There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of little Cartoceto. The village sits pretty in the Pesero-Urbino province of Le Marche, not far from Urbino or Fano. Its 1351 fortress was destroyed in an earthquake in 1572 that crumbled much of the historic core of the city.
But hold on, all is not lost. When you wander what remains of the walled hill town you’re sure to be attracted to the views of a verdant landscape carpeted with vineyards as well as fruit and olive trees like you see in the picture above. Folks say “ciao” to you as they pass—like you were one of them. When you walk into the Bar Nanà in the pretty Piazza del Popolo and ask for a caffè shakerato and directions for a good place to eat, the barista without hesitation lifts her phone to see if her favorite eatery is open for lunch. It’s that kinda friendly.
If you like good food, oh man, have you come to the right place. Not only will you find Porchetta da Mario but you might come across the most sublime cheeses and best olive oil you’ve ever tasted over at Gastronomia Beltrami.
It’s a store for your stomach. Local wine competes with the Beltrami olive oil on the shelves and a shining case full of the most beautiful cheeses hand made with love line the entrance. Here’s a sample:
The goat cheeses you see at the bottom of the picture are fresh cheeses, low in fat naturally, that are flavored with herbs of the region. There are also sheep cheeses and pit aged cheese that we found quite to our liking.
The cheeses are all completely vegetarian; no animal rennet is used at Beltrami. Instead, vegetarian rennet from fig leaves makes the milk into cheese.
Enter Vittorio Beltrami
While the most sublime cheeses are being laid before us, in comes Vittorio Beltrami, taking a short break from his goats. The passion in his voice speaks to his great desire to make fine cheese. I ask him how many hours he works each day. He thanks me for the question. The answer is 12.
“The problem these days, is that nobody wants to work with their hands”, he says.
By the time he’s finished, I’ve come to understand the philosophy that drives Italians toward better food, and why we can’t seem to achieve the same in the US. Here’s Vittorio’s take on the situation, according to the Beltrami website:
The philosophy and methods of the company are those that Vittorio Beltrami called “Retro-Innovation”, i.e. to have the past as a starting point, our roots and our history, so that the inevitable innovation demanded by the changing times is carried out with harmony, respect and harmony with the environment.
Like Janus, the two headed god who looks both to the past and to the future, it’s this nurturing of the best of the past to bring it to light in the present that drives the food revolution in Italy. Vittorio’s philosophy isn’t so far from Massimo Bottura’s, the chef at what has been called the “best restaurant in the world”:
“We never look at the past in a nostalgic way. We look at the past in a critic(al) way to get the best from the past into the future.”
In the US, we are nostalgic about our past, we want to make America great again, and yet we make no effort to define the past so as to drive the best of it toward the future. We do not build, we are constantly tearing down and wondering why it’s not working. We are stuck firmly in a Cheez Whiz World, and there doesn’t seem a way out of the glop.
We wander outside the gastronomia with a sack of cheese, and Vittorio passes us in his truck. We see him in the piazza and wave to him, then take off to explore the town. Upon our return, we walk through the piazza on our way to a drink at the café. Along the way, a woman explains to others on their shared bench, “Giornalisti Americani,” American journalists.
It’s a small town. Word passes quickly. Vittorio is influential in Cartoceto, maybe a sort of celebrity, as he should be. And now, so are we.
There are many reasons to visit, including the many festivals and celebrations of what’s growing on those green hills, but where in Italy have you seen a hotel with a 9.6/10 rating going for 56 euro a night average? Bed & Breakfast Tre Civette Sul Comò.
We wandered Le Marche in June of 2019 with the dynamic duo behind Anita’s Feast, Tom (great pictures) and Anita (the wordsmith). Thanks, guys!