Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Deruta's Rich Heritage of Ceramics

The beautiful little Italian hillside town of Deruta is known throughout the world for one thing: its spectacular pottery, or ceramiche maiolica, an industry that has been central to the economy of the town since the 14th Century during the domination of the church. Even in those days, ceramics were exported, guaranteeing Deruta a notable income. Maiolica, is the name given to the style of glazed, decorated pottery that is still is produced in many Italian towns, including Orvieto, Castelli, Faenza and Sicily’s Caltagirone. But true maiolica devotees ultimately seek out Deruta, where 250 factories still produce the colourful ceramics shipped worldwide. 

The most interesting shops are within the old walled town of Deruta

Maioliche Artistiche Maras in Deruta

Why pottery production is centered on this small town seems to be due to the quality of the local clay. Deruta reached its zenith in the 16th Century with much of its pottery drawing inspiration from the Renaissance and from painters such as Raphael, who came from nearby Gubbio. There are more than 300 ceramic firms in Deruta today and it's still possible to visit the artists at work in some of the smaller shops, as well as The Museo Regionale della Ceramica which is housed in what was once a Franciscan monastery. The museum has displays explaining how ceramics have been produced throughout the centuries from the 14th-century up to the present day. Next door to the museum is the Romanesque-Gothic church of San Francesco.

Deruta's internationally renowned Museo Regionale della Ceramica 

Deruta's Gothic church of San Francesco built in 1388

Fountain in Deruta's main square

Arriving in Deruta in the off-season meant that many of the shops were closed, but some were still open for business, so we were able to sniff around have a good look in some at the town's famous ceramics. A lovely restaurant was fortunately open, and with their whimsical ceramic directional on Corso Cavour, we  found our way along a small cobblestone street to the tiny Taverna del Gusto.

Ceramic tile sign leading the way to our restaurant

Taverna del Gusto

A jug of local wine

Selecting from the menu was challenging, not only because the restaurant smelled so good, but because the menu was completely in Italian. We had no idea what we were ordering, aside from the wine! Using my Italian-English dictionary, we fumbled our way through the lovely descriptions of Taverna del Gusto's menu and had a loose idea of what the dishes we had ordered. The Barbozzo grigliato con insaltina di radicchio e balsamico was a lovely arugula and radicchio salad topped with grilled bacon drizzled with balasmic vinegar, and La Ricottina gratinata al forno con pomodori was as expected, baked ricotta and tomatoes with pecorino cheese. Light, delicate and delicious. Gli Umbricelli alle Carbonara con tartufato nero was a traditional Umbrian pasta tossed with cream, pancetta and black truffles, and very good. Le Salsicce alle griglia, although surprisingly spare in the presentation, were homemade pork sausages, robust and full of flavour.

Il Barbozzo grigliato con insaltina di radicchio e balsamico

La Ricottina gratinata al forno con pomodori

Gli Umbricelli alle Carbonara con tartufato nero

Le Salsicce alle griglia

Although we didn't end up buying any ceramiche from Deruta, I would definitely return in the high-season, when all of the shops would be open and we'd have a better opportunity to see all the beautiful ceramicware. We did pop into a few of the larger shops in the lower town, but we found that we had been spoiled by Elizabetta Belocci's exquisite pieces in Orvieto. That's one of the beautiful things about Italy, there are so many incredible sights, sounds and savoury sensations around every corner, that you could spend a lifetime discovering them all.

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