A bishop cancels a private meeting with the Pope to savor this town’s prized local wines, and a transplanted Roman takes up residence here to transform dough into superlative strings of pasta. These two foodie footnotes are detailed in The Palladian Traveler’s latest “Country Roads” dispatch from Orvieto.
Legend has it that a 12th century Catholic bishop, while en route for a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, sent his personal aide ahead with instructions to scout out the inns that serve the very best wines along the way.
As the aide made his way, he would mark the front doors of inns that had reputable grape with a large EST! (Latin for “it is”). Upon arriving in Orvieto, once the epicenter of Etruscan culture and religion, he tasted the wine at a particular inn and was pleasantly surprised by its bouquet and quickly wrote on the door EST! EST! EST! to ensure that his master would dismount and quench his thirst.
The bishop did stop, and loved the wine so much that he never kept his appointment with the Holy Father down in Rome and remained in Orvieto for the remainder of his days. No doubt with a much smaller liver, but quite content.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the here-and-now where my group of international media dismounts Insight Vacations’ (Insight) “Country Roads of Italy” motorcoach to meet Orvieto’s latest triple-EST! — a transplanted Roman who serves as the executive chef and owner of Ristorante Zeppelin, the effervescent Lorenzo Polegri, a.k.a. The Etruscan Chef.
An elevator ride to the top of the rock carries us close to Lorenzo’s culinary hideaway, located in the heart of this once proud Etruscan village chiseled out of volcanic tuff millennia ago in the Umbria region of central Italy, where we’ll pass the afternoon making pasta, eating and drinking.
Our host jump-starts the palate with an aperitivo of chilled sparkling white wine complimented by nuggets of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and squares of fresh focaccia bread topped with prosciutto (cured ham).
Smiling, we’re ushered into the dining room of Zeppelin’s — named in honor of Led Zeppelin, the 60s English rock band, Lorenzo’s fave — and our group of travel scribes and photographers is entertained and enlightened as The Etruscan Chef brings strands of fresh tagliatelle pasta to life with simple flour, eggs and strong hands.
Kneading and talking — his version of walking and chewing gum — Lorenzo explains his love of the kitchen and the joy that it brings to the faces of the guests that grace his table.
The pasta-making demonstration now over, we take our places at la tavola and dine on the fruits of Lorenzo’s labor: those freshly made tagliatelle prepared al cingiale (boar’s meat sauce) followed by a simple, but delicious, panna e cioccolato — a whipped cream mold drenched in a dark chocolate sauce topped with crushed walnuts. Around and in between courses there is plenty of local red and white wine. And no Italian lunch or dinner is complete without the obligatory small cup of strong espresso coffee.
Our bellies full like hot-air balloons, we bid Arrivederci! to Lorenzo and waddle out of Ristorante Zeppelin with an autographed copy of his book, The Etruscan Chef, tucked under our arms.
What a guy! What a visit! What a journey! In other words: EST! EST! EST!
Where to next, Belinda?, someone asks our tour director-slash-storyteller.
Let’s go meet Marco, Umbria’s best art historian, she replies, and discover the jewel of Orvieto, the Duomo of the Assumption of the Virgin. How’s that sound?
Like school kids, we yell out our approval in unison: SI!
To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries — where you’ll meet great local personalities like The Etruscan Chef along the way — or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you in front of the Duomo in just a couple of minutes. Last one there buys tonight’s aperitivi!