As much as I love all of Italy, Umbria holds a special place in my heart. When I was a baby, we lived in Perugia for a couple of years, and we continued to visit friends there every other summer.
To me, Umbria is an incredibly underrated region. It is the only landlocked province in Italy and lies pretty much in the center of the country. Umbria is sadly often overlooked for its more famous neigbor: Tuscany.
Of course, Tuscany is beautiful, but in my opinion, Umbria matches Tuscany in terms of landscape, history, culture, architecture and food. The region is a bit drier, so it doesn’t have the same rolling green hills. But Umbria has gorgeous mountains, beautifully preserved medieval towns and vineyards and olive groves for miles.
Not to mention the incredible food, with regional specialities that are famous around Italy, but somehow never really got much international acclaim. It’s a region with lots of small scale, extensive agriculture as well as wild treasures, like truffles and game meat.
Umbria has tons of DOP’s (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), which means that they are regional protected products. Everything is locally grown and packages according to traditional methods.
Umbrian cuisine is rustic, simple. A perfect example of the Italian cucina povera (peasant cooking). People cook with humble, local products of high quality. And that’s why food in Umbria tastes so good.
To wash it all down, indulge in some great Umbrian wine. Like crisp whites from Orvieto or a rich red Sagrantino de Montefalco (a DOCG wine) or Sangiovese.
Where Tuscany is the famous star, Umbria is very much a hidden gem. More affordable and less touristic than Tuscany, this region definitely deserves to be on your list. And these are the best things to eat in Umbria while you are there:
Umbria is the truffle capital of Italy. This region produces more truffles than anywhere else in Italy.
Most common is the black truffle, which can be found year round, although summer is the best time. White truffles are rare and extremely expensive, as they only grow in winter. You can find them on almost every restaurant menu in Umbria, typically with gnocchi or the local strangozzi pasta.
Truffle hunting is a traditional trade in Umbria that dates back to the 15th century. Skills and tricks, as well as recipes, are taught from generation to generation. Traditionally, truffle hunting was done by pigs, but they cause a lot of damage to the vegetation. So modern day truffle hunters prefer to use dogs, which they train themselves to silently hunt for truffles (so not to give away locations to other hunters).
If you have the time, I highly recommend you visit the Truffle Museum in Urbani to learn more about the history of truffles. And go on a tour with a truffle hunter, where you may find one yourself!
From black truffles to chocolate truffles. It seems unexpected, but Umbria is also famous for its chocolate.
The Perugina chocolate factory was founded in Umbria in 1907. In 1988, it was incorporated by Nestlé. Perugina rose to fame with their Baci chocolates. Baci, which literally means “kisses”, are small chocolates filled with hazelnut and dark chocolate. They are absolutely delicious.
You can visit the Perugina Chocolate Museum close to Perugia, to learn about the history of the company and how the chocolates are made. I also highly recommend trying the Baci chocolate gelato sold in gelateria’s in Perugia.
Umbria is landlocked, so the traditional cuisine is focuses more on meat than fish. You can find some dishes with sweet water fish around the lakes, but in most of the region pork is the protein of choice. Game meats, especially boar, deer and wild birds like pigeons are also very popular.
Umbria is home to tons of small pig farms and oak forests where they can roam. The chestnuts and acorns they eat flavors the meat. The pork mostly gets turned into cured meats like ham and sausages, which are often falvored with fennel. Porchetta (roasted pork) is also very popular. This dish of roasted stuffed pork rolls originated in Umbria and is served as a main dish or on sandwhiches.
But the most famous meat product from Umbria is definitely prosciutto di Norcia. It’s not as widely known as Prosciutto di Parma, but equally good. Norcia is a small town in the hills of Umbria, with a tradition of curing meats that dates back to the 13th century. It has an IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) label to signify its status as a protected regional product. Prosciutto di Norcia is salty, flavorful and melts on your tongue.
Torta al testo
One great way to eat Proscitutto di Norcia is on a Torta al Testo, a flatbread sandwich typical for Umbria.
The name comes from the way it is cooked, originally on a large flat stone, calles testo over a fire. These days, torta al testo is made in a flat pan.
The bread itself is made with flour, salt, water and olive oil. It’s served either as a side to mop up sauces or turned into a sandwich. The sandwiches are often filled with local cheese, meats and vegetables. They’re perfect as a quick snack or light lunch, and you can get them at cafés all around Umbria.
Grains, vegetables and legumes
Umbria is not only famous for cured meats, but also traditional vegetables, cereals and legumes. Around lake Trasimeno, the Trasimeno bean grows. Farro (spelt) is a popular grain in Umbria for baking and as a side dish. Black celery and Cannara onions are typical Umbrian vegetables that have the status of regional protected product and even annual festivals dedicated to them.
Castelluccio di Norcia, a tiny town on a mountain plateau in the north of Umbria, is home to the best lentils in the world. And it’s not just me who thinks that, professional chefs would agree. The lentils are grown in a field with flowers, leading to an amazing, colorful tapestry on the slopes of the mountains. It is well worth the drive to see the lentil fields, visit the town* and hike to numerous viewpoints in the Mount Sibillini National Park. The drive itself is gorgeous, with wide views over the valleys below and mountain peaks above.
*In 2016 and 2017, Castelluccio di Norcia was devastated by earthquakes. Over 60% of the village was destroyed. Rebuilding is a slow and costly effort, so it’s worth visiting to support the local community.
Umbria is a beautiful region with lots to offer, especially when it comes to food. The cuisine of Umbria is one born out of tradition, local ingredients and lots of love. It’s humble and rustic, but full of flavor. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, Umbria, with its charming towns, pretty landscapes and great food, can’t be missed.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and you’re now excited to try some Umbrian food. If you did, please “like” and share this post on social media, and don’t forget to pin on Pinterest.