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Walking through the hidden wonders of Montefalco

Umbria is the region that offers the beautiful country all its wealth: the silver of its ancient olive trees, the pearls of an ancient cuisine and the rubies of its wines. Walking through its villages you get lost in time where everything seems to enchant you in an eternal dance. Montefalco and Assisi will be the stages of this imaginary journey: we will go through the streets of the sacred and the profane through drunkenness and holiness. Montefalco boasts a very ancient history: located on the heights of the region, enjoys the title of “railing of Umbria”. From its position you get lost in one of the most beautiful views of Italy. From here, the cities of Perugia, Foligno, Assisi and the others are allowed to contemplate without hindrance, with behind the peaks of the Apennines, which cross the region. What leaves you breathless, however, is the spot of olive groves and vineyards that, in an expanse of hills, seems to get lost up to the horizon. Although the idea is to stay here still in front of this show, we must start the way of the sacred and go to the beautiful Church of San Francesco in Montefalco. Built in 1336 by the Franciscan Friars Minor, the church today is a museum complex that includes several areas including the former church, the picture gallery, the crypt and the cellars of the friars who welcome the tools used by monks for the processing of wine. Of great historical and artistic interest is the pictorial cycle of the life of San Francesco that in 1452 Benozzo Gazzoli bequeathed to the church, as the Perugino with his splendid Nativity. Continuing along the path of the sacred, another obligatory stop is the Church of Sant’Agostino: begun in the middle of the 200 as well as preserving frescoes of the 300 and 400, preserves and protects the Legend of the Blessed Pellegrino of Montefalco. The story tells that in 1300 a pilgrim went to this church to pray before the bodies of the saints Chiarella and Illuminata. The pilgrim stopped well beyond the allowed hours and, still on his knees, fell asleep. In the morning, the sacristan found the man still on his knees and tried in vain to wake him: the pilgrim was dead. So the sacristan provided for his burial. . The next morning, however, the same sacristan again found the pilgrim in the same position of veneration. Different and useless were the successive attempts of burial of the pilgrim: every time it was found in the same position. So it was that the friars decided to place the pilgrim’s body in the bell tower. The magic of this story is that with the passing of time the body has never suffered decomposition and it is still possible to look at it in a case in the same and unchanged position almost 700 years ago. It’s time to go down the street of the profane and sit at the table. Montefalco, without a doubt, is linked to the vine that is the symbol of the entire Umbrian region, Sagrantino. The history of this vine and how it arrived in Montefalco is lost in the mists of time and in the differences of scientists: according to some it was allegedly imported from Spain, according to others it is a native variety. Certainly well known to the Benedictines who cultivated it to produce a sweet wine intended only for religious celebrations. This importance was probably given to him because Sagrantino did not offer abundant harvests, but it was full of bunches with small berries with a thick skin rich in polyphenols that well resists the attack of molds and parasites: ideal situation to obtain good results with the drying technique. The Benedictines were thus able to make the most of the peculiarities of the vine: after a period on wooden racks, they obtained a passito version. The monks had also intuited that this was the only solution to tame the aggressive tannin of Sagrantino, one of the hardest of our vines: the withering, favoring a greater sugar increase, effectively masked the hardness of the wine. The monks’ farsightedness lasted until 1970. Only since these years, thanks to the ingenuity of some producers, the dry version has also been vinified. Sagrantino has thus succeeded in establishing itself as a great evolving red and in 1979 it received the DOCG award. And what do we pair this wine with? In its secular and dry appearance, with a taste rich in structure but decidedly tannic, we can accompany it with a beef fillet with Sagrantino with black truffle strips or stuffed pigeon, two typical dishes of Montefalco; In its sacred and sweet dress that remains moderately tannic and with contained sweetness, we can combine it with a chocolate cake and berries or, playing at home, match it to the Rocciata di Assisi: a puff pastry filled with fresh and dried fruit, cocoa and spices.

Space, of course, also the canederli often declined in three different variants: speck, cheese and spinach. They are served in broth or cooked in water and seasoned with hazelnut butter. There is also fresh long pasta such as tagliatelle and pappardelle, masterfully combined with fresh mushrooms or meat sauce game. Or a hot barley soup, ideal for warming up after the cold winter days. The absolute star of the main courses is surely the polenta, accompanied by trifolati mushrooms, melted cheeses and pastìn, a sausage with at the base a mixture of pork, beef and seasoned with salt and spices. Very present in the menu are also the famous unique dishes: hearty recipes perfect for those coming from a day of skiing or trekking. Also in this case there is plenty of game with delicious deer, roe deer and wild boar, accompanied with polenta or in some cases fresh pasta. The Ampezzo potatoes are a highly distinctive side dish, a preparation in which the tuber is first blanched and then sautéed in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, onion and speck. As a worthy conclusion to the lavish Dolomite lunch, you can not miss the flavored grappas to accompany desserts such as strudel, cream ice cream with warm raspberries and zopes, slices of stale bread battered with eggs, wine, grappa, sugar and fried in butter.

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