Is there anything better than a good farmer’s market? The colorful displays of fruit and veg, the producers’ enthusiasm, the creative culinary juices it gets pumping, or the FOMO that arises if you oversleep and someone else beats you to the primo selection of heirloom tomatoes and fresh bread. Market day gives me that kid in a candy store kind of feeling. You best believe it’s my favorite day of the week. And since every market in every corner of this world is different, I think it’s one of the best ways to learn about local food culture.
Throughout the week, we have several farmer’s markets. By far, my favorite is Coldiretti Mercato Contadino Perugia on Thursday mornings at Pian di Massiano, right next to the MiniMetro station. For those who haven’t visited Perugia, the MiniMetro is the cutest little automated rail car in all of Italy. At least, that’s my opinion. It runs from the base of the hilltop city, through the underground, past Etruscan ruins, and drops you off smack dab in Perugia’s fascinating Centro Storico, aka the historic center.
Yogurt and cheese and kefir - oh my!
My first stop at the Perugia farmer’s market, and the main reason I try to get there as early as possible, is to see Peter Virdis, owner and dairy magician at Azienda Agraria Solana. The number one item on my list? Yogurt di pecora, or sheep milk yogurt. These little rainbow-colored jars of joy contain the richest and downright addicting treat. There is no added sugar in the yogurt itself, only in the jam or chocolate on the bottom. Once, the cutest little nonna tapped on my shoulder and told me she’d share her secret with me. I leaned over, and while winking at Peter, she said, “Ascolta! Metti quello chocolato nel micronde per 20-30 secondi, si scioglie, e diventa anche puì goloso!!! Ha!” She suggested, with a big smile, that I nuke the chocolate yogurt for 30 seconds to melt it just a little. To this day, putting yogurt in the microwave still sounds odd to me. However, before eating it, I take it out of the fridge to warm up. Great idea, and thank you, nonna!
Peter makes all kinds of other irresistible goodies. Soft, spreadable goat cheese covered in various herbs, goat kefir, aged blue cheese from sheep’s milk that’s dry and crumbly, and ricotta that’s so good you can eat on its own by the spoonful. However, I’d suggest using it to make a batch of herbed whipped ricotta.
Veggie heaven at the Perugia Farmers Market
My next stop is at the fruttivendolo, aka fruit and vegetable stand. Well, not just one, of course. Each has something a little different and we are fortunate to have a bounty of produce growers here in Umbria. While I like to shop around, my favorite stand at the Thursday market is Goretti. The tomato selection amongst these vendors is a thing of beauty. The last time I went, I purchased something like six different types of cherry, plum, and grape tomatoes. Sun gold, zebra, ciliege, datterini… Then I loaded up on big slicers, you know, for good measure – and also because I can’t help myself, just ask Marco. He can attest to my tomato habit. I like to use the little guys for skillet roasted tomatoes and various pasta dishes. I can also find Persian cucumbers and fresh shiny onions at this market, both of which I use on repeat all summer to make quick pickles.
Le Norcinerie - Centuries of tradition
Third, I head for the prosciutto. In case you didn’t know, Umbria is home to some of Italy’s most famed and historical artists of cured pork and butchery, Le Norcinerie. The Norcino, aka the butcher at the Norcineria, is known for his mastery in the processing of these tasty treats. The term dates back to the year 1200 and originates from the small mountain town of Norcia, in the Valnerina. The ancient tradition is taken quite seriously, requiring an apprenticeship.
The pigs from this area live a pretty spectacular life, breathing in fresh mountain air and eating a steady diet of acorns. Lucky for me, Il Casale de li Tappi is a vendor at my Thursday market. Each week I get a number and get in line. You have to have a little patience because their specialty, Prosciutto di Norcia, is cut by hand. This is one of those traditions that drives some folks crazy because who has time to wait for hand-cut prosciutto in 2022?!? Me. That’s who. It’s worth the wait, and the reverence, for a tradition passed down for centuries. During a normal week, I usually stick with just prosciutto. But around Christmas and Easter we go hog wild. Prosciutto, capocollo, salami, dried sausages, and even coppa. Those are served with another local specialty, Torta di Pasqua or Easter Cake. Torta di Pasqua is a salty cheese bread that looks like a giant muffin. Marco has taken to mastering this traditional Umbrian specialty, a new practice which I am happy/hungry to see him perfect!
Before heading out, I’ll also pick up some fresh bread or focaccia, sometimes beef from the Chianina folks, local honey, freshly milled flour, or a few bags of Castellucio Lentils. It just depends on what I’m making that week. Regardless of our menu, I try my best to source our food from these folks. Knowing your producer is so important in today’s complicated food landscape. As food producers, we know what it takes to get a quality product to market while also operating sustainably.