There are two towns less than an hour west of Ascoli Piceno which are very important to Italian culinary tastes, but probably unknown to most Americans. The first of these is Amatrice just across the boarder in Lazio and the home of Spaghetti all’Amatriciana which you can read about on Valerie’s blog. The second is the Umbrian town of Norcia.
Wednesday we took a scenic drive to Norcia which is up in the Monti Sibillini situated in a vast valley and is only about 65 kilometers from Ascoli. There is a relatively new road that tunnels through the mountains to get to Norcia, but we had heard stories from locals about the bad condition of the road. It seems Umbria and Marche have an ongoing argument over who is responsible for maintaining the highway. Despite needing a new coat of asphalt in some areas this road did not match our worst fears.
Norcia sits on the north end of the wide valley and is completely surrounded by its medieval protective walls with very little development outside them. Besides having a place in Italian culinary history, Norcia is also the birthplace of San Benedetto in 480 AD who of the Benedictine Order which is spread wide across Europe with as many as 40,000 monasteries at one time. He founded the famous abbey at MonteCassino. The center of town is Piazza San Benedetto with his statue in the middle and Chiesa San Benedetto off to one side.
Norcia’s culinary contribution is sausage and ham; in many places around Italy a butcher specializing in pork is called a Norcineria. Sausages come in all shapes, sizes and flavors as well as the delicious prosciutto. When you visit this town you will also see that tartufo, or truffle, is also one of their big foods. It is a type of fungus found in the forests of Italy.
I found it interesting with Norcia being the birthplace of San Benedetto and Assisi being the birthplace of San Francesco, both in Umbria, and both of well known Catholic Orders. There is a sharp contrast in the grandeur of the basilicas dedicated to each saint in their respective hometowns.
After we left Norcia we headed east to check the road conditions for getting to the Spoleto area and this looks like a very promising route for us to get to the Spoleto/Assisi area of Umbria.