Umbria is one of those places you hear people romanticize when they talk about their “dream vacations” and after a recent trip to the region, I now understand why. I had an opportunity to visit a bed and breakfast in Umbria called Ca' Di Gosto. It’s almost inaccurate to refer to it as a B&B because it's so much more that that. Surrounded by the rolling hills and vineyards of the Niccone Valley, Ca' Di Gosto is located 20 minutes away from Cortona, the town that makes Diane Lane so happy she dances in Under the Tuscan Sun.
Ca' Di Gosto is owned and operated by David and Jenny Nichols, long time practioners of the slow-food movement. David, an American film producer and Jenny, a British chef and former colleague of Alice Waters, purchased the property 20 years ago and cultivated it over the years. The 500-year-old house sits on a farm filled with olive trees and grape vines; various fruit, vegetable, and herb garden; chickens, hens, ducks, geese and the many family dogs.
Although there are many reasons to visit Ca' Di Gosto, the food is the most compelling. Jenny offers seasonal, multi-coursed dinners to guests and visitors as well as cooking classes for interested parties. Either way you can’t go wrong, as everything you eat comes from her own farm or local markets in neighboring towns.
The first morning we woke up to a breakfast of fresh berries, yogurt, bacon, homemade pancakes and perfectly poached eggs. After breakfast, we accompanied Jenny to the local farmers market in Cortona to pick up a few things for dinner.
Back at the house, we set the table in the garden for lunch. Jenny served a selection of local bread and cheese, a simple salad made from the lettuce in her garden, and fresh long beans drizzled with olive oil and rock salt.
After a leisurely afternoon break, it was time to eat again. With the help of her daughter Daisy, Jenny served two types of crostini for the appetizers; one with blue cheese, fresh honey from the garden finished with walnuts and the other with a warm chicken liver spread, topped with fresh parsley.
We then moved from outside into the rustic dining room for dinner. The main course was a glazed pork belly garnished with Asian slaw. To accompany the pig, she served buttered English green peas, warmed haricot vert tossed with olive oil and pine nuts, and rosemary roasted potatoes. For dessert we ate a homemade pavlova. The meringue was perfect, garnished with fresh raspberries and cherries from the garden.
Every time you sit down for one of Jenny’s meals it’s like opening a gift. Whether she’s serving simple roasted vegetables, homemade pancakes or coq au vin, each bite literally tastes like it’s made with love. The simplicity and care in every dish makes her food one of the best culinary experiences I’ve ever had.
Needless to say, I was intoxicated by my surroundings and very disappointed to leave the next day. On the train ride home I thought of the pork belly, the peas and the potatoes and couldn’t help but wanting to do a little Diane Lane dance.
If you’re in Umbria or Tuscany go to Ca' Di Gosto. It will change your life! To see more of Jenny’s culinary awesomeness, visit their website.
Contact Ca' Di Gosto:
Telephone: (+39) 348.323.6704 or 075.941.0799
Photos by Thomas Young.
PS: Originally, there were many more photos from the food and farm at C'a Di Gosto. However, an untimely computer crash left us with only a few.
*Sarah works in film production in sunny Los Angeles. After being away in Europe for five months, she is pretty much obsessed with burritos, sushi and Kogi at The Alibi Room in Culver City.