This Sunday was as unseasonably warm day for November in Umbria, a day with not a cloud in the sky and perfect sun. The twenty students participating in the Food Studies Program, as well as a contingent from Connecticut College, met up in front of the fifteenth-century palace that is one of the Umbra Institute’s two buildings. A short bus ride later they were climbing up the steep hills of the village of Celle, near the border of Umbria and Tuscany. This part of the Apennines is renowned for its production of truffles, and students were able to have a short demonstration from Giuseppe, a master tartufaio (truffle hunter) and his somewhat skittish truffle dog-in-training, Lola. Despite Lola’s reluctance to perform in front of a large group, the pair found three small black truffles, enough to use as a garnish for lunch.
Lunch was a feast…but first, the students had to earn their keep. Guided by their host, Aldo, whose family has for over a hundred and twenty years harvested the olive trees the students surrounded, the Umbra students set up the nets around the trees and picked. The result wasn’t overwhelming–Aldo said that if they were sharecroppers, they’d have a hard time–but enough to move to the next round, lunch. Aldo’s sister Patrizia had made a variety of classic dishes, including bruschette with freshly-pressed olive oil, grilled onions and bell peppers, and meat cooked on the grill outside. After a dessert treat (made with chestnut flower) and caffè, everyone piled on the bus and headed down to a nearby olive mill, where the owner showed the students the machines that wash and crush the olives of local farmers, then separate the oil from the pulp. Happy and with full bellies, students got on the bus and headed back to Perugia.