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Discover real Italian food in Umbria’s finest MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® farm-to-table lunch experience

Umbria in Italy

Welcome to Casale Polegri, an ochre-coloured farm and vineyard tucked away in the balmy Umbrian countryside of Italy. Home to farmer and chef Lorenzo Polegri and his son Tomasso, Casele Polegri welcomes Contiki travellers from across the globe for a local and homemade lunch, as well as charming and informative tours of the property. 

This is a very special MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience that allows our travellers to explore the beloved tradition of Italian cuisine, and purchase some authentic olive oil and wine for themselves. 

On a rainy day in Italy I got to sit down with Lorenzo himself, a man who is coined by one of our Trip Managers as ‘the real mind behind the place’, to discuss the history of the farm and how important making and sharing food is to him. 

Hey Lorenzo! Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Casale Polegri?

“The farm was founded in 1920 after my grandfather, Bernardino, came back from World War I in 1918. His family owned two mills, one in Castillo, which is the village right in front of ours, and the other in Baschi which is where we are now. My grandfather discovered that he had asthma so he couldn’t work at the mill, so he decided to sell it and buy a farm instead, as well as a townhouse in the village, which is now my sister’s Bed & Breakfast.” 

“He was 25 at the time and he started this new career. Then in 1934 my father was born, and he grew up and went to school for farming development, and he took over my grandfather’s farm after college. My father ran it until he died, and it was passed down to me.”

“I moved back here 12 years ago, and with my brother we started renovations of the house. When my son turned 19 he came to work here as well and joined our little brigade; and now this is it. On hot days like today we serve lunch to our groups under the pine trees, it’s very beautiful.”

farmers of Casale Polegri

Image source:Casale Polegri

What are some Umbrian foodie specialties?

“We’re quite close to Tuscany here, so we have a few similar specialties, the cuisine is probably actually 70% the same. There’s fresh pasta with wild boar ragú, and for this the pasta is typically pappardelle. There is also unsalted bread, which is what the region is known for.”

“The reason the bread is unsalted is because in 1546, I think, the Pope at the time put a tax on salt, which is really the most necessary ingredient in the kitchen. You know, butchers use it when making prosciutto, artisans need it to make leather, it’s needed for all kinds of cheeses, and of course you use it for bread. But to avoid the tax, they stopped using salt in the bread, and it’s become tradition now.”

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Can you tell me about the products that you produce here at Casale Polegri?

“Yes, so, behind the house with vineyards and olive groves. So lots of grapes and olives, and the main product we sell then is our wine and our olive oil.”

“But for the lunches, everything that the guests eat is local and most of the produce is grown here. We grow zucchini and zucchini blossoms, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, different kinds of salads, cucumber, cantaloupes, green beans. We also have fig trees, and when people arrive to visit us, I always ask them if they want some figs and they can pick them right from the trees.”

“What I love doing when the Contiki groups come is to take them on a tour of the vineyard and we all talk and walk with a glass of wine in our hands. Everyone loves it.”

You said that all the food for the Farm to Table lunch is local?

“Yes, everything is local. So for meat I buy from a local butcher – he lives just four miles away from us. I get honey from a specialist, and goat’s cheese and buffalo mozzarella from a guy just over the other side of the hill.” 

“We also have to buy things like sugar, flour, and yeast. But actually, did you know you can make yeast using crushed up grapes or apples mixed with flour and honey? It naturally starts developing, it’s not as potent and it can take a while, but it’s good enough.”

“But yes, all the food is local from other artisans and farmers in the area, and our own produce as well of course.”

How important is it that you keep your ingredients local?

“To be honest, when you make simple dishes like the ones we make, you know pasta with a little tomato sauce and some pecorino, it doesn’t matter where the ingredients are from. It will always taste good.”

“But when you’re able to use local ingredients, and when we farmers can all come together and benefit from each other’s work, and help each other out. It puts me in a position where I feel like I love my work more, and I can be more proud of it.”

“It’s simple, and it’s beautiful, and it’s good. And it makes people happy, you know, when they realise that these local businesses have stories behind them as well, like the story of Casale Polegri, for example; this is the vineyard that my father planted 45 years ago, this is the farm my grandfather started after the war, etc.”

“It’s not necessarily that we’re better, but just that the whole experience is better. It creates the right kind of atmosphere.”

Chef Lorenzo cooking in Casale Polegri, Italy

Image source:Casale Polegri

Do local people from the region come to visit Casale Polegri a lot? 

“It’s not common as a lot of people here have their own small gardens as well, and everyone makes some wine. But when the locals do come it’s usually on Sundays and usually for special events.”

“I think they think ‘Lorenzo makes things differently. They’re a little strange, but they’re good.’ So, when they want to have something different come to us, the crazy men on top of the hill, for lunch on the weekends.”

How long have you been offering the farm-to-table lunch experience?

“We were supposed to start hosting travel groups for lunch in 2020, but of course Covid-19 happened. So actually we only started offering this experience in 2022. It’s still very new, it’s our second year running it.”

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So, how important is tourism to your business then?

“Oh for me it’s 100%. Probably 50% of our revenue comes from selling our products, like olive oil, wine, and balsamic vinegar, so to me that’s big. We also offer pasta cooking classes for tourist groups, as well as of course the farm-to-table lunch experience.”

“It’s a beautiful system as well because of course we sell our products and make money, but in doing so we also get to meet a lot of people from all over and talk to them. Sometimes I meet people who are in the business, you know farming or agriculture, and it’s a true pleasure to converse with them as well. But it’s great to get to know people from all over the world.”

Chef Lorenzo making pasta in Casale Polegri in Umbria

Image source:Casale Polegri

As you mentioned, Casale Polegri produces its own olive oil and wine. How have your production methods evolved to try and be more mindful and sustainable?

“We’ve always used quite natural methods in our farming. When I was a teenager, I used to run the garden with my father, and we had a water system. It works in the same way that it did in the old days: it’s basically little canals running through the rows in the vineyard. It takes more time, but it’s a drip system that we collect from rain water, and it makes it so that we’re not wasting water.” 

“In terms of chemicals we don’t use any, apart from one against fungus – but it’s a substance approved by Italy’s government and it’s 100% certified and organic.”

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Can you tell me a little bit about how olive oil is made?

“Okay. The first thing to know, this is a myth I want to clear up, is that there’s no such thing as just virgin olive oil. It’s either extra virgin olive oil, or olive oil.” 

“To make it, first of all, you harvest the olives. And we do this by laying nets on the ground around the trees and then you shake them as hard as you can and the olives fall quite easily. From there you go to the mill. The olives are washed and sifted through to get rid of any leaves and bits, and then they get put in a crusher.”

“So they are crushed and you get this paste, and then it gets mixed slowly and the friction warms the paste up, which then creates the oil. It’s just around room temperature as well. After that the oil goes into a press so that all the skin fibres and pits and everything can be filtered out. 30 minutes in the press and then you’re left with two liquids: the oil, and also a kind of water with all the residue. This water we use as fertiliser for our crops.”

“Olive oil can only be classed as virgin if it fits these 3 requirements: no chemicals, made with mechanical means, and the acidity level cannot be higher than 0.8%. From 0.8% to 2.5% acidity that’s just olive oil, and then anything about that is not edible.

Is the Mediterranean diet the best diet, in your opinion?

“Yes! I’ve been in this business for 33 years, cooking and eating, and you should see my blood test results. I’m so proud, there is no cholesterol!”

“It’s pretty fantastic: we eat a lot of carbs and we put a lot of oil on everything, but it’s healthy because we make it ourselves. We don’t bleach our flour for example, it’s just wheat that’s been ground and sifted through. The ingredients are all simple, it’s so simple. That’s what makes it good.”

You’re very passionate about your business and food and agriculture – we love passion! What about your job makes you proud to do what you do?

“I feel I have a pretty big responsibility because this farm has been passed down for generations and I’m in the generation that will pass it down to my son one day as well. Agriculture is important to the future, I feel there has to be an equilibrium in the practice. You know, we don’t want to use harmful chemicals and pesticides, but also if we let the farms become completely wild the crops will be no good, they won’t be as bountiful. I think we need to trust technology and mankind’s research and knowledge.” 

“The mission to me, here, is to transmit this tradition of farming knowledge and cooking knowledge to future generations. But this needs to be transmitted in good spirits and with optimism, you know? You can’t teach if you’re angry and you can’t teach if you’re close-minded. You’ve got to share the best of your personality and that’s how people learn and that’s how you make people happy. And ultimately, that’s my responsibility.”

What do you like sharing most with our Contiki travellers?

“I just like to talk. It depends on the groups, but sometimes I’ll spend 30 minutes talking about how you plant a vineyard and then I can show them our vineyard and how to pick grapes or train the vine.”

“Or I can just show them the gardens and all our little crops. It’s nice to talk, and the Contiki groups are always quite curious and ask questions. We always just walk around and talk before lunch with a glass of wine.”

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