Food & Drink

Bridging the Divide

stranger-things-finale-netflix-featureI recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana in the 1980s follows a group of kids seeking to find their missing friend, and involves a secret government program that punches a hole through parallel universes in order to engage in some cold war spying, only to unexpectedly unleash an incredibly evil monster. Some great acting, especially from the kids, some creative writing and some compelling story lines. I would definitely say it is worth a watch.

I mention this because Via Umbria has been engaged in its own project to bridge parallel universes. And far from unleashing monsters, we have only spread deliciousness and joy.

Those two universes are, of course, Italy and America and we are engaged in an experiment to connect the two. We do that by creating an authentic Italian experience in Georgetown. And we do that by hosting American guests on semi annual food and wine tours at our farm house in Umbria, immersing them in the authentic Umbria that we have come to know and love.


img_1787-1On Saturday, we arrived in Umbria with nine guests in tow to kick off our fall Food and Wine tours, and less than 36 hours later, I dare say that they have already begun to understand and share our love of Umbria. Yesterday we introduced them to the wines of Umbria, the same Grechettos and Montefalco rossos and Sagrantinos we import and sell at Via Umbria. They met Elena DiFilippo at her organic and biodynamic cantina and drank wine with her, and will welcome Elena’s husband Roberto when he visits Via Umbria this spring. They dined on a homecooked dinner by Chiara Cicogna and heard her speak of her family’s cashmere business, and will join Chiara and us in Washington on November 16 when Chiara exhibits a selection of cashmere treasures at a special holiday trunk show at Via Umbria. This morning they experienced truffle hunting under glorious blue skies near Citta di Castello with our dear friends Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi, who are readying to ship the day’s spoils back to Via Umbria to take center stage at a pair of special truffle dinners coming up next week.


Nearly a year after reopening our doors as an Italian market, café, restaurant, enoteca and retail store, we are realizing our dream of truly connecting the worlds we inhabit in Washington and in Umbria. This week our food and wine tour group will dine at le Delizie del Borgo, a restaurant lovingly operated by our friends Simone Proietti-Pesci and Ombretta Ubaldi in Bevagna and next month Ombretta, a certified sommelier with an unmatched appreciation for Umbrian wines will return with us to Washington to host a series of special wine dinners at Via Umbria. Later in the month Simone will join us in Georgetown to cook alongside our outstanding executive chef Johanna Heilrigl. We can’t wait for these two to renew their acquaintance and to dazzle us with what they think up and cook up next. A tasting at the Tabarrini winery on Thursday will no doubt be a highlight for our guests, but a command performance in Washington is in the cards, with a special visit by the winery’s owners Giampaolo Tabarrini and his wife Federica Pietrolati for some memorable dinners and maybe a glass of wine or two.

Connecting our guests and our customers to the incredibly rich experiences that we have found in Umbria is what we do, regardless of place. Whether it takes place sotto il sole or under the sun, in Cannara or in Washington, these are the experiences that make up a life and we are proud to offer them to you.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Connecting Italy and America in Georgetown Read more

I recently started watching the Netflix series Stranger Things and I really like it. The show, which is set in rural Indiana ...

The Tale of Two Accidents

Alice and her Dad

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots of slush and mud, we were not entirely successful in our sporting endeavors. It got to the point where one day we looked up at the slopes, and decided to go to the movies instead. Let me tell you, you know the conditions are really bad when the best option is to watch a sappy, poorly written sports movie in an empty theater with sticky floors and the distinctive aroma of old popcorn clinging to the walls.

Even though the weekend itself didn’t exactly go according to plan, it was far from a bust. First of all, I got to hang out with my dad (hi Dad!), which was, as always, a great time. And secondly, I stumbled upon FireFly Farms.

We were on our way out of town when we decided to stop and get some snacks for the road. Driving through the small town of Accident, the FireFly Farms Creamery and Market sign caught my eye. I’d heard the name bantered about by various mongers in DC, and knew that they made goat cheeses. And, well, you guys know me – I’ll jump at any chance to try some new cheeses, so we stopped.

Goats at Firefly Creamery

After tasting through a bunch of their gorgeous, goat’s milk cheeses, I settled on my favorite: Mountain Top Bleu. Made in the Valencay style, these beautiful, surface ripened pyramids are a perfect gateway blue – mild and creamy with just a hint of funk. The piece that I got that day was just the way I like my soft cheeses to be – ripe, oozy, and full of flavor. During the two and a half hours it took us to drive back to DC, we easily devoured the entire thing.

I’ve learned a few things since that inaugural visit to FireFly. Firstly, although Mountain Top Bleu is one of FireFly’s original three cheeses, it was initially made by accident. It came into being when a bloomy-rinded cheese was cross contaminated by a nearby blue. Instead of throwing the contaminated batch away, the cheesemakers created this beautiful hybrid. And it’s a great thing that they did: Mountain Top Bleu is the most awarded cheese in the FireFly repertoire. With twenty individual honors to its name, including a bronze medal at the American Cheese Society conference this past summer and multiple World Cheese awards, this cheese is certainly no mistake. Saveur Magazine even named it as one of the top 50 cheeses in the nation.

Mountain Top Bleu

I was also impressed to learn about FireFly’s commitment to sustainability, both with regards to the farmers that they partner with and to the environment. FireFly is a small cheesemaking operation on the Allegheny Plateau region of Maryland, and they use milk from six goat farms within a 30 mile radius of their shop. By working closely with these farmers, and implementing a mutually beneficial contract, Firefly assures that the farmers are committed to “humane animal husbandry and restrict the use of antibiotics, hormones, and animal feeds that have been treated with chemical or synthetic fertilizers”, while also paying them a fair price for their milk that doesn’t penalize producers for “under-production” in winter months, nor “over-production” in summer months.

Additionally, FireFly is very conscious of their energy consumption. Instead of using energy-hungry machines, they’re committed to handcrafting and wrapping each of their cheeses. Furthermore, as of the summer of 2015, one third of the energy used by FireFly comes from their newly installed solar panels.

It is my great pleasure to announce that not only will Mountain Top Bleu be Via Umbria’s October Cheese of the Month, but that FireFly Farms founders Mike Koch and Pablo Solanet will be joining us for our monthly Cheese Party! Please join us on Wednesday, October 5th to eat, drink, and learn all about this wonderful local cheese and these awesome cheesemakers!

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

A visit to FireFly Farms Creamery in Maryland Read more

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots ...

A Turkey to Be Thankful For

The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should be America’s national bird. He had a strong case, the turkey being a species native to North America, ranging in the wild from Mexico through the eastern United States and into Canada. And although Franklin didn’t succeed in putting the nearly flightless gobbler on the Great Seal, the turkey has become essential to American culture and cuisine–arguably the only required part of our annual Thanksgiving Day feasts.

Turkey is, however, one of the most misunderstood meats in our diet. During the rest of the year, we eat almost exclusively the white meat in deli sandwiches. The rest is discarded or ground for burgers and the like – pretending to be the cheap, lean option. But then, once a year in November, there is a massive demand for the birds whole. The sheer quantity of turkeys in demand means that most of them comes from “farms” that resemble factories more than a traditional farm. And the birds themselves are a breed more or less developed in a lab so that the breast meat is larger than natural. When cooked, these turkeys are bland and tend to dry out easily.

This is what I had to take into consideration when I decided to sell turkeys this year. With our commitment to tradition, quality, and locality, I wanted to make sure that our turkeys were something to be proud of. So I drove an hour away from the District into beautiful upper Loudoun County, Virginia where the rolling hills start to reach towards the sky in the Appalachian Mountains and breweries and wineries hide around every corner. I met with a local family farmer, whose farm, Fields of Athenry, began to raise wholesome animals to ensure that their children ate well. Heading up the driveway, I was almost immediately greeted by a loud chorus of gobbles from a pen near the entrance. There they were, in the daylight, turkeys running around in the grass with no cage in sight. As the farmer, Elaine, showed me around, she pointed at specific birds and mentioned what breeds they were. A Narragansett here, a Blue there. It was impressive watching this flock wander around the field together, with the occasional few flying over the fence and then, birds that they are, unable to figure out how to get back in and rejoin their friends.

Free Range Turkeys

I learned that the farm actually operates across three properties in Loudoun County and just over the river in Maryland. In addition to the turkeys, the family raises cows, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and make their own deli meats and bacon–all with the same standards of care they show for the turkeys. I’m really excited to work with these guys. But for now, for Thanksgiving, we’re going to have some of the best turkeys available. We have pre-ordering available now through November 16 online or in the store, and can get you a bird as close to the size you want it. I can spatchcock them for you, if you’re feeling adventurous and ready to grill, and Chef Johanna is preparing an awesome cider brine, if you so desire. Plus, we’re cooking up some awesome sides and appetizers to pair with them. Long story short: order a turkey! I promise it’ll be one more thing you’ll be giving thanks for this year.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Our local turkeys are something to be proud of Read more

The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should ...

Fall Flavors at the Cheese Counter

So you guys, it’s official – summer is finally over. And I, for one, am THRILLED. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some 4th of July fireworks, grilled meats, and summer-only cheeses paired with some gorgeous tomatoes or cucumbers. Those are all lovely things. Add in some chilled rose, and I’m a pretty darn happy camper.

All that being said, I decidedly do not love the hot, sticky, sweaty, mosquito-y weather that DC calls summertime. Holy moly. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love living here, but this little swamp-town known as our nation’s capitol is pretty darn unbearable from June until about halfway through October. Woof.


But it’s over! It’s finally over! And with the weather graciously subsiding, not only are wardrobes changing – oh hey there sweaters, scarves, and boots! – but tastebuds are starting to change as well. When the temperature starts dropping and leaves start falling, bigger, bolder flavors that are just too darn much in the oppressive heat suddenly seem incredibly appealing.

Which leads me to one of my all-time favorite cheeses: aged gouda. For me, fall means it’s time for some butterscotchy, nutty, salty/sweet aged gouda. And no one does aged gouda better than L’Amuse.


Let me back up for a moment – what is gouda? Strictly speaking, gouda is a cow’s milk cheese made with washed curds that traditionally hails from the Netherlands. Actually, the name “Gouda” comes from a town of the same name where the cheese was originally traded. This is about as specific as gouda gets, though. The name itself is not protected, so when you see the word “gouda” on a package, it can mean many different things. It can come from different places, be aged for varying degrees of time, be made from different milks – all things that lead to very different flavor profiles and/or textures.

So how do you know if the gouda you’re buying is the right one for you? How do you know you’re not going to end up with plastic wrapped, pre-sliced, rubbery cheese that tastes like fake smoke? My answer is the same one I pretty much give in any cheesy situation: talk to your cheesemonger. It’s our job to find the best cheeses around and then pair you with the right one.

Now, some of you may be asking yourselves – but how do we find these delicious cheeses? Well, in the case of the gouda that I carry, the answer is simple: I turn to Essex St. Cheese Co. For those of you who read my blog post about feta way back in July, that name will sound familiar – this team of fantastic importers provides the Via Umbria counter with their fabulous feta, as well as manchego, and gouda. To refresh you guys on what Essex St. does, I turn to my previous post: “Rather than importing many different types of cheese, Essex finds the best of the best and brings in only a handful of cheeses, with each type only having one producer. Their bar is extremely high.”


Not only is this high bar met, but I dare say that it’s exceeded by the goudas coming out of L’Amuse Fromagerie in Santpoort-Noord. L’Amuse is owned and operated by master-cheesemonger and affineur Betty Koster – I had the privilege of meeting Betty during CMI and not only is she amazing at what she does, but she can also only be described as thoroughly warm and decidedly delightful.

But back to the cheese – for their Signature Gouda, the L’Amuse team hand-selects cheeses from the Cono cheesemaking plant in the northern Netherlands, and then ages them to perfection over the course of 2 years. Instead of aging them at cooler temperatures, as is done with most traditionally aged goudas, Betty keeps them at mid-temperature in order to develop fully rounded flavors. And oh man, what flavors develop! Butterscotch, caramel, toasted hazelnuts, and cream are all ensconced in this dense yet velvety paste.

In case you hadn’t already guessed it, L’Amuse Signature Gouda will be Via Umbria’s November cheese of the month, and I couldn’t be more excited! Please join us for our monthly Cheese Party next Wednesday, November 2nd, to not only taste this unbelievable cheese, but to also learn about it from Essex St. educational director, the wonderful and talented Rachel Juhl! It’s going to be a fantastic evening that you don’t want to miss.

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Bigger and bolder flavors suitable for fall Read more

So you guys, it's official - summer is finally over. And I, for one, am THRILLED. Don't get me wrong - I ...

A Labor(atorio) of Love

In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each other, their land, and their culture stand out. For me, there is no place in which this authenticity stands out more than around the dinner table. When I think back on the many (many) meals that I have enjoyed in Umbria, each one is colored with the rosy glow of being surrounded by strangers turned friends and friends turned family, all sharing stories, wine, and food and all living in the moment. The food is simple yet exquisite, the company is fascinating yet unassuming, and the conversation is energetic yet relaxed; every day brings a new experience and every night is a celebration. A visit to Umbria is truly an opportunity to experience authenticity in all aspects of what it means to be Italian.

Murder Mystery Dinner

This is the feeling that drives much of what we do at Via Umbria. We have created a space for friends and neighbors to meet, to eat, and to relax. A place to showcase the work of the amazing artisans of Italy, from ceramicists to winemakers, and to introduce their products and their stories to a new community. Above all, however, we are determined to recreate the feeling of sitting around a dinner table in Umbria- sharing food, telling stories, and creating memories- and from this the Laboratorio was born.

From the communal style seating to the open kitchen format, every aspect of the Laboratorio was designed with the Umbrian experience in mind. The space was created to be open, to be flexible, and to be interactive; in short it is our Laboratory, our space to explore and to create. For those of you who have yet to join us for dinner imagine it like this: take one part dinner party, add in one part of your favorite cooking show, one part wine tasting, and combine those together with a beautiful setting and an engaged group of friends and neighbors sharing a unique and unforgettable experience and you may start to get a sense of what I’m talking about.

Making Pizza

But as with all things, the best way to truly understand is to see it for yourself. Join us for dinner Thursday – Saturday night, or for brunch on Sunday for an unforgettable feast in our demonstration kitchen. Enjoy a Thursday night Demo and Dinner and let Chef Johanna Hellrigl teach you her favorite recipes from all over Italy before retiring to the communal table to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Visit us on a Friday night for a CYOB Dinner and let us teach you about a selection of wines from our unique cellar during a guided tasting before choosing your favorite bottle (or bottles) to accompany your meal. For the wine lovers, I encourage you to join us on a Saturday night for a Wine and Dine dinner where each of four courses is paired with a unique wine chosen and discussed by our experienced wine staff. And for those of you who crave relaxation at the end of your week, we welcome you to our Sunday Bottomless Bellini Brunch. No matter the format, no matter the day, a meal spent around our table will be one to remember.

Designed with an Umbrian experience in mind Read more

In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each ...

Braising the Steaks

Well, folks, it’s getting to be that time of year again- that time of year when it’s almost too cold to go outside and grill and we start craving foods that combat those cold temperatures. While this doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to our nice steaks (there are many ways to cook them inside in the kitchen) it does mean that the season of soups and stews, of braising and roasting is coming. As a butcher, this is an exciting shift. We’re moving from the cuts of meat that are well-known and easy to recognize, to the cuts that are not as familiar, often overlooked, but are packed with more flavor. The problem with many of these cuts is that they are typically tougher pieces of meat and require special methods of cooking to prepare. One of these methods is one of my all-time favorite ways to cook: braising.

Braising is, in simplest form, is slow-cooking in liquid. It is a method that is nearly universal in practice; ranging from a variety traditional dishes in northern China, to a Jewish brisket, certain preparations of Mexican carnitas, and ossobuco–Italy’s famous preparation of a crosscut veal shank. The common denominator between all of these different recipes is that they are all pieces of meat that have substantial amounts of fat and connective tissue. It takes time to break that stuff down, rendering the meat edible. But by the end of the process the meat is tender enough to be eaten without a knife, and having both absorbed and contributed to the flavor of the gravy that remains of the cooking liquid.

As with any cooking method that results in such “simple” foods, there are some very important steps to braising that, when left out or minimized can prevent your cooking from reaching its full potential. The most important, in my opinion, are:

  1. Sear the meat. This is definitely one of the most misunderstood steps of the braising process. Most recipes will all on you to brown your meat before you begin to cook it but nearly always the neglect to specify why. Contrary to popular belief this step isn’t done to to capture moisture, but rather to deepen the flavor of the dish as a whole. By altering the chemical nature of the outer layer of meat (a process referred to as the Maillard reaction) you are adding a carmel/roast-y flavor to the meat that goes miles in improving your dish.
  2. After searing the meat, recipes often call for the sautéing of vegetables and spices. It is very important that you do this in the order that the recipe calls for. For example, if you were to add onions and garlic at once, in the time it takes to sauté an onion to desired softness, any flavor that the garlic would have added has been lost. Make sure to add your aromatics and spices later in the process.
  3. Choose your liquid wisely! Any liquid can be used, but the most common are wine, beer and stock. Any will work, just make sure you use something that will complement your spices and the meat that you’re using.
  4. Skim the fat! While not the most crucial, this prevents your dish from being overly greasy when finished. This especially matters for fattier meats, such as the short rib.
  5. Patience! Braising is a method of low and slow cooking and it takes time. Don’t rush it.
  6. Don’t worry about it! Braising can, and probably should, be made a day in advance. That extra time, with all the ingredients sitting together let flavors to continue to blend. That’s also what makes it great for entertaining. Make it the day before and all you have to do when your guests arrive is warm it up.

When done properly, braising yields some of the most succulent, delicious meat possible without an overwhelming amount of effort. Don’t just take my word for it though- stop by the counter to pick up your favorite cut and see for yourself.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

A guideline to braising and roasting your meat Read more

Well, folks, it’s getting to be that time of year again- that time of year when it’s almost too cold to go ...

Exploring America’s Dairyland

Wisconsin. America’s Dairyland. Home of the Cheeseheads. Guys, let me tell you…they didn’t get those nicknames for nothing.

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, touring around Wisconsin’s beautiful countryside and learning all about their homegrown cheeses. Even though I grew up just south of the Wisconsin/Illinois border and have traveled there quite a few times (I actually learned to ski in Wisconsin…on old landfills covered in snow…but that’s a story for another time), I was shocked by how much I didn’t know.

For example, did you know that 90% of the milk that’s produced in Wisconsin is made into cheese? 90%!!! And when you’re called America’s Dairyland, you know that that wasn’t a small amount of milk to start out with. And have you heard of the Master Cheesemaker program? Yup, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (and only at the University of Wisconsin in Madison), you can become a certified Master Cheesemaker. Also, did you know that 96% of the farms in Wisconsin are family farms? Who knew, right?

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

The aspect of the trip that struck me the most, however, was the passion that these farmers and cheesemakers have for what they do. Big plant, small farm, co-op – regardless of how each individual’s cheese gets made, that farmer or cheesemaker is doing everything they can to provide the best possible care for their animals and to make the best quality product. A few times during the trip, big, burly farmers or cheesemakers would tear up when talking about what they do and why they do it. It’s so easy for many of us, especially those of us who live in big cities, to forget that everything we consume comes from somewhere and is produced by someone. For me, meeting all of these incredibly dedicated and passionate people who have devoted their entire lives to the craft of cheesemaking really hit this point home.

One of the farms that I found to be the most fascinating was Uplands Cheese Company. Located in the Driftless region of the state – the only part of Wisconsin that wasn’t flattened by glaciers 10,000 years ago – the farm is situated on 300 acres of beautiful rolling hills and valleys. These 300 acres have been broken down into small paddocks, and each day during the spring, summer, and fall, the cows are rotated to a new field. This method, called “rotational grazing” allows the animals to have constant access to fresh, bountiful grass and herbs, while allowing the fields time to recover and replenish their vegetal stock. Because of this practice, the milk that the Uplands cows produce is chock full nutrients and, importantly, flavor.

Andy Hatch

Talking with Andy Hatch, the head cheesemaker at Uplands, it became very clear what his mission is: to make cheeses that do justice to the milk that his cows produce. Milk produced during different times of the year will have distinctive properties, and his goal is to use the cheese as a way to showcase those varying attributes. In that spirit, he only makes two cheeses – Rush Creek Reserve, which uses hay-based, heavy, fat-laden late fall/early winter milk, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

In the spring, summer, and early fall, the cows produce predominantly grass-fed milk, which lends itself well to alpine-style cheeses. Hence, during this period, Hatch makes the famous Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which is based on French and Swiss favorites like Gruyere and Beaufort. Something you should know: Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the most awarded cheese in America. Yep, you read that right – no other cheese in America has as many American Cheese Society or US Cheese Championship titles under it’s belt. And when you taste it, it’s clear as to why – not only is this cheese smooth and nutty, but you can also taste the green, grassy, herbaceous pasture that the cows have been munching on. It’s balance is unparalleled, and it is both approachable and nuanced, satisfying both the cheese-shy and connoisseurs.

I’m thrilled to announce that this fabulous cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, will be our September Cheese of the Month! A true American classic, it’s a cheese that I am so excited to bring to the Via Umbria counter and can’t wait to share with my customers. Please join us for our next monthly Cheese Party, next Wednesday, September 7th, to taste this fantastic piece of America’s Dairyland.


Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Discovery the cheese of Wisconsin Read more

Wisconsin. America's Dairyland. Home of the Cheeseheads. Guys, let me tell you...they didn't get those nicknames for nothing. Last week, I was lucky ...

From Across the Pond to your Neighborhood

“Wow! Look at all this cheese! I can’t believe you have so many different kinds of Itali…Wait a minute…This isn’t all Italian cheese! I thought Via Umbria was an Italian store! What’s going on here!?”

This happens at my counter a lot. Like, every week. Well, really more like every other day. And I understand the confusion–Via Umbria is, as the name would suggest, an Italian store filled with unique, delicious, and beautiful Italian things. So what’s the deal with the cheese counter?

While it is true that Italians make some supremely excellent cheese, my little counter has been given a bit more freedom and has a wider reaching focus than solely Italian curds. Our goal is to give a platform to unique, artisanal, handcrafted cheeses from all over the world, giving our customers a chance to explore myriad delicious products that they may not have regular access to or even have heard of before.

In this spirit, I’m pleased to announce that Via Umbria will be delving into the wide world of British cheeses this fall by teaming up with famed London cheese emporium, affineur, and exporter, Neal’s Yard Dairy.


I’m thrilled about this partnership for a few reasons. Firstly, and most selfishly, British cheeses tug at my childhood-memory heartstrings. For much of my young life, I spent summers in the English countryside on my grandparents farm, where I ate lots and lots and lots of locally made cheese. I spent many happy hours learning how to milk goats, collect eggs, feed pigs–happy hours that were fueled by delicious farmhouse cheese. Even when I was back home in Chicago, my mum packed many cheese and chutney sandwiches in my school lunches (yup, kids at school totally thought I was weird), and we always had Stilton and port at Christmas. All of that to say, I have a very dear place in my heart for the lovely British cheeses from my childhood, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with my customers.

Secondly, I’m thrilled to be able to give British cheeses the audience that they deserve. When most Americans think of European cheese, they think of cheeses like French Brie, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Spanish Manchego–the UK, unfortunately, very rarely comes into the picture. To be honest, this is a bit bizarre–one of the most beloved cheeses in this country, Cheddar, originally comes from the UK. Be that as it may, British cheeses remain relatively unknown the US.

Part of that has to do with the fact that in Britain, cheese was traditionally part of a workman’s diet, not something for the rich and influential. Because of this lower status, local cheeses weren’t given the same importance as many of their continental counterparts. For a long time, these cheeses weren’t seen as significant enough to protect or maintain. Thus, with the global rise of factorization and mass production of cheese, traditional British farmstead cheeses were largely pushed aside to make way for cheaper, less flavorful, grocery-store friendly options.

Enter: Neal’s Yard Dairy. Started in the early 1980’s as a small cheese shop in London, Neal’s Yard Dairy has become, quite simply, the preeminent champion of British cheese. Neal’s Yard searches out farmers and cheesemakers, working with them to not only preserve traditional British cheeses – what they call “territorials” – but to improve the cheeses quality, age them to perfection, and expand global awareness of these cheeses. Simply put, they find (and/or help create) the best tasting cheeses that the UK has to offer, and then give them a global stage. They go out and visit each of the farmers that they work with, about 40 in total, on a regular basis in order to both taste their cheeses and to select the best cheeses to mature and sell. Farmhouse cheeses like Cheshire, Caerphilly, Lincolnshire Poacher, and Shropshire, to name just a few, now have a global presence in the world because of the efforts of Neal’s Yard Dairy. What they’ve been able to do for British cheese has been absolutely remarkable.

Our first shipment from London should be arriving in just a few weeks, so please come by and taste some delicious British cheese with me at the Via Umbria cheese counter! It’s a fantastic way to explore the world and get to know some some new and exciting cheeses!”

A new partnership with Neal's Yard Dairy Read more

"Wow! Look at all this cheese! I can't believe you have so many different kinds of Itali...Wait a minute...This isn't all Italian ...

Finger Lickin’ Chicken

Growing up, I always hated chicken. It was almost invariably dry and tasteless, unless of course it came battered and fried with a side of biscuits. I rarely ordered it in a restaurant, and rued the days when my parents would make some for dinner. As I grew older I developed an appreciation for the dark meat, which lead to the realization that the thing I was most opposed to was the dryness and blandness of the chickens of my youth. Now, having had access to and experience with great chicken I have realized that there are many other factors that go into cooking the perfect chicken, but for the sake of brevity let’s focus on the two major issues and breakthroughs that led me out of this dark, chicken hating place and into a brand new food world where we would want a chicken in every pot.

Chicken Dish

Well, not in a pot, necessarily. In fact, that’s probably my least favorite way to cook it but that’s neither here nor there. There are a myriad of things you can do to a chicken to help it along, beginning with a good brine, but again, that’s an issue for another time. For now, let’s talk cooking. You may have heard of spatchcocking, where the spine of the the bird is removed and the whole chicken can be laid out flat on the grill for cooking. Most food blogs bring up this method in the months of October and November as a quicker way of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. This also has the added benefit of keeping the moisture in the meat, preventing your Aunt’s usual dried out turkey. Before I had even heard this word, however, I had come across a very similar method in a cookbook by celebrity chef Sean Brock. What he refers to as “Chicken Roasted Simply In a Skillet” comes there alongside garlic confit and pan sauce, is easily modifiable and made even simpler than the recipe says. All it requires is a cast iron skillet where halves of chicken are seared skin-side down for several minutes, flipped skin-side up and finished in a preheated oven. While his recipe is delicious, I’ve come to find that you can modify the seasoning to whatever you like, skip the step of weighing down the chicken, forgo the pan sauce–and as long as you stick to the technique of searing the skin you’ll have a hit on your hands. Cooking chicken like this traps the juices in the meat and, keeps it so moist and flavorful that it rivals the dark meat in tenderness. This is of course, not to defame your traditional roast or your barbecue grilled chicken, but why not try something new? It takes less time than a roast and is harder to mess up!

I close with the second thing that makes a big difference–the quality of your chicken. As with everything, you get out of a dish what you put into it, and if you start with a high quality product you’ve already won half the battle. In terms of quality of meat, there are a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around and associated with chicken. Organic, free range, hormone free, local, are incredibly common descriptors, but comprise only the tip of the classification iceberg. While I will say that no chicken is ever grass feed (so don’t count on that one) most of the words are actually relatively meaningless. Local can come from hundred of miles away, organic is a certification many producers can’t afford, hormone free chickens may have eaten feed that is laced with hormones or pesticides. That being said, in the grocery store it is relatively easy to see the difference between the factory chicken and the farm chicken. The factory chicken will undoubtedly be huge. The farm chicken will likely not be broken down–it will be available only whole until the butcher breaks it down for you. Our chickens are relatively local, coming from a cooperative of farms in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, and labeled as “naturally raised.” Almost intentionally meaningless, this phrase is in this case meant to communicate a commitment to letting the chickens live good lives. This means that while they don’t have the organic certification they eat mostly organic food, they may get some antibiotics when they are sick, but not as a part of regular life. And all this pays off, they are some of the best chickens I’ve ever been able to eat.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

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Growing up, I always hated chicken. It was almost invariably dry and tasteless, unless of course it came battered and fried with ...

That Was Toga-lly Awesome: Murder Mystery at Via Umbria

Et tu Brute?” I gasp dramatically, clutching my chest and looking wistfully out as I collapse on the steps of the Roman senate, taking the fabled and famed Shakespearean line and bringing it to vivid and dramatic life. Or at least I thought so.

When I graduated from college, I took some time off to travel across Europe. One of my stops was Rome, and on a walking tour with people from my hostel, the tour guide mentioned that these were the steps where Julius Caesar was thought to have been stabbed. Now, I couldn’t very well pass up that opportunity, and so, clearly, I didn’t. Theatrical deaths had always been this English major’s personal favorite after all.

DSCF2588Fast forward four years and here I am, at Via Umbria, taking part in a Roman-themed murder mystery dinner party. And what a party it was! True to form, I got to play an intriguing character (I won’t name any names), who so luckily for me was that unlucky soul cruelly murdered halfway through dinner. I took my cue (the lights shutting off), and once more allowed my inner diva to take over as I fell to the floor, pausing momentarily to gasp, one hand pressed to my heart, the other reaching forward as my laurel wreath fell off my head.

My flair for the dramatic however, was more than topped by the amazing guests we had turn up to last Tuesday’s “Terror in a Toga” murder mystery dinner party. False identities, three courses of feasting and feuding, and head-to-toe Roman garb made this dinner party a night to remember. As we sat at the table, fully enthralled with the characters around us, we experienced this story come to life with each accusation, question, or declaration of love and fealty. Accompanying this plot of intrigue was a meal worthy of the Roman Senate, and the only time there was silence on this raucous evening was when the food momentarily pulled us away from the ‘whodunnit?’of it all.DSCF2581

Bribery (with our Roman coins), backstabbing and bardic soliloquies were strongly encouraged, and very well received. This evening thrived because the guests were toga-lly down to party ancient Roman style: with delicious food, gladiator fights and of course a healthy dose of intrigue.

So, what do you get when you mix a room full of strangers with false identities, good food and a selection of Italian wines to dazzle? Your new favorite Tuesday night activity of course! For those of you who missed it this time around, definitely keep your eye on our calendar for the next Murder Mystery Dinner Party, and sign up to get your chance to act, eat and laugh your heart out. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a chance to one-up my delightfully dramatic dying skills. Maybe.

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“Et tu Brute?” I gasp dramatically, clutching my chest and looking wistfully out as I collapse on the steps of the Roman ...

See You in the Wine Room

Between the rugged overhead wooden beams and the long elegant glass table, you may feel caught between the modern and traditional in the Enoteca. It’s the perfect starting point for our “Choose Your Own Bottle” or CYOB dinners, where guests can relax in the comfort of family-style Friday night dinners while trying something new. What better way to do that then with a bottle of wine?

Wine Tasting with Our Experts

As the Wine Program Intern, my job is to help select a wine that not only pairs well with the menu, but also with your own tastes. My advice would be to arrive early so that before the dinner starts I can treat you to a private wine tasting in our Wine Room. Although our Enoteca boasts more than 100 different bottles of wine, I’ll narrow it down to a few for the occasion.

Often when you go to a restaurant there is a separation between the wine list and the guest. There’s a sort of needle in a haystack mania that takes over as you scour the selections and try to find something just right. I think part of why I love CYOB so much is because I can help connect every guest to the wineries. Sharing stories of harvests and visits is just a part of how I am able to take part in a more personalized selection. Though, the best part would have to be the look on their faces when they first taste the wine with their meal in the Laboratorio. Led by the chef, Johanna, the entire evening is focused around Via Umbria’s mission to Discover, Savor, [and] Share.

Dinner in the wine room

At CYOB you’re not just having a drink with someone you know. At CYOB you are discovering a new favorite wine from over 100 different bottles hailing from artisanal producers. You are savoring a delicious meal prepared right in front of you. Best of all, you are sharing this entire experience with everyone around you. A modern twist on Friday night dinners never tasted so good!

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Between the rugged overhead wooden beams and the long elegant glass table, you may feel caught between the modern and traditional in ...