(The original text was written by Tore Ulabrand Johansen and was published in the “VG Helg” magazine in December 2011. The English version you find here below has been quite freely adapted by…me-My Central Italy 🙂 )
Olives are being harvested in Northern Lazio, ready to be transformed into agricultural treats. Northern Lazio and Umbria regions are a tasty alternative to the tourist magnet Toscana.
Harvesting olives is a typical pre-Christmas activity for Italian farmers. We are in Northern Lazio, where tourism is still less prosperous and more modest if compared to that of the nearby Umbria and Tuscany regions. Here, in the very heart of Italy – only an hour away from Rome by train or car – the people are friendlier, the wine cheaper and the food just as tasteful as in the two regions further north. The villages are also equally beautiful and the hills, bathed in the pale November light, are just as round, soft and, enchanting.
Yet, at the Belcapo family’s farm no one has time to look at the light. There are simply not enough hours in the day when olives are to be harvested. The Belcapo farm has several kilometers of olive trees neatly lined up, their leaves dressed in autumn colours, their fruits looking more like raisins this time of year. Agritourism is big business in vast parts of Italy. At the Belcapo farm one can taste wine produced at the vineyard, observe the production of olive oil or have lunch underneath high ceilings and arches – eating, of course, only locally produced dishes. Similar farms also offer rooms for overnight stays, where one can take day trips to towns and villages in the surroundings.
One charming small town is Vasanello, an ancient town with Etruscan roots. Facing the town square you can see a heavy gate that opens up revealing a castle. Not quite as old as the town itself, the castle was built in the 14th century. The countess herself welcomes us. Her name is Elena Misciattelli. She guides us through enormous rooms and halls packed with history. Some of Italy’s most famous families have spent time here: Orsini, Farnese, Borgia. The castle is not open to ordinary visitors, but can be rented for weddings and other special occasions. Several Norwegians have already celebrated their big day behind these mighty walls.
Just down the street from the Orsini castle you will find the small restaurant “Il Coccetto”, where Laura and Maria-Rosa make pasta with truffles and braised veal, a dish so amazingly tasteful it brings tears to your eyes.
One of the people who has lost his heart to Italy is the Norwegian cyclist Knut Knudsen. Italy is the Country where Knut won some of his biggest triumphs, and now he spends several months a year in Vasanello. Today he makes a living out of guiding tourists through the Italian landscape on two wheels.
Another Norwegian who spends time in Vasanello is Arild Odden. He has established his company, a small tour operator, in this town. “A lot of people prefer to travel around on their own, while others want help and guidance in order to locate the best places to visit, and the best experiences. A lot of people want to experience the typical Italian way of life,” Odden informs us.
The Italians are indeed proud of their culture, and particularly of their culinary traditions. In one of Vasanello’s narrow, cobblestoned streets we meet the butcher Leonardo Ricci. He manually treats each one of his hams before he hangs them up to dry and mature, a process which takes at least 30 months. They taste just as good as the more famous Parma hams, but they cost much less.
In one of the houses Arild Odden sponsors, one of the few places in Vasanello which accommodates guests, Alessia di Marcantonio stirs up culinary treats. She makes Italian food both for special and not so special occasions, using recipes she has learnt from her mother and other women spanning the generations. “One of the keys for cooking well is to use ingredients of prime quality. I always shop the day I plan to cook, to make sure the produce is fresh. And, remember – you need to take your time, and prepare meals with love and care. Otherwise it just won’t work,” Alessia says.