Just having a ball!

Today is the start of this year’s Venice Carnival. Exciting, romantic, busy, tourist-filled. We won’t be there. November and January are the times we like to visit La Serenissima, when the campi and calli are deserted, the vaporetti less crowded, and even Piazza San Marco seems to breathe a sigh of relief. It may be dripping and damp or crisp and cold, but it will be quiet. Restaurants that are usually rushed off their feet have more time to serve you, and to talk. One of our favourite Venetian treats is… can you guess? Coffee at Florian’s? No. A ride on a gondola? No (not at those prices!). Private motoscafo from the airport to the city…well, of course! But really I meant a foodie treat… Continue reading

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We’re game if you are…

I’ve increasingly noticed fresh hares for sale in good butchers in this country over the past couple of weeks. The display of their pink, lean, muscular frames, considerably bigger than the wild rabbits sold alongside, reminds me of the macellerie or butchers’ shops in Italy, where hare is both plentiful and popular. As the Italians are very precise about such things, you may see hare – lepre – on a menu in Italy also variously described as leprotto (a young animal), lepre dell’anno (a year old), or leprone when more mature. In any case, the meat is delicious, either roasted or marinated to tenderise and slowly braised to make a ragu. Continue reading

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It’s aromatic Monday. Say cheese.

One of the very nicest things about the days we work in our little warehouse, picking and packing products to send out to our deli customers or our online shoppers, is the aroma that fills our cold store: the sweet earthy smell of good salumi and fine cheeses. Because we stock all our cheeses and salumi in the piece and slice and cut to order, the old cold store door gets opened quite a lot, and with each opening a little delicious pungency escapes to tempt us. The best days of all are those when fresh deliveries of cured meats and cheeses arrive, because then we get to spend time unpacking, checking and putting everything in its rightful place on the shelves. And, of course, sniffing!

Today was a cheese day. We like cheese days. Here’s Danilo casting his experienced eye over a whole pecorino sardo: a lovely mature sheep’s milk cheese with a hard texture and an earthy flavour. But our favourite today is the delicious taleggio DOP which we source from our selected producer Ciresa, in Lombardia, a cheese-producing family since 1927. Continue reading

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Support our pig farmers. Make porchetta.

Travel almost anywhere in central Italy and it probably won’t be long before you encounter a white truck parked in a square or at a roadside, usually with a picture of a pig on the side. It will most likely have attracted a small crowd, smoke will be rising lazily from the chimney on its roof, and on the air will drift the irresistible aroma of roasting pork. This is the porchetta van, and if you ever come across one, stop, order a porchetta panino and savour the salty, herby, succulent pork inside.

Porchetta’s culinary status in Italy is recognised by no less an authority than the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a traditional agricultural-alimentary product, and one of a long list of time-honoured Italian foods determined to have cultural relevance. Traditionally a suckling pig is used, boned, stuffed with wild herbs and spit-roasted to deliciousness over a wood fire. Continue reading

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Shortbread. But not as we know it.

Some like it hot: the Italians like it sweet. Throughout the country the tradition of visiting la pasticceria – the pastry shop – is alive and kicking. In the morning people drop in for a pastry and maybe a coffee if the shop is a bar pasticceria, in the afternoon and evening, for sweets and biscuits. And a few pastries or biscotti are commonly bought as a small gift, or token of thanks. We sell a small range of the kind of things you would find in an Italian pasticceria in the Everything Sweet section of our online shop.

Now we’ve discovered a biscuit maker in the south of Italy who is producing some wonderful products using purely natural ingredients. When we were there recently we were like, well… kids in a biscuit factory. (It was a bit like a scene from Willy Wonka!) Continue reading

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Wake up and smell the coffee.

Saccaria's fresh coffee beans are carefully sourced from South America, India and Africa.

We know the stretch of Italy’s eastern coastline between Ancona and Fano pretty well. It was Danilo’s stomping ground as a boy. He was born and brought up in the village of Montemarciano, in the hills a short distance from the sea. The colour of the Adriatic changes according to the time of year, from grey and green to a deep azure blue in the summer, but at all times it’s beautiful, against the white shail of the long, straight beach. The railway line runs within sight of the sea here, parallel to the lungomare. The train from Ancona trundles through sleepy stations until it reaches Senigallia, where the brisk smell of the sea mingles with another, enticing aroma: roasting coffee. Because here are the unassuming headquarters and production facilities of Caffe Saccaria, one of Italy’s oldest established coffee businesses. Continue reading

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When in Puglia. . . eat orecchiette!

orecchiette con cime di rapa

Think of Puglia – the deep southern ‘heel’ of Italy – and you expect blue skies, warm sunshine, sunbleached beaches and shimmering olive groves. So it came as a bit of a surprise, when we were there recently, to be greeted by strong winds and a rain-lashed landscape. The usual white beaches and blue seas were decidedly grey and empty. But there’s always a silver lining (well, usually there is), and on this occasion it was the opportunity to try one of the region’s classic dishes – orecchiette con cime di rapa. Orecchiette is a dried pasta commonly served in Puglia, shaped like little ears, hence the name. Cime di rapa are turnip tops…doesn’t sound very inspiring, does it, but believe us this simple pasta dish is truly delicious. Continue reading

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The happiness of the long distance eater.

 

"Now that pasta producer we heard about might just be down that road..."

“So, how do you find all the producers that supply your wonderful products?” one of our customers recently asked us. At first we were surprised at the question. You see, for us, there’s only ever been one way to track down the products we choose to sell, and that’s to travel Italy, meet the producers face to face and taste, taste, taste! (Nothing gets into our shop unless we’ve tasted it.) It means many miles on the autostrade, even more on roads that twist through chestnut groves or past vine-covered hills or over snow-capped mountains, getting lost in towns, getting lost out of towns, and much exploring, and talking. But we’re pretty sure it’s the only way to find the best products from the best producers.

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