Cold it might be, but there's plenty to make this time of year enjoyable in Le Marche - welcome to the winter edition of the Marche Voyager Newsletter. And Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo to you all
One of the region's handful of DOP products - foods with the coveted Denominazione di Origine Protetta status - is formaggio di fossa, a sharply-flavoured cheese brought to perfection by being matured in sealed fosse, or holes in the ground.
The best of the lot comes from the village of Talamello in the far north of Le Marche and is known as Ambra di Talamello for its warm golden amber colour.
The already partly-matured pecorino cheeses are wrapped in cheesecloth and sealed up in August in holes dug out of the sandstone below the village houses. Around three months later, in November, the fosse are opened amid much festivity and the cheeses are ready to eat. Hence winter is the best time to try this unusual cheese.
Formaggio di fossa is delicious eaten with a small amount of good honey, or can be used in shavings on pasta simply dressed with peppery, new olive oil and maybe a crushed anchovy fillet or two.
An informative page on formaggio di fossa (in Italian)
Honey, honey, honey...
What better to accompany formaggio di fossa than some of the region's celebrated honey? Look out for locally-produced honey - often runny acacia or delicately scented mille fiori - when stocking up.
Marche honey can sometimes be the best you'll find in Italy - at the 2007 prestigious Fiera di Miele near Bologna a marchigiano beekeeper beat more than 220 others to win the Tre Gocce d'Oro for the best honey. The winner was Luca Londei and his Mieleria di San Lorenzo from the town of San Lorenzo in Campo.
Two wheels good
The celebrated Giro d'Italia, one of the world's most famous cycle road races, will include two stages that pass through Le Marche in 2008. On 20 May there is a short, timed section between Pesaro and Urbino.
On the following day the race heads north from Urbania to climb over Monte Carpegna before finishing in Romagna at Cesena. The 91st annual race runs from 10 May to 1 June 2008.
For those of a more cultural bent, the coming year's summer opera festivals in Le Marche feature some world-class events.
Macerata's Open-Air Opera Festival in the massive Sferisterio stadium includes Bizet's Carmen, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and Richard Strauss's Salome.
The Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro includes Rossini's Ermione and Maometto II and a solo recital by world-renowned tenor Juan Diego Flórez.
Marche Voyager opera page
Macerata Open-Air Opera Festival website
Rossini Opera Festival website
A home for La Befana
On the morning of 6 January, Italian children wake excitedly to see what La Befana has brought them; the kindly old lady - whose name is a corruption of Epifania, or Epiphany - traditionally rides in on her broomstick to bring gifts for children who have been good, while leaving coal for those who have been bad (shops in Italy do a brisk trade in candy made to look like coal).
Unlike Father Christmas safely set up at the North Pole, La Befana has lead a somewhat homeless existence - until, that is, the warm hospitality of Urbania in Pesaro province. For nine years the town has offered her shelter and warmth - and a four-day festival in her honour, La Casa della Befana, from 2 to 6 January, when children and their parents can meet the old lady in person. The event has now gained national status and is regularly featured on television.
Le Marche is the first Italian region to have its own regional anthem. The piece written by ascolano composer and pianist Giovanni Allevi was given its first performance at Loreto to mark the Pope's visit last September. The anthem will be used to get things going at celebrations and other events promoted by the region and a choral version is in the pipeline.
Hear it online here (full and short versions)
The Museo della Fisarmonica at Castelfidardo has over 350 accordions in every shape and size. The town in Ancona province has been making the instruments since the 19th Century.
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