07/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Italians Get it Right When It Comes to Local Food

The local food movement is hot stuff in the U.S. In Italy, at least in the off-the-beaten-track Le Marche region, locally produced food, is well, just food.

I'm just back from a week in this verdant rich agricultural area, which lies between Italy's Appennine Mountains and the Adriatic coast. You don't have to drive very far beyond the teaming beach resorts to find scores of ancient ocher-hued hill top towns. There, local foods with a startling freshness and unblemished flavor profiles abound.

Take tiny Gualdo, a walled town of about 1,000 inhabitants on the edge of Monti Sibillini National Park, an area marked by soaring peaks, masses of grazing sheep, aquamarine lakes, and meadows brimming with daisies, poppies and patches of lavender. At da Cicco, a simple eatery frequented by locals, rich, luscious salumi and young pecorino from the milk of nearby sheep is an every day occurrence. In nearby Sarnano, at Ai-Pini, we feasted on more salumi and cheese; this batch was made by the proprietor that day. Neither of these establishments subscribes officially to the Slow Food movement. But this is indeed natural of-the-earth food, meant to be savored over a long, leisurely lunch.

And it's not just the cured meats and cheese lovingly offered up by homey chefs. Even the neighborhood supermarket revealed some unexpected treasures. Sheep's milk ricotta from our local supermercado, was sparkling and fresh. A batch of commercial apricot jam was so pure and redolent of fruit that my husband and I fought over the last precious drops lying at the bottom of the jar. On the side of a winding country road, a small shop sold honey that tasted of wildflowers and exuded the heady aroma of lavender.

Farms in the area know a tourist opportunity when they see one. The chef, Eda, at Agritourismo degli Alti Pascoli in Fiastra prepares cannelloni with ricotta that's as light as a clear summer day.

In Le Marche, you don't have to search out the local farmer's market to taste local bounty. Whether its honey, butter, jam, or lemon sorbet -- so citrusy it made my mouth pucker -- each food tasted only of itself, clear, distinct, and unprocessed in the most profound sense.