonna del Poggio, wise to book especially if you want the terrace.
Macellaio Stefano Olimpieri, Via Nazionale, 5, just inside the historic centre near the bar.