The cuisine of landlocked, hilly Umbria relies heavily on rustic staples – pastas and roast meats – and in the past tended to be simple and homely. The region is also the only area outside Piemonte where truffles are found in any abundance, and their perfumed shavings, particularly in the east of the region, find their way onto eggs, pasta, fish and meat – but at a price that prohibits overindulgence.
Meat plays a leading role – especially lamb and pork, which is made into hams, sausage, salami and, most famously, porchetta, whole suckling pig stuffed with rosemary or sage, roasted on a spit. Game may also crop up on some menus, most often as pigeon, pheasant or guinea fowl. The range of fish is restricted by the lack of a coast, but trout can be caught from the Nera River and Clitunno springs, while the lakes of Piediluco and Trasimeno yield eel, pike, tench and grey mullet. Vegetable delicacies include tiny lentils from Castelluccio, beans from Trasimeno, and celery and cardoons from around Trevi. Umbrian olive oil, though less hyped than Tuscan oils, is of excellent quality – about 90 percent is extra virgin – particularly that from around Trevi and Spoleto.
As for desserts, Perugia is renowned for its chocolate and pastries. Cheeses tend to be standard issue, although some smaller producers survive in the mountains around Norcia and Gubbio.
Umbria used to be best known outside Italy for fresh, dry white wines. Orvieto, once predominantly a medium-sweet wine, has been revived in a dry style. The wine was beloved of the artists and architects of Orvieto’s Duomo: Luca Signorelli requested a thousand litres per year by contract. In recent years the pre-eminence of Orvieto in the domestic market has been successfully challenged by Grechetto, an inexpensive and almost unfailingly good wine made by countless producers across the region. Umbria’s quest for quality is also increasingly reflected in a growing number of small producers, many of whom have followed the lead of Giorgio Lungarotti, one of the pioneers of Umbrian viticulture (any wine with his name on is reliable), and in some outstanding reds, notably the Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG and the Sagrantino DOCG of Montefalco. The region has four wine routes (strade del vino): the Strada del Sagrantino, around Montefalco; the Strada dei Vini del Cantico between Todi, Perugia, Torgiano, Spello and Assisi; the Strada del Vino Colli del Trasimeno; and the Strada dei Vini Etrusco-Romano, in the province of Terni.