Le Marche is a beautiful region that is bordered by Emilia-Romagna to the north, the Adriatic Sea to the east, Abruzzo to the south and Tuscany and Umbria to the west. Le Marche is known for its lush green hills below the Sibillini Mountains, forests of oak trees, medieval towns, and its rocky coastline along the Adriatic Sea. The Apennines Mountains run down into the Adriatic with deep and narrow valleys.
Le Marche has an ideal climate for growing vegetables and fruits: the region boasts special artichokes and cauliflowers, as well as apricots, Angelica pears, peaches from the Val d’Aso and pink apples from Amandola. Olives are a speciality here, both for making extra virgin olive oil and for eating. The large green olives from around Ascoli Piceno are famous: they’re stuffed with meat paste before being fried and eaten as a popular street food.
Wine is also produced in Le Marche. The best known is the white Verdicchio from Castelli di Jesi, Matelica and Serrapetrona. Other fine white grapes from Le Marche have the unusual names of Pecorino and Passerina. Of the reds, Rosso Piceno is made in the area around Ascoli, and Lacrima di Moro d’Alba in the hills between Jesi and the coast (not to be confused with the Piemontese Alba).
The cuisine of Le Marche is noted for being divided between the seafood of the coast and the flavourful vegetable and meat cuisine of the interior. The coast is popular with tourists and much of the food served there is simple and not too expensive. However, some of Italy’s greatest chefs also work in beautiful restaurants along the seaside. Renaissance master painter Raphael was born here and the landscape of Le Marche inspired his work. Gioachino Rossini, the 19th-century opera composer, is from Le Marche; he was a keen gastronome. Many dishes from Le Marche bear his name as he invented recipes and other cooks have dedicated dishes to him.
What to See
Visit lovely medieval towns such as Ascoli Piceno (see the Piazza del Popolo and visit the first Sunday in August when they re-enact the Torneo Cavalleresco della Quintana, which includes a jousting tournament!), the Renaissance city of Urbino (a World Heritage Site and cultural centre ), and the Greco-Roman town of Numana. In Urbino, don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (the National Gallery inside the Palazzo Ducale), and panoramic view from the Fortezza (the Albornoz fort).
Things to do include visiting the Riviera del Conero, south of Ancona, and rent a boat to explore the coves in Sirolo and Numana (a town with ancient links to Sicilia). Loreto is a place of religious pilgrimage and even if you are not religious, the Holy House and Basilica of Santa Casa is stunning. Fermo is a hillside town overlooking the sea and has Piazza del Popolo (a beautiful town square) and a Duomo (cathedral). Nearby are the Montefiore dell’Aso (a nice church) and Pinacoteca Civica (a good art gallery), both worth viewing. In the summer, they have antique fairs at night.
In Fabriano, the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana is a paper museum with demonstrations of the Fabriano paper manufacturing process in the 13th century. There are also nice bookstores in town. Outside Fabriano, there is a vast network of caves, Grotte di Frasassi.
Other attractive towns to visit include Gradara (a medieval fortress town), Macerata (an alluring hillside town with one of Italy’s most famous opera festivals), Montefeltro (a picturesque town in a beautiful part of Le Marche; formaggio di fossa, Visner (cherry liqueur) and prosciutto di Carpegna are produced here), Offida (a village host to an important carnival since the 17th century; also known for its stuffed focaccia), Pesaro (a city and seaside resort known for its majolica ceramics and the Rossini Opera Festival every August), Sirolo (a seaside resort said to have the best beaches in Le Marche) and Visso (an enchanting ancient town in the National Park of Monti Sibillini).
Bring home salame di fichi (a pressed cake made from dried figs, nuts, and anise), visciolato (cherry wine), mistral (anise flavoured liqueur), black truffles, Fabriano paper, ceramics, extra-virgin olive oil, and prosciutto.
The coastal part of Le Marche is known for its diverse selection of fish and seafood. Delicious fresh water fish are found in the inland mountainous areas. In the interior, meats are popular: beef (the local razza Bianca Marchigiana breed), pork, lamb, wild boar, rabbit and free-range chicken. In the woods, mushrooms (including porcini), and black and white truffles can be found. The vegetables from Le Marche are known for being particularly flavourful: you can see them in the weekly and daily markets in towns throughout the region. The soil is rich in minerals that help produce excellent results.
Pecorino cheese is a typical local ingredient. The most famous are the ‘formaggi di fossa’ pecorini that are aged in large linen sacks in caves dug deep in the local tufa stone. The cheeses age there from mid August to the end of November and acquire a special flavour. Some pecorino cheese was also rolled in the past in a sporting competition between rival villages. Today they use wooden replicas of the cheese wheels.
Local seafood includes sardines, octopus, squid, turbot, scorpion fish, lobster, crayfish, mantis prawns, spider crabs, and cockles. Fresh produce includes peaches, figs, wild strawberries, wild salad leaves, emmer wheat (farro), polenta, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, anise, honey, and grape must.
The cuisine of Le Marche is simple, balanced and well flavoured, and is often scented with rosemary and fennel. The coast is known for brodetto (fish soup) and other fish dishes, particularly grilled. Each area along the coast has different versions of brodetto: the ingredients change with the seasons. The most famous brodetto is from Ancona, Rimini, and Ravenna, in Romagna.
In the interior of Le Marche, they eat more meat dishes such as porchetta (pork roasted with fennel, rosemary, and garlic), skewered game birds (such as quail, pigeons, and partridges), prosciutto eaten in chunks rather than sliced, olive all’ascolana (fried, meat-stuffed olives ), and farmyard chicken stuffed with olives.
Potacchio is a cooking method specific to Le Marche which involves stewing fish, chicken or rabbit in white wine, garlic, tomato and rosemary. In Le Marche, the people are fond of stuffings and use them to fill pasta, suckling pigs, chickens, fish, and even olives. The Marchigiani are proud of their heritage and organise festivals to celebrate local specialities such as porchetta, brodetto, and vincisgrassi (pasta sheets layered with meat sauce, béchamel, chicken livers, and black truffles).
Pasta and soups are often eaten as first courses. Pasta is served with meat sauce, game birds, or salami. Soups are made from vegetables in the summer such as tomato, celery, carrot, and onion; in winter they are made from chickpeas, pecorino cheese, beans with lardo and olive oil. Vegetable dishes often feature as main courses in Le Marche as they are usually substantial and well flavoured.
The most famous dishes include il brodetto di Ancona (fish soup made with 13 different kinds of fish), tagliatelle pasta with ragú, stuffed pasta, vincisgrassi, fresh sheep’s cheese served at the end of lunch, and bread. See recipes from Le Marche here.
The two most well-known white wines, Castelli di Jesi DOCG and Matelica DOCG, are both made with Verdicchio grapes. Suggested producers of of Castelli di Jesi include Bonci, Bucci, Garofoli, and Umani Ronchi. Producers of Matelica to try include Bisci and La Monacesca.
Rosso Conero DOC, made primarily with Montepulciano grapes, and Rosso Piceno DOC, made primarily with Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes, are the two main red wines of Le Marche. Producers of Rosso Conero to try include Le Terrazze, Oasi degli Angeli and Umani Ronchi. Try producers such as Saladini Pilastri and Tenuta De Angeli for Rosso Piceno. There is also some interesting red IGT wines including Akronte made from cabernet sauvignon and Camerte made from Sangiovese and Merlot.
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What to Eat
A list of typical dishes from Le Marche (the most classic dishes are written in bold):
Salumi (Cold Cuts)
Many of the salumi are named after their place of origin and have been made since ancient times.
Ciaùscolo / Ciàscolo (smoked spreadable cured pork salami)
Coppa marchigiana (boiling pork sausage made with pepper, nutmeg, and orange peel, sometimes with pine nuts or almonds)
Fegatino (pork meat and liver sausage)
Mazzafegato da Fabriano (smoked fine-grain pork salami)
Prosciutto di Carpegna (smoked cured ham from a black pig, soaked in vinegar, rubbed with black pepper)
Prosciutto di Montefeltro (smoked spicy cured black pork ham)
Salame Fabriano (lightly smoked pork salami)
Salame Lardellato (pork salami)
Salame del Montefeltro (black pork sausage with black pepper)
Sopressata da Fabriano (finely-ground, smoked pork sausage)
Olive ripiene / Olive all’ascolana (deep-fried, battered olives stuffed with cheese and meat)
Piconi (baked pecorino cheese and egg ravioli)
Pizza alla campagnola (flatbread with lard and pork cracklings)
Vincisgrassi (baked pasta sheets layered with meat sauce, béchamel, chicken livers, and black truffles)
Primi (First Courses)
Ceciarelli (chickpea and pasta soup)
Maccheroni alla pesarese / Tuffoli alla pesarese (gratinéed stuffed pasta tubes with meat, chicken livers, and black truffle, layered with meat sauce and gruyere cheese)
Passatelli di carne (cylindrical cheese, meat, spinach, and egg dumplings in broth)
Pastasciutta alla marchigiana (pasta made from bread dough, served with meat sauce)
Pizza al formaggio (savoury panettone with pecorino and ricotta cheeses)
Secondi (Main Courses)
Brodetto all’Anconetana (fish soup made from 13 different types of fish and shellfish)
Brodetto portorecanatese (saffron fish soup made from 13 different types of fish and shellfish)
Brodetto di San Benedetto del Tronto (spicy fish soup made from 13 different types of fish and shellfish with green peppers, pepper, and chilli)
Coniglio in porchetta (roast rabbit with fennel, garlic, prosciutto, pancetta, and salami)
Filetto alla Rossini (baked steaks on toast with cheese, ham, and béchamel, topped with black truffle)
Moscioli (mussels with herbed breadcrumbs)
Pollo in potacchio all’anconetana (stewed chicken with herbs, garlic, chilli white wine, and rosemary)
Porchetta all’ascolana (roasted stuffed suckling pig with fennel, garlic, rosemary, and wine must)
Quaglie in tegame (quail with peas)
Salinge alle erbe (sea snails with herbs)
Sarde alla anconetana (gratinéed marinated sardines marinated in olive oil and herbs)
Stoccafisso in potacchio (stockfish stew with chilli, white wine, and herbs)
Stocco all’anconetana (stockfish with anchovies, aromatics, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, and herbs)
Umido alla marchigiana (veal stew)
Contorni (Side dishes)
Cavolfiore fritto (fried cauliflower)
Roscani all’anconetana (barba dei frati (Russian oppositeleaf thistle) flavoured with garlic and pennyroyal)
Zucchine al guanciale (zucchini with tomatoes, guanciale (cheek bacon), garlic, and parsley)
Bostrengo (rice cake flavoured with run, raisins, coffee, figs, and chocolate)
Ciambellone (ring cake flavoured with anise, raisins, and lemon)
Frustenga / Polenta dolce (fruitcake with nuts)
Frustingolo (cake made from dried figs, chocolate, nuts, raisins, citrus, and spices)
Panetti di fiche secchi (dried figs with almonds, pistachios, chocolate, vanilla, candied citrus, and mint pressed into a cake and dried)
Scroccafusi (honey coated anise fritters)
Barzotto di grotta (soft ewe’s or mixed ewe’s and cow’s milk cheese ripened in a cave)
Biagiotto/ Pecorino nostrano (soft ewe’s milk or mixed ewe’s and cow’s milk cheese)
Cagiolo (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese)
Casciotta di Urbino DOP (a semi-fresh, mild, buttery mixed ewe and cow’s milk cheese of ancient origin, appreciated by Michelangelo, from Pesaro)
Pecorino alla vinacce (ewe’s milk cheese aged in a cave and then in red wine barrels)
Pecorino dei Monti Sibillini (a firm ewe’s milk cheese, may be flavoured with herbs, bramble shoots, peppercorns, oil, cloves, figs, or egg yolks from the Monti Sibillini area)
Pecorino di montagna (a firm semi-mature to mature ewe’s milk cheese from the mountainous areas of Le Marche)
Pecorino in fossa (a type of hard ewe’s milk cheese aged in straw and walnut leaves and buried)
Pecorino tartufato (an ewe’s milk cheese mixed with black and white truffles)
Ricotta (a cow or ewe’s milk cheese made from the whey, the sharpness depends on the age of the cheese)
Ricotta secca (a hard or crumbly, salted cow or ewe’s milk cheese)
Slattato (a soft full-cream cow’s cheese)
Mistra (anise flavoured liqueur)
Visciolato (wild cherry wine)