As you drive towards Norcia, first along the Nera and then along its tributary the Corno, the remoteness of this mountain fastness is brought home. The valley narrows down into a sheer-sided gorge; until a road tunnel was blasted out in 1857, a rock-hewn pedestrian and donkey passageway, the Sasso Tagliato, was the only way through. It comes as a relief, and a surprise, when the gorge opens out all of a sudden into the verdant upland plain of Santa Scolastica. There, ahead of you, in the middle of the plain, backed by the rounded peaks of the Monti Sibillini, is a neat walled town, unblemished by urban sprawl. Its position alone – at the centre of a well-irrigated breadbasket of a plain, with endless summer pastures in the mountains above – explains why Norcia has been considered such a prize down through its long history, from Sabines and Romans through to princes and popes.
This great blog post with excellent pictures tells an eating story of Norcia, complete with restaurant and butcher recommendations.
|Butcher's shops everywhere.|
The Summer Black Truffle lives in symbiosis with the root systems of major trees – above all oaks, hazelnuts, black hornbeams, poplars, willows, limes, beeches and chestnuts. Its key feature is a strong aromatic scent that it generates only when the spores are perfectly ripe. In order to preserve its best organoleptic properties, the truffle must be extracted at exactly the right stage of ripeness.
The unripe truffle is heavier than the ripe truffle and has no aroma whatsoever. The truffle is harvested only using specifically trained dogs and in certain periods of the year, when the spores have completed the ripening process.
The Tuber Aestivum is a more durable truffle that keeps longer than other varieties. Its rough, warty skin is black. Its development is often associated with the trees with which it is in symbiosis, such as oaks (including the Turkey oak tree). Its size varies from that of a walnut – which is more common – to that of quite large examples, which can sometimes weigh as much as about 1 kg. The latter, however, are much rarer.
The summer black truffle has many culinary uses and has the merit of always being affordable, even when harvests are smaller. Because of this, together with its greater ease of conservation, this truffle is widely used to prepare extremely tasty and not unduly expensive dishes for a long period of the year.
|They think their cheese is pretty good, too...|
|A long claim...|
|...and more truffles.|
|Norcia. In the middle.|
|San Benedetto looks on....Norcia.|