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  • -Hi. I'm Rick Steves,

  • back with more of the best of Europe.

  • This time, we're celebrating the traditions

  • in Umbria and Tuscany.

  • It's the heart of Italy! Thanks for joining us.

  • For me, the heart of Italy is Tuscany and Umbria.

  • With farmhouse B&Bs as our springboard,

  • we'll enjoy Italian culture,

  • from village intimacy to the grand and saintly.

  • We'll check in on some aging prosciutto,

  • stone-grind some polenta...

  • Cornmeal.

  • ...and dine with a noble family.

  • We'll learn about -- and taste -- one of Tuscany's finest wines

  • and savor Florentine steak

  • before retracing the steps of St. Francis in Assisi.

  • Italy has many famous regions,

  • including Tuscany and Umbria.

  • Starting in Tuscany,

  • we visit the wine regions around Montepulciano

  • before crossing into Umbria

  • and finishing in Assisi.

  • In Tuscany, it's still possible

  • to find your own sleepy, fortified village.

  • While tourists pack the more famous places,

  • little off-beat gems like this remain overlooked,

  • and are great places

  • for enjoying the traditional culture.

  • ##

  • Hamlets like these originated as communities of farmers

  • who banded together on easily defensible hilltops

  • overlooking their farmland.

  • With today's tourism and relative affluence,

  • it's easy to forget the fact

  • that, until the last generation,

  • this region was quite poor.

  • Today, while the poverty's gone,

  • the traditions survive.

  • Many rural families still preserve their own meats

  • and enjoy firing up their wood-burning ovens

  • on special occasions.

  • And here in rural Tuscany,

  • you feel an enthusiasm for tradition.

  • Gazing at these content sheep,

  • you can almost taste the Pecorino cheese,

  • which seems to be a part of every meal.

  • At this farm, walls are stacked

  • with rounds of Pecorino,

  • made from the unpasteurized and, therefore,

  • tastier milk of the farm's sheep.

  • Making cheese this way is labor-intensive

  • and takes lots of patience,

  • but for these folks, it's well worth the trouble.

  • To be sure we get the most out of our visit,

  • we're joined by my friend

  • and fellow tour guide Roberto Bechi.

  • We're visiting the noble farm of the Zanda Family,

  • where Nicola raises a couple hundred pigs.

  • These pigs are a rare breed

  • brought back from the edge of extinction

  • by people who care about traditional agriculture,

  • people who really love their ham.

  • It's Italian justice -- We feed them, they feed us.

  • -Yeah. Yeah.

  • -Now, like the pigs all eventually do,

  • we move on to the prosciutto part of the farm.

  • Nicola artfully cures every part of the pig.

  • The hind legs are destined to become fine prosciutto.

  • He brushes on a coat of garlic and vinegar

  • with a sprig of rosemary,

  • sprinkles it with pepper,

  • and finally cakes it in salt.

  • Top-grade prosciutto is cured by hanging in a cool room

  • for about a year.

  • During the slow curing process, Nicola checks the progress,

  • employing a wooden needle and an expert nose.

  • And like any proud farmer, he invites us into his home --

  • not your everyday farmhouse -- for a memorable taste.

  • Rick: From the farm to the table,

  • with only a little bit of travel -- 200 meters!

  • Nicola: 200 meters, but a lot of work. Rick: A lot of work!

  • How many months?

  • Nicola: About, uh...15 months.

  • Rick: And then the ham is waiting...?

  • Nicola: The ham is waiting about 12 months.

  • Rick: Oh, so more than two years.

  • Nicola: Yeah. Rick: Nicola, three different meats.

  • Can you give me a little tour?

  • Nicola: This is ham prosciutto; we have "soppressata" --

  • it's done with the heads of the pigs,

  • and we have the salami here.

  • Rick: You like this? Nicola: Oh, I love it.

  • Rick: This is from the head of the beautiful pigs

  • I was just feeding.

  • Is it good? You eat it, Nicola?

  • Nicola: It's fantastic. Rick: Yeah?

  • Roberto: Try it! Try it! Nicola: It's the best part.

  • Roberto: I think he likes it. Rick: Mmm. Yeah!

  • It's like "prosciutto for beginners,"

  • and this is for the expert. Roberto: For the expert.

  • Rick: The connoisseur. Roberto: Perfect.

  • Rick: With some good wine.

  • Roberto: Always with good wine.

  • Nearby is the "vecchio mulino" -- or old mill.

  • While this swan thinks this pool's made for him,

  • it's actually a reservoir used to power the mill.

  • This mill, with its ancient grindstones,

  • has been producing flour for generations.

  • Until the 1960s,

  • neighboring farmers brought their grain here,

  • while locals know stone-ground corn makes the tastiest polenta...

  • Rick: Cornmeal. Benito: Polenta!

  • ...mills like these are a tough fit in our fast-paced world.

  • Aristocratic countryside elegance

  • survives in Tuscany.

  • But for these venerable manor houses to stay viable,

  • many augment their farming income

  • by renting rooms to travelers.

  • We're staying in a B&B run by Signora Silvia Gori,

  • And like so much of what she serves,

  • the limoncello comes from her farm.

  • Signora Gori rents a few rooms in her centuries-old farmhouse.

  • As is typical of "agriturismos" --

  • as working farms renting rooms are called here --

  • the furnishings are rustic, but comfortable.

  • To merit the title "agriturismo,"

  • the farm must still be in business --

  • and the Gori family makes wine.

  • The son Nicolo runs the show now,

  • mixing traditional techniques with the latest technology

  • in a very competitive field.

  • Signora Gori is proud to show us her home.

  • As her family has for centuries,

  • she lives in the manor house --

  • and the family tree makes it clear:

  • the Gori family has deep roots

  • and goes back over 600 years.

  • Rick: So it says "famiglia Gori" -- Signora Gori: Gori family.

  • Rick: All the way back to...

  • Signora Gori: "Millequattrocento." OK.

  • Rick: "Millequattro-" 1400.

  • Signora Gori: 1400. Rick: Incredibile.

  • The family room, the oldest in the house,

  • is welcoming in an aristocratic sort of way.

  • Under its historic vault,

  • Grandpa nurtures the latest generation of Goris

  • as the rural nobility of Italy carries on.

  • Upstairs is the vast billiards room.

  • For generations, evenings ended here,

  • beneath musty portraits --

  • another reminder of the family's long

  • and noble lineage.

  • And Grandma passes down the requisite skills

  • to the latest generation.

  • Rick: If that was bowling, it'd be very good.

  • [ Laughter ]

  • The kitchen, with its wood-burning stove

  • and fine copperware, has cooked up countless meals.

  • Signora Gori, happy to share the local bounty,

  • invites us for lunch.

  • Three generations gather on this Sunday afternoon

  • with no hurry at all.

  • The prosciutto and Pecorino cheese

  • provide a fine starting course

  • beautifully matched with the family's wine.

  • Pasta comes next.

  • And the children prefer theirs "bianco,"

  • with only olive oil.

  • And the little one? She's still mastering

  • the fine art of eating spaghetti.

  • Food is particularly tasty

  • when eaten in the community that produced it

  • with a family that's lived right here

  • for six centuries.

  • It's memories like these that you take home

  • that really are the very best souvenir.