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agritourismo: eating out, in!
Owners of working farms open their houses for lunch or dinner, serving dishes using their home-grown or homemade products.
It was a sunny morning in the Umbrian countryside and a luxuriously free day stretched ahead of us.
For almost a week my friend Charlotte and I had left the little apartment at Tenuta di Canonica, a few kilometers outside of Todi, early in the mornings, setting out to explore the region.We had lounged in cafes watching the passegiata along Corso Vannucci in Perugia, shopped for ceramics in Deruta, walked the Ponte delle Torri at sunset in Spoleto and wandered the narrow streets of Gubbio.
But on this, our last day, we had nothing specific in mind, except a vague idea that we wanted to visit some of the local farms - fattorie -- and places of agriturismo that sell the region's famous deep-green olive oil and creamy, fresh ricotta. We had seen the signposts for these places on our drives somewhere else.
I asked Daniele Fano, the Tenuta di Canonica's owner, about the agriturismo phenomenon.
"Si, si," said Daniele, as he tidied the breakfast room at the hotel. Agriturismo was big in this area around Todi. In fact, there was a place right up the road, in a small town called Titignano. "Potrei prenotare per pranzo oggi. Va bene?"
I remembered that a friend from Rome mentioned she attended a relative's wedding in Titignano. She had described the town as "bellissimo", with a small church and restored medieval buildings. Other Italian friends had told us about the agriturismo movement and I had seen plenty of travelers carrying agriturismo guides as we made our way around Umbria.
The concept is simple: owners of working farms open their houses for lunch or dinner, serving dishes using their home-grown or homemade products. Daniele said the food was very good, authentic and a value.
There was no one about in the sleepy little town and we began wandering the only street, flanked by perfectly restored medieval buildings, with a stone church at one end and a long low wall that overlooked vineyards and Lake Corbara at the other end. The scene looked like a set for a medieval movie, minus the people.
We walked over to what looked like the main building, a palazzo with a huge wooden door that was ajar. Inside, a woman walked by and, when we asked about a restaurant, she motioned towards the stairs. We found our way to a large hall, old frescoes decorating the high walls and a mammoth fireplace.
Only a few of the long tables were set and there were just two parties in the room: one family of about 12 people and an elderly couple. There was a table set for two next to the couple, whom we greeted with "buon giorno" as we sat down, tentatively.
Two large carafes of wine, one of red and one of white, were placed before us on the table, with mineral water alongside. We asked the server whether the wine was made on the farm and she said it was. Everything came from here, she said.
We realized we had no idea how much this simple, abundant and wonderfully authentic meal was going to cost. When we told our server we were ready for "il conto" she smiled and told us the lunch was 25,000 lire each -- about $14.50 for a veritable feast.
Satiated, we walked downstairs and into the cantina that had been closed earlier. There we bought a couple of bottles of the local wine - with a handsome label from Fattoria Titignano - to take home as souvenirs of our adventure in agriturismo.
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