Food & Wine in Le Marche: Highlights
Inland, the most popular meat is, and always has been, pork, and every part of the pig is used in a wide variety of dishes. It is also offered salt-cured or smoked in a mouth-watering range of sausages and salami.
One of the best and most distinctive is Ciauscolo: smoky pork sausage. This soft smoked-pork sausage is flavoured with fennel, garlic and vino cotto, a local non-alcoholic 'cooked wine' made from grape must with a unique sweet-and-sour flavour.
Served spread on toast as an appetiser or a snack, thick slices or chunks of ciauscolo are also used to enrich winter meat, bean stews or vegetable soups. The best ciauscolo can be found in any butcher in Le Marche's many hilltop towns. Another local favourite is Porchetta, a spit-roasted whole, boneless pig that has been stuffed with herbs.
Rabbit, pigeon and other indigenous animals are available, often cooked using fennel, which is typical of the region. Piolotto is a traditional way to prepare meat by wrapping it in paper with a piece of lard, which melts into the meat during cooking.
There are lots of delicious unique pasta dishes in Le Marche, though its appearance in the region came from external influence, particularly from the neighbouring Romagna.
The locals gave the newly adopted commodity a local slant and offer a mouth-watering selection of regional pasta dishes, such as Vincisgrassi - an epic lasagne, consisting of 12 layers of pasta sheets are interspersed with veal ragu, chicken liver or lamb sweetbreads, truffles or wild mushrooms, and béchamel sauce.
This is, predictably, only on offer for very special occasions! Another delicious local pasta dish is Tagliatelle with Squid and Prawn.
Vincisgrassi - Lasagne Marche Style
In an agricutural region such as Le Marche, there are, of course, a wide selection of cheeses available. Each area of the territory boasts its own type of cheese, created using processes that have been handed down over many generations.
A cheese produced all over Le Marche is the classic Pecorino (made from ewe’s milk), with local varieties such as those from the Sibillini Mountains or Mount Rinaldo.
A delicious cheese produced near Talamello is the tasty Formaggio di Fossa, sometimes known as Ambra di Talamello (Talamello’s Amber), which is made of a mixture of sheep and cows milk.
This cheese is protected from theft, according to rural custom, by wrapping the cheeses in cloth and hiding them in tufa holes, which are then sealed.
After ripening for three months in straw or walnut leaves, this renowned cheese is usually eaten in November, when the holes are re-opened during the festival on Saint Catherine’s Day.
The Montefeltro region also produces Casècc (ripened in earthenware jars) and the Casciotta d’Urbino, a cheese apparently much loved by the artist Michelangelo Buonarroti. This is a soft cheese made from a mixture of different milks, which is cured for a short time in barrels. This cheese was recently awarded the d.o.c. and d.o.p. labels (controlled denomination of origin, and protected denomination of origin).
Other cheeses worthy of mention are the Formaggio ubriaco al Vino rosso (a cheese seasoned in red wine), typical of the Ancona and Macerata provinces, using the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona wines respectively, and the lemon-shaped Cacio from the Metauro valley, produced by pouring the curd into lemon-shaped moulds. To achieve its unique flavour, salt and grated lemon rind are spread on the cheese during seasoning.
Cow’s milk produces some very good fresh cheeses, such as Raviggiolo and Slattato whereas goat’s milk is used to produce the savoury Caprino di Urbino (a cheese that undergoes a long period of seasoning), and Quark, a fresh cheese that may be spread on bread and is best eaten with chives and rocket.
Truffles are, and always have been, a very popular local delicacy, and several different varieties are available at different times of the year. From the middle of September till the end of January the most sought-after and expensive truffle variety can be found; the large and golden valuable white truffle.
Small black truffles are found in winter time from the middle of December till the end of March, the bianchetto truffles (smooth truffles), from January to the end of April.
Summer black truffles are found from June till August, and the excellent smooth black truffle and the ordinary black truffles are available during the winter.
It is also worth mentioning the tartufi uncinati (hook-like truffles), the tartufi moscati (muscat truffles) and the sweet valuable black truffles which are found from November to the middle of March.
In small towns such as Acqualagna, Amandola, Sant’Angelo truffles may be found all year round, during festivals, and in shops and markets selling local products.
Truffles are available whole, just as they are found, or processed into truffle-scented oils, soft truffle pastes, or savoury sauces.
They are served in restaurants as the main ingredient in some classic dishes. In the shops and markets they are often displayed like jewels, and their price can be as high!
There are several local truffle festivals in the region: The National White Truffle Festival (in late October, early November) and the Regional Valuable Black Truffle Festivals (in late February) and the Summer Black Truffle Fair (on 15th August) in Acqualagna, are among the most important exhibitions in Italy, along with the autumn National Fair of Agriculture, Wood and Shepherds’ products in Sant’Agata Feltria.
Le Marche is best known as a white-wine region, although it is home to some reds of very high quality too. The leading white varieties here are the ubiquitous Trebbiano (in various forms) and Verdicchio, the grape to which Le Marche has been a spiritual home for more than 600 years.
These green-hued, refreshingly crisp, green-tinged white wines are characterized by lively acidity and subtle herbaceous undertones, and are perfect accompaniments for Brodetto di Pesce, a rich local seafood stew.
Another excellent white wine from Le Marche is Bianchello di Metauro, made from Bianchello grapes grown around the Matauro river valley.
Among the red wines of Le Marche, the finest are generally made from Montepulciano and/or Sangiovese grapes, the dark-skinned varieties that dominate central Italian red wines. The most popular red wine in the region is Rosso Piceno. The same varieties are also used to make the intensely fragrant Rosso Conero Riserva.
These two are backed up by Ciliegiolo, Pinot Nero, Lacrima di Morro and, notably, Vernaccia Nera, the variety behind the sparkling DOCG wine Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. These firm, tannic wines are unusual in the sea of Marche's white and lighter-hearted reds, and fly the flag for diversity in the region's wine production.