Paper & Felt Research Trip - Part 3 - More Italy

Dear Friends and Family,

We are certainly eating well here in Italy. Hard to believe, but after that great lunch in Fabriano we went out to a great dinner at a new restaurant down the street from Elizabeth, Il Girasole. Elizabeth and Era had a starter of ovuli, which are the cutest mushrooms ever, and parmesan.

Ovuli (raw) with shaved parmesan. You add your desired amount of olive oil.

And these are ovuli in the wild. So cute.

Elizabeth had chicken with grilled vegetables and Don had steak with grilled vegetables. I had spaghetti with duck ragu, but could only eat a bite or two; I was so full.

The next day Elizabeth was cooking for a group of 9 that evening which required a lot of prep, of course, so Don and I headed out to Spoleto, which we have never visited and always wanted to. Spoleto is about 1.5 hours from Umbertide by car; beautiful countryside and Spoleto itself is a beautiful city. We ran around not really knowing what we were viewing, but enjoying the sights.

A few more tourists than Fabriano, but not many at all.

Love this crazy gargoyle fountain, which is quite huge. More than Audrey Hepburn’s hand could fit in that orifice; maybe her whole head.

Plans were to go to an old papermaking site and a winery Carapace designed by Arnoldo Pomodoro, but ran out of time looking for them. We had to meet Cristina, a felt-maker friend of Gianni’s, at Gianni’s alpaca farm at 4:00. Elizabeth was so right, Gianni seems to know everybody in Umbria. 

When we got to the farm, Cristina arrived, showed us her beautiful felts, and we told her what we wanted, a much rougher, more coarse felt which would impart a lot of texture to the paper, similar to the paper we have seen from the 15th and 16th centuries. It turned out that Cristina’s father was a shepherd with many sheep. The sheep in the Umbertide area are descended from sheep from the Appennines cross-bred with the Fabrianesi sheep, so the same or very similar to the sheep around at the time of Michelangelo. 

Gianni got on the phone with his friend, Carlo Renieri, an animal breeding and genetics specialist. Carlo Renieri turns out to be a sheep geneticist, of all things, based outside of Fabriano. He studies the DNA of sheep in the area! He is exactly the person we need to talk to; it’s really unbelievable. He is mentioned in the book Elizabeth gave us written by her friend, Robert DuPlessis, “Market Makers and Market Takers: A History of Natural Fibers Textiles in the Central Apennine Region". Carlo Renieri confirmed what Cristina and Gianni had been telling us: the sheep grazing the hills of Umbertide right now (apart from a separate breed brought up by the Sardinians recently, which are kept from interbreeding by the Sardinians) are the same type of sheep, same DNA, as the ones which existed during Michelangelo’s time. 

Our guardian angel is working overtime. Thank you, thank you.

Cristina said she would make us a sample felt that evening! We were to meet her at her house the next evening and she would show us everything.

The next day, Thursday, Elizabeth took us on another adventure, this time to Michelangelo's birthplace outside Anghiari, a lovely nearby town. 

Michelangelo's father was mayor of this small village, now called Caprese Michelangelo. Not sure what its name was back then. His mother, heavily pregnant, made the journey to this beautiful area to be with her husband and have their baby. Michelangelo did not live here long; the family moved to Florence and his mother died when he was still quite young. The house to the left in back of us is the house where Michelangelo was born. Elizabeth positioned us so that we blocked out the sight of a jarring 21st century maintenance truck. We are actually closer in age and species to Michelangelo, and thus we figure blend in a little better than the several year old horseless carriage maintenance truck.

Then we needed to pay a visit to her truffle suppliers at Tartufi Biancoli. Photo by Elizabeth Wholey.

Their little truffle loving dog, looking hopeful for another bite.

We drove into the main part of Anghiari for another delicious meal at one of Elizabeth's favorite restaurants, Ristorante Nena.

Duck prosciutto with bruschetta

Grilled porcini - Again? you might say. It was delicious.

I had a bean soup and Don and Elizabeth had a tomato and bread soup. Peasant food, well-prepared and yummy. I seem to love peasant food in whichever culture I find myself. It's almost always heavy on the vegetables and grains and light on the meat. I always feel healthy and energized after eating it. I guess I'm just a peasant at heart.

Views of Anghiari

Gianni came to meet us at Elizabeth's and we all drove together to Cristina's. It is so kind of Gianni and Elizabeth to come and translate and smooth the way for us. Gianni has nothing to do with sheep; he raises alpacas. Sheep breeding and wool is a dying industry in Umbria, and he would like to help revive it.

Cristina's beautiful old stone house, up in the hills above Citta de Castello.

Cristina's mama, who has been out gathering mushrooms and shows us what she has found.

Discussing the type of felts we require.

Cristina making a felt right at her dining room table. She has a special felt making board with a drain off the right-hand lower side. The floors are large tile and impervious to water damage.

Cristina agrees to make some extra large felts for us; a fairly massive undertaking as the felts shrink by almost half after drying.

Love from Umbria

Era and Don