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You don’t know what love is until you go to Norcia.

A typical palm-size Italian village in southern Umbria amidst the mountain range of Apennine. Picture a statue of St. Benedicto at the town square, old men chatting with a smoke in hand, young mothers pushing strollers with giggling children. Swept up by that old-world nostalgia, you feel the urge to breathe in, deeply, expecting a rush of mountain air.

Instead, you get a waft of unapologetically strong and unmistakably porky smell of cured meats.

You don’t know what love is until you go to Norcia, love for salumi that is.

A norcineria is a shop that sells prosciutto, pancetta, salami, … you know, the essential stuff in life. Norcia has plenty of it and the smell permeates every stone, every wall. Every day and every meal we feasted on pasta with obscene amount of Umbrian truffles, but always started with an amazing array of local salumi.

I was a pig in previous life. But even if you are a vegetarian or do not care for pork, you have to respect that pride of a town, and its singular determination to continue an old, old tradition of preserving food, for humanity’s sake.

Ever since, I have been searching for anything up to that level of excellence at home.

Fast forward to summer 2012. Location, San Diego, California. You know, Legoland, mega strip malls and military bases, though most excellent sashimi.

First night, simply yelped for a wine-friendly and kid-friendly restaurant and Urban Solace came up. There on the menu, “Locally produced charcuterie platter”.

“Locally” … as in San Diego?!

Unconvinced but … bien sûr.

While sipping a biodynamic pinot from Williamette valley, a wooden cutting board was carried out with 3 small piles. I had no expectation of any kind. Plenty salumi from artisanal domestic producers like Fra’mani or La Quercia have been had. They are decent enough to eat and I figure this would just be another one of those, at best.

One minute and one bite of lonzino (cured loin of Birkshire) later, Will and I looked at each other with that knowing look of ‘Jack pot!’.

“Doesn’t this remind you of Norcia?”

After some ingenious Googling and feverish love-letter writing that borderlines on ‘begging’ (currently Pascal only sells to restaurants,) I have tried 7 salumi from Pascal Besset, the proprietor of Angel’s Salumi and Truffles.

Here is what I wrote to him after he Fedexed my 1st order:

‘Enjoy’ would be an understatement. I said to my husband just last night: “I don’t think I can eat anyone else’s salami anymore.”

“Even Salumi’s?” He was referring to Mario Batali’s dad’s shop in Seattle which I love. I thought about it for a minute and “Yes!”.

Every bite of the lonzino amazes me. Just massive ‘umami’. The rosette is simple but perfect harmony of spice and porkiness. Sopressata picante the best ever. The duck SO ducky. We have never had any domestic salami that we feel wasn’t overly salted until now. Whatever your recipes are really achieved the perfect balance of preserving and seasoning.

His spanish lomo and duck prosciutto are also pitch-perfect, by the way.

I love everything about and everything I had at Umbria. But artisans guarding traditions can be found anywhere, if you look hard enough.


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