Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando la tecnica promozionale chiamata “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.
by Liz Schasel
Inspired by the visit to Fattoria Montelupo
“Jacob! Andrew! Cut that out right now!” Norah yelled across the hotel room at her two sons. They had just begun bickering about something that was probably entirely irrelevant, but after a long day walking around Rome, Norah was developing a bit of a headache and no longer had the patience to sit through their squabbles. “Please, just be quiet for five minutes” she pleaded with the boys as she settled down into the chair by the window of the hotel to rest.
It had been almost six months since Norah’s husband, Mark had passed away. Five months and 23 days, to be exact. Norah had spent the majority of each of those five months and 23 days in a chair by the window in her kitchen, a full glass of wine in her hand. Sometimes she would cry, other times she would just sit, but always she would drink the wine.
Mark had never been a very healthy man; Norah always knew the day would come, but when it did it was about 14 years ahead of schedule – Norah’s predicted, somewhat optimistic schedule, that is. He was always stressed from work and never ate well. In fact, the stress made him eat even worse. He would come home from a long day at work and absolutely devour everything in the pantry: chips, cookies, candy, gummies, pretzels, peanut butter – you name it. After having his way with the pantry, he would turn to the fridge, eyes glazed over like a dying animal, and start all over again: pudding cups, applesauce, ice cream, lunch meat, cheese sticks – oh god, the cheese sticks were the worst. Norah could not stand to see the cheese stick wrappers laying around on the table or even in the trash. She never understood how anyone could eat such a rubbery, processed, chemically infused excuse of a snack. But regardless of the nutritional qualities, or lack thereof, he would come home every day and begin this ravenous cycle of indulgence.
“I said cut it out!” she exclaimed one more time at the boys. All Norah wanted was some peace as she got ready for bed; the three of them had to be up early the next morning to take a train to Umbria, where they would be enjoying the countryside and touring a cheese farm called Fattoria Montelupo that specializes in buffalo mozzarella, thanks to the recommendation of Norah’s good friend Sandra. Sandra was a wine consultant in Italy and therefore naturally knew all the best places for cheese in Italy as well. She could not stop raving about this place: the freshness of the cheese, the sustainability of the production, the love the owner has for his animals, the satisfaction felt after seeing firsthand that such delicious dairy products come from such loving and humane practices. Norah figured she’d check it out – she almost always followed Sandra’s recommendations. In fact, the entire reason Norah was in Italy was because Sandra had suggested it.
Norah and Sandra had studied abroad together in Perugia at The Umbra Institute back when they were undergraduates. They both fell in love with Italy during their stay and agreed they would find their way back someday. After graduation, Sandra made it happen: she moved to Italy and got her job as a wine consultant in Tuscany. Norah, on the other hand, got married to Mark and stayed in Connecticut. Though both were very content with their lives, Sandra had never seen Norah as purely blissful as she was when they were in Italy.
“You should go back,” Sandra told Norah one day over wine as they sat in Norah’s usual spot by the window. “Take the boys, go on a little vacation. Seriously, I mean it. You deserve this, and you need something to get your mind off of Mark. At least for a little while.”
“I don’t know,” Norah started, “the boys have never been out of the country before, and it’s just been so long since I’ve been to Italy. I would have loved to go with Mark. I really can’t see the point of going without him.”
“To find yourself again!” Sandra exclaimed. “Mark wasn’t with you the last time you were in Italy, and you don’t need him to be there with you now. Seriously, take the boys to Italy. Go for a week. Remember what it’s like to eat well. I can tell you haven’t been nourishing your body.”
It was true. For six months Norah had barely felt hungry. She’d mainly been subsisting on crackers, wine, soup, and occasionally some fresh vegetables to get some vitamins. She’d forgotten how good it felt, physically, to truly take care of your body—there was even a sort of emotional, soulful happiness that comes from it. She really did need to be reminded of that.
“The type of food that you put in your body…it matters,” Sandra continued, gently threatening to go off into one of her slow food movement diatribes.
“Trust me, I know,” Norah cut her off, picturing the large mound of cheese stick wrappers in her trash can that had become such a familiar sight throughout the 18 years of her marriage to Mark. “I know.”
Two months later Norah and her boys boarded the plane to Rome. Now they were finally here, but much to Norah’s disappointment, nothing had changed—they were still constantly bickering with each other. They had spent the past four days looking at history’s most beautiful art and architecture, listening to new music, discovering a new culture, and yet nothing in their attitudes had improved. The boys hadn’t been getting along since Mark died—it had been six months since she’d seen them run around and play together like they used to.
“Please,” Norah pleaded one last time for silence. Finally, the boys began to quiet down. Almost instantly, Norah felt peace return to her mind and within minutes she had fallen asleep, right there in the chair, hoping the best for tomorrow. When Norah woke up the next morning, she was hungry. Her body didn’t just feel a pain for food for the energy, but rather she was really actually hungry in a way she hadn’t been since Mark died. For the first time, she actually wanted food. She had had a dream of the cheese factory they would be visiting that day—perhaps that was why she woke up so hungry. Sandra had been talking it up for weeks now, and even though it all sounded too good to be true, subconsciously Norah must have been more excited than she realized.
When they got to the farm, everything was even better than Norah had imagined. Norah and her boys walked around the farm with Sandra and Gianluca, the owner of the farm. Gianluca told the incredible story of how he brought 40 buffalo to Umbria and, after a few years of letting them get used to the environment, began producing cheese. He explained to them how he feeds his animals only the best food and lets them roam free across his land for nine months out of the year to let them live a natural life and therefore eliminate many of the problems and diseases that typically occur with dairy products. Happier buffalo meant less stress, which meant less toxins in the dairy products they produced. They were able to taste many different types of cheeses that had been made just that morning—hadn’t even been packaged yet. Norah truly could taste the difference; it was the most incredible cheese she had ever had in her life.
Norah couldn’t believe how happy she felt. She was finally beginning to feel like herself again, if only for a few moments as she felt the cheese practically melt in her mouth. She could no longer bear the thought of the empty processed cheese stick wrappers in her trash can at home. She felt like she was in a completely different world. They boys especially seemed to enjoy it—each of them ate at least two meals worth of cheese alone.
As they were leaving the farm they saw a herd of buffalo off in the distance, running around together over a beautiful green hill in front of the setting sun.
“Have you ever seen livestock run like that? They seem to be chasing each other, playing almost, like little kids. Have you ever seen something so happy?”
“No,” Norah replied. “Not in a long time.”
The sun had just begun to set as Norah placed dinner into the oven—a chicken dish and some roasted vegetables with the last of the scamorza cheese she had taken home from Fattoria Montelupo melted on top: finally, real food. They had been back in Connecticut for only two days, but already Norah feared that she felt things returning back to normal—the strenuous, inexhaustible normal that she had been so desperate, so happy to escape. Andrew was outside reading a book in the backyard on top of the little green hill by the tree. Jacob would be home from tennis practice in any minute, and then the arguing would likely start. And Mark…well, Mark was still gone. Norah sank into a chair by the window and poured herself a glass of wine.
A few minutes later she heard a loud thud from outside in the backyard. “Haha! Loser!” she heard Jacob call. Just as she expected, he had returned home from practice and began fighting with his brother. Norah stood up to prepare to yell at them when she looked out the window and immediately lost her breath. She stood there in silence for a few minutes, just watching. Tears began to form in her eyes.
Right there in her backyard, off in the distance were her two sons, running around together over a beautiful green hill in front of the setting sun. They were chasing each other, playing again, just like little kids.
All Norah could hear was Sandra’s wise voice in her head: “The type of food that you put in your body…it matters,” and “Have you ever seen something so happy?”
“Yes,” Norah thought to herself. This time she had.