Last Updated on August 26, 2022 by Jim Ferri
Welcome to little Norcia, the pork capital of Italy…
Important Note to Readers: the Town of Norcia was devastated by a violent earthquake on 30 October 2016. Although some of it has been rebuilt, other parts of the town – including the Basilica of St. Benedict – are still being rebuilt in 2022. If you plan on visiting Norcia check first with the Italian National Tourist Board regarding conditions.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Jim Ferri
You don’t hear a lot about Norcia, a little town in Umbria, the Italian province that abuts Tuscany. In fact, if you don’t live in Italy there’s a good chance you never heard of the place.
The standout places most American travelers know in Umbria are Perugia (for its chocolate), Assisi (for its church) and Spoleto (for its concerts).
Norcia’s claim to fame is pork.
Norcia – A Little Culinary Capital
Don’t laugh. Norcia is one of the little culinary capitals of Italy.
You sometimes read about it in gourmet travel articles. That’s because of the quality of its pork products. (In fact, the word for a quality pork butcher in Italian, norcineria, is derived from the name of the town.)
For travelers, however, the problem is Norcia’s location, way out on the eastern flank of the province, far from its more famous siblings. During a week in Umbria with my wife and some friends, I was bent on visiting and, luckily, they acquiesced to take the 1½-hour drive.
I had visions of visiting ham heaven since Norcia is in the mountains, deep in forests with a lot of wild boar all about. Our drive there was a nice drive through the forested hills and I guess that made our approach to the town’s north gate so impactful. I remember coming out of the last turn in the road, seeing the main gate of the walled town and thinking “what a great-looking little place.”
A Stroll Along Norcia’s Corso Sertorio
Since cars aren’t allowed in the main area, we left our car outside the walls. We then walked through the gate onto Corso Sertorio, the town’s little main street.
It is lined with little yellow buildings, all washed by the sun, and none more the two stories tall. There wasn’t a cloud in the deep blue sky, which gave the whole place a movie-set look.
We hadn’t walked very far when I saw a boar’s head hanging outside a butcher’s shop and then, as we continued up the street, many more.
It was a rather odd sight at first, almost as if we were in a taxidermist’s shop or at a hunting lodge, but it certainly beat neon for setting the ambiance of the place.
I wandered into several norcinerias and was surprised not to see sides of pork hanging on white-tiled walls. Instead I found little old-fashioned stores looking more like gourmet markets, with strings of sausage and hams dangling from their ceilings, making each place look both festive as well as foreign.
Italian Small-Town Life
It was Tuesday and there were very few tourists around, although I suspect that had more to do with the location of the town then the day of the week. Here and there chairs and tables from small cafés spilled out onto the sidewalk and street, and bright geraniums crowded the railings of the little balconies above them.
A group of local men stood around chatting with the owner of a small shop that sold old prints and watercolors. Further on there was a little piazza where others sat on benches shaded by trees, chatting away and catching up on local gossip.
Over to the side women were buying food for the night’s dinner at a vegetable and food shop. I was surprised to see watermelons sliced open since I had never seen them in Italy before. And here they were laid out as if we were at some roadside stand in Georgia.
Sampling Norcia’s Famous Product
Another hundred yards on we came upon the larger Piazza San Benedetto where there were no trees and everyone sought shade wherever they could find it. We decided to seek our shade at the ristorante of the Granaro del Monte restaurant, part of the Hotel Grotta Azzurra, the oldest in town, that we had seen a block or so back. You may have already guessed that Norcia’s Corso Sertorio isn’t very long.
Sitting at an outdoor table, had to taste the food that has made the town so famous and we had a great little lunch.
Yes, there we were, thousands of miles from home in Italy and we ordered ham sandwiches and beers.
And there was probably not a person in town who thought it was so “typically American.”
If you go:
Norcia is in eastern Umbria about one hour east of Spoleto, three hours from Rome.
Hotel Grotta Azzurra and Granaro del Monte Restaurant
Via Alfieri 6
06046 Norcia (PG), Italy
Tel: 0743 816513