Sometimes it’s serendipity. Like, for example, when you are driving through a one horse town like Collepepe–best known for its…um…well…let’s see…its…uh, it’s very close to the pretty hilltown of Collazzone—and you spot the little Gastronomia Andreani market-slash-butcher-slash-baker right off the road and you pull in to stock up on groceries.
Sometimes—sometimes—it’s knowing the right people. Like, for example, when you are invited to participate in a blogger weekend in Umbria (from what I could gather from my experience, by “participate” they meant “eat and drink free and often, take home lots of swag, and speak well of us”, all three of which activities came to me surprisingly easily. In fact, I am now offering myself out as a sacrificial participant in blogger weekends organized by other regions in Italy. Except Tuscany, of course. I’m ain’t doing that shit for Tuscany. Unless the swag is really good.) and when the bus (Yep, they shuttled us around in a bus with a big sticker on the side. Luckily, I’ve already lost my hipster street cred.) stops in front of the unassuming Gastronomia Andreani for the opening welcome dinner you panic just a little. Because it’s not like you organized the weekend or anything, but you still don’t want Umbria to blow it in front of your fellow bloggers who, taken together, pack one of the biggest travel blog punches in the Italian language. No, not good to screw up the welcome dinner.
But however you end up there, you are in for one of the most pleasant surprises in Umbria.
If food is Umbria’s heart and soul and the small family-owned business is its backbone, Gastronomia Andreani combines these into one organic whole. The Andreani family has been serving customers at their local emporium for almost a century; today, the third generation–brothers Antonio and Floriano, along with his wife Silvana—have expanded what began as a tiny provincial general store in 1915 into a superb culinary mecca.
To call it gourmet or foodie would only detract from the almost reverent concentration on simple yet sublime local fare: their in-house butcher (run by Floriano) is known across the region as one of the best sources of high-quality locally-raised beef and pork, the delicatessen is overflowing with Umbrian wines, charcuterie, preserves, cheese, pickles and marinated vegetables, olive oils, and other Umbrian delicacies carefully hand-chosen by Antonio, and Silvana rules the roost in their house bakery, churning out schiacciata (a focaccia-style pizza), torta al testo (a local flat bread), jam tarts, breads, and seasonal sweets.
But to stop at the commercial backbone of the Gastronomia would do a disservice to its heart and soul: the Andreani family itself, deeply rooted in Umbrian soil and passionate about passing on the local culture and traditions through food. This quickly became evident during our evening there, when roughly twenty Italian food and travel bloggers were treated to a special sneak peek into their upstairs restaurant, which will open to the general public from May, 2011.
It was impossible not to be drawn in by their enthusiasm and knowledge, as course after course left Silvana’s deft hands in the kitchen and was presented by the charming Antonio, who gave a brief explanation of each dish in its historical and regional context. From the antipasto (including ingredients like Cannara’s famous red onions, Assisi’s prize-winning pecorino, freshly picked wild asparagus, Chianina, and rich torta di formaggio), to the strangozzi with traditional Umbrian ragu, to the deboned guinea fowl slowly roasted in a local red wine, to the selection of jam tartlets with their homemade preserves; we weren’t just served delicious food, we were taught why it was delicious, what significance it has to this season, this place, this people. These are folks who take their food seriously, and–in this time of disconnect between what we eat, where we live, and who we are—I respect that.
Not to say our evening wasn’t fun. The Andreani family is warm and affable, and an evening in their restaurant was like being invited to dinner at your favorite aunt and uncle’s house. She can motherhen you in a way that you would never tollerate from your own mother, and he can lecture you in a way that would irk you endlessly from your father. But somehow they make you feel both coddled and smart, worth their affection and their attention, and eager for your next evening together.
The Gastronomia Andreani will open their restaurant to diners Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 5 May. They also offer cooking classes and catering. Silvana is the co-author of the Umbrian cookbook “La Cucina Umbra Facile” in Italian and heads a local sourdough starter bank.
A special thanks to photographer Marzia Keller for kindly letting me use her photographs.