I realize that I’ve written about olive oil before, but as I spend more time in Italy and have more opportunity to talk with producers, growers and cooks as well as tasting more oils, the more fascinated I become with all the details about olive oil. The history, the benefits and the lies, as well as the rationale and need for DOPs.
The DOP is the designation the Italian national government has taken to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality) D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta. In particular this applies to Extra Virgin Olive Oiland signifies that the oil has passed all the government tests for quality and acidity levels (extra virgin olive oils must be no more than 0.8% in free acidity and be cold pressed. The lower the acidity, the better since it provides better health benefits, among the many reasons.
These days we find that it is difficult to trust much of anything we hear or read about our food. We are “sold” on health foods on the internet without much documentation, we are in farmer’s markets buying food that has been brought by people who have never been to a farm and have no idea what has been put on the food they are selling. It is difficult to buy almost anything with much confidence that the label is truthful, the information accurate and the pricing fair. That is one of the reasons I have spent so much energy and time asking questions, talking to growers and finding people and resources that I can confidently believe and relay what they say to you. These are small purveyors not exporting, not supplying distributors, just growers or consortiums. People I trust.
If you get bored or find this information too tedious I understand. Skim, or just look at the photos. It will be too much information for many, but it is here for those, like me, who want all the details. Now, for a little more on olive oil. Actually there will be a lot more. This is just part 1.
The olive harvest starts with the Raccolta. — the harvest of olives from the trees. They use a giant-size plastic comb, or more often a mechanical mop top broom that kind of whirls around. You grab the branch, pull down and comb. The olives fall out like knots from your hair and the leaves remain.
The nets lie around the trees on the ground to catch and hold the olives that are combed from the branches. Once finished, the olives are carefully collected from the nets and poured into the cestini (baskets). As the baskets are filled they are taken to the frantoio (olive press). Each region has it’s own rules for their DOP registration. But in general, the olives must be taken from tree to the frantoio witin 48 hours. With olio nuovo in Sabina, it is usually more direct. From tree to pressing within ten hours. No storing. Often the lesser quality olives can be stored up to three weeks before being pressed which means much of the nutrients and antioxidants and lots of freshness and flavor have already evaporated before they are pressed.
Here is the process for pressing the olives:
Step 1 WASHING
Water jets on conveyor belts remove large particles of earth and foreign bodies, followed by the removal of olive leaves and small un-ripened fruit.
Step 2 FRANGITURA
The olives get pressed to produce a pulpy, usually violet-coloured substance, with no addition of heat or water. Though it is now done by mechanical means, it was traditionally done by grinding one stone around and around inside another larger stone, often pulled by a donkey or a horse, differing from region to region. I have friends my age from Sardinia who remember growing up with their olive oil being made like this.
Step 3 GRAMOLAZIONE
This is the important step of adding a recipe of movement, heat and time together to separate the pulp into diverse particles, therefore helping the microscopic oil drops unite into larger oil drops: normally 27°C for 15-20 minutes to get a high quality and low extraction. Normally, for top-quality extra-virgin olive oils, it is good to get 15kg of finished product for every 100kg of olives picked, this can change for each harvest.
Step 4 CENTRIFUGATION AND EXTRACTION
This machine separates the different particles produced by the gramolazione into: oil, vegetal water, and the remaining sansa or pomace, which is what the pulp is called.
Step 5 SEPARATION
This final step takes the oil, adds fresh pure water, mixes them together and filters the water away which in turn removes further impurities from the oil.
The oil is then taken and filtered through cotton, and bottled.
PART 2 is a little more about the history and my reasons for staying firmly in Sabina for the oil I bring back. Hint: I love the flavor. Oh, and as you can see above, the Sabine hills are pretty spectacular.
Pizza Napoli, Carciofi, Filetto, Aglio e Olio and Soffritto
If you have any questions about how to use any of these or want the exact ingredients in one of them, just email me and I’ll be happy to let you know. All are the same high quality Mauro always has. In addition to the mixes, I usually also bring back some spices like cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric and sometimes cumin.
Over the years I have found all Mauro’s mixes so much better than any others I’ve tried, while it is impressive the amount of spices he sells, all are still mixed by hand. All the spices are the highest quality available and much of them are freeze dried, which allows the potency to remain the same for at least one year or more if kept well. I have never had a complaint about his mixes, although admittedly, much of what I sell is to people who have already tried them after buying them from him in the market in Rome. Since he will not sell outside Italy, it is quite happy that I can help his clients while they cannot visit him in Rome.
I am returning to Italy in late October for three weeks. And, while I will be on the hunt for olio nuovo and the first harvests of olive oil, I will definitely be stopping at the market in Campo dei Fiori before returning home.
If you want any additional information or want me to bring you anything from Italy,or just have any have a question please email me at: email@example.com.
As September is fast closing, I am eagerly looking forward to my returning to Italy for fall. I have been hoping the weather there cooperates for great olive harvests throughout the country, but it does not look like the weather there has been helpful there any more than inmuch of the rest of the world. The droughts throughout much of Europe this year will have some impact on the harvests of olives and there is expected to be a slight lowering of expectations in the harvest from last year. The quality of the oils may not be quite as good as last year, but we won’t be sure until October. Some parts of Italy also saw some Mediterranean fruit fly infestations too. Fortunately, where I get most of the oil I bring back, Lazio and Tuscany, were not much bothered. However, I must also mention that the dollar is not doing all that well against the euro. It has been holding steadily at $1.22 to 1 euro for quite some time and I do not expect it to change much for awhile. So be prepared for everything to be a little more expensive.
I have not yet heard much about the honey harvests for the fall. Last year when I went to purchase some of the fantastic honeys that I get from Sardina there were none. The production was so sparse that there were none to buy. I am hopeful that this year we will find a better crop and I can stock up on Stefano’s fabulous honey and olive oil soap too.
I love fall in Italy and this year I have much to look forward to. I love each return trip to to my home away from home, visiting all my friends there. So many dinners to re-connect, introductions to new people, new products and new places to visit. It is always exciting. Always an adventure.
My regular clients will be putting together their wish lists of what they want me to bring back for them – spices from Campo dei Fiori, scarves from Florence or Milan, It is fun for them to know they will have porcini or black rice coming for them and trust that it is the highest quality possible. I love being able to bring them their sun dried tomatoes or porcini knowing they cannot get anything comparable here. And, of course there is Mauro Berardi’s spice mixes from Campo dei Fiori. Known world wide, he is a master at mixing spices together for the most memorable spice mixes. I have most of his most popular mixes available all year (and can always bring anything you order on my twice a year trips). Send me an email if you want to order any of his mixes by the ounce.
Mauro Berardi – Spezie famose nel Mundo
Stefano and his honey
Drop me an email if you want added onto my mailing list for the newsletter to purchase items I bring back on my journey: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here I am in Los Angeles, having returned from Italy only a few weeks ago and already thinking about returning to Italy in the fall. I am missing one of my favorite times in Rome. Summer. August in Rome is a really special time. Any knowledgeable tourist knows if possible to avoid August in Rome. It is really hot and humid. There are still many places that close for some portion of the month (although less than in years past). Anyone who lives in Italy knows that most people who can, leave the city for cooler, less humid climes. But there are many of us who have lived there who love the month for the benefits of August in a city that seems so empty you can always find a parking place, a city that reminds you of less populated ages. It is quite special. There is a slowing of everything that allows you to savor the city even more than usual.
Feragosto in Roma
Eur (so. of Rome Center)
Markets still active in August
Then there is Ferragosto, the middle of August holiday, August 15th. It is the celebration of the Assumption of Mary as well as the earlier Roman holiday of Emperor Augustus. Since Roman times it was the official start of summer holidays and it still means most families take the holiday off for a trip to the country for a cooler day with a picnic to enjoy together.
If you are in Rome, the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto with live music and dancing in the piazze is not to be missed. Many of the cultural locations, museums, tourist attractions, etc. do stay open even though they normally would close on this type of holiday.
There are still tourists around, although less than you might think since most are either just passing through Rome on a quick tour stop on cruises or a one or two day stay, so there are really much less than many other months. It is an easy walking month for sure. Just remember to keep an empty water bottle to fill at the many fountains as you walk through town, a good head covering and lots of sun screen.
Be sure to stop by Campo dei Fiori Market and say hi to Mauro Berardi for me and see how his bancarella has expanded. He has Marco, his son, now with a booth handling sandwiches and meats like porchetta and other meats, as well as condiments. But, as always, his spice mixes are his crowning achievements. I always have them available here in the United States if you run low. Just drop me an email and I will happily send you information on replacing them for you. Expressly Italian is your source for unique Italian specialties that are not found in the U.S. that I bring directly from the producers to you here. Send an email to email@example.com for more information,
It’s time to make a springtime visit to Rome again. I love visiting Mauro and wandering through the market early in the day looking at all the spring vegetables. I love those lovely little roman artichokes, watching them being cleaned and dropped into the acidified water. The women cleaning the puntarelle spend all day cleaning and dropping the puntarelle into buckets of water
Artichokes Romana photo by G. Parisi
But of course, the main treat for me is meeting with Mauro, Marco and Maurizio at Spezie Famose nel Mondo the most famous and largest seller of spices in the market. I am contacted by people from all over the world looking to replace the spice mixes they purchase from Mauro. Fortunately I almost always have a good supply of the most popular mixes available. Contact me to find out if I have the ones you are looking for.
I am off to Rome for the month of May so if you are looking for anything in particular don’t wait, send me a request by email to be sure I bring back what you are looking for.
In addition to shopping for spices with Mauro, I will be locating Olive oil. I know there is oil available in Vetralla and hopefully I can acquire some additional oil from Farfa, where I brought back the fabulous olio nuovo in November last year. I won’t know until I get there what there might be available. I have read the articles about the weather problems, but since I deal directly with growers sometimes it can be misleading and my sources availability is quite different. I also will have to wait until I arrive to find out if there is any honey from Sardinia left. I know those harvests were also short this year. I continue to bring back what is available – sometimes it is mostly Girasole (sunflower) and millefiore (wildflower) but if you have a particular type you want, please let me know, since sometimes Stefano can locate it for me in his hidden places.
Do not hesitate to email me with any special requests. I will be checking emails often. I will shop Milan, Tuscany (Orbetello, Florence and a few small villages) scarves from a few sources that are reliable with their italian fabrics and italian employees that are still priced affordably. And, if there are any new items that are interesting. It looks like the exchange rate will hover around $1.09 to $1.00 while I am there. If you are not on my mailing list please drop me an email and I will be happy to add you to my newsletter so you know what it available. Enjoy shopping Italy from home.
It has been a long time since I’ve posted but there have been some traumatic times in the world, especially in Italy so I have been distracted. Their world has been shaken much more than the rest of ours. The results of all those earthquakes through the middle of the country has been so costly in not just lives and resources but so much more. The 23 billion euro that the earthquakes are estimated to have cost in loss of lives, buildings and homes and businesses does not include the losses of personal history and the restoration of some of the history of these areas. It makes me so sad to even think of all the years ahead of recovery. After the first series of quakes last summer some of the surrounding areas told me that every village in the area had cancellations for the entire year for reservations. The loss of upcoming business will close many agroturismi that had no earthquake damages.
I have been plugging along with Expressly Italian trying to bring as much awareness as possible to all the wonderful products that Italians enjoy that we have such limited exposure to. Especially olive oil, which we find are so often deceitfully labeled and poorly handled here. It is why I started to bring oils that I know (because I get them directly from the frantoio, where I can watch them being processed and know them to be fresh). It is only fair to warn you that olive oils are going to be soon be taking a large jump upward in price. Erratic weather in Spain, Italy and Greece, where the bulk of the world’s olive oil is produced, has had decimated crops. Experts say global production is set to fall about 8 percent due to horrible weather throughout Europe with global weather changes.
These shortages come as demand for the product has skyrocketed around the world. China has recently become enamored with olive oil, consuming nearly $200 million worth of olive each year. The country’s nouveau riche see the product as a healthier alternative to other fatty oils. I have read a few articles saying they have begun planting olive trees in climates that are appropriate for their growth, (like the vineyards they are also planting) but it will be years before they will be able to harvest for oil. They import nearly 99 percent of what they use right now.
The Guardian article I read last week stated that since October, the cost of extra-virgin olive oil has jumped 30 percent in Italy, to $6.15 a kg. In Spain, the cost is up about 10 percent, near a seven-year high, according to the International Olive Council in Madrid. In Greece, it’s 17 percent. And forecasters say the worst is yet to come. So far, the only area where the costs have not risen much is California and after the effects of the rains of the last couple of weeks that price stability remains to be seen.
I return to Italy in May and I will know more then about prices. I will be bringing back spices from Campo dei Fiori from Mauro Berardi; honey from Sardinia as well as handmade scarves from La Monticiana in Rome and Florence, Olive oil from Sabina and Tuscany and as always, acting as personal shopper for any items special ordered by clients. If there is anything you want, please get in touch with me. My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is always a pleasure to have Italian casareccio (homemade food). It is even more exciting to enjoy it here in the U.S. and made by a well known Italian cook. Stefania Aphel Barzini has been in the United States giving cooking classes and having events for about a month. She finally reached Los Angeles last week. If you are not familiar with Stefania, take a side trip to her website: www.follecasseroula.com. She does cooking classes in Rome as well as special events and week long events in a few regions outside Rome. And, if you’re planning on a trip to Rome, put her on your list of things not to be missed. Her experience as a food writer, cookbook author and cooking show presenter shine through no matter what she does.
The first event in Los Angeles was sponsored by ArtBites.net. Maite Gomez-Rejón’s company pairs art, history and cooking in tours and classes around the southland. The cooking portion was to be a Tuscan lunch so Maite started at the Los Angeles County Museum talking of Florentine art and artists from the dark ages to the Renaissance. She is very knowledgeable about art history and food. We then moved on to Surfas (a cafe/kitchen store in Culver City). It’s a wonderful kitchen for classes and Stefania along with her assistant Paola made a magical afternoon that ended with a fantastic lunch. They are all so experienced about foods, especially regional products throughout Italy I am always happy to join a class since there is always some new tidbit of information I have never before heard.
Class a Surfas in Culver City included a beautiful panzanella, two kinds of bruschetta and the most fabulous meat balls in tomato sauce.
The lunch was a Tuscan luncheon and included a fabulous artichoke and potato soup, a panzanella salad and a couple kinds of bruschetta. The meatballs in tomato sauce were unbelievably tasty and the peach upside down cake was a finishing treat.
When you travel finding a cooking class is a great experience and wonderful way to connect to local cuisine and you will remember the experience a long time.
One of the best dishes Stefania prepared was Zolfini bean bruschetta. Unfortunately, you cannot get these terrific beans here in the U.S. They are grown only in a limited area of Tuscany, and not exported. But you can substitute northern navy beans. Try this healthy, high protein antipasto.
Zolfini Bean Bruschetta
Toasted Bread (Italian)
2-1/4 cups zolfini or navy beans
a small rosemary branch
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot. chopped
really good quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper
Sautè 1 garlic clove with the shallot and rosemary in a pan. Turn into a crock pot, add the beans, cover them with water and let cook covered over low heat until beans are softened. Depending on the age and size of the beans – from 2 to 4 hours. Purèe the mixture in a blender or use a stick blender. Rub the bread with a garlic clove, then spread some beans over the top, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately. So simple, so good and so good-for-you.
Having access to the wonderful foods of Italy that are not readily available in the U.S. is my mission. Expressly Italian is your personal shopper from Italy to you. I want everyone, whether you travel or not, to experience real Italian tastes. Much of the year I have some of the finest extra virgin olive oils (including olio nuovo till it’s gone) and honey from Sardinia (one of the only places on earth with no polution. I want everyone to share the excitement of the wonderful spice mixes from Mauro Berardi’s Campo dei Fiori market stall. I am contacted by people from all over the world asking how to acquire Mauro’s mixes outside of Italy. I have his most popular mixes available all the time. If you are interested in knowing all the items I bring back from Italy twice a year or want me to bring something (duty free) back for you, please drop me an email at: email@example.com and I will happily add you to my mailing list.
My love of Italy, the people, the food fuels my life. I hope you share my joy in the Italian way of eating.
All the New Year’s resolutions are in place. Now to implement them. There is a world of difference between intent and accomplishment isn’t there? Oñe of my personal goals is to become an even more aware eater this year. That means not just thinking before stuffing a biscotti in my mouth, but to question ingredients even more.
Frankly, it is pretty disheartening to realize how compromised our food system is. Price is no guarantee of quality. Reputable stores do not assure you products are really as advertised. It has become a major job and time eater just to grocery shop. And it is not all that much better in Italy these days. So what do we do?
Keeping it simple helps a little. Eat mostly fresh foods, the closer I can stay to traditional Italian cooking, especially cucina povera, (cooking of the poor) the better. It is not difficult to find good pasta in the U.S. Look for good quality, especially bronze cut pastas. Always check the dates. It should be about year ahead for dried pasta. I find that Berilla is one of the best selling dried pastas in Italy. Good enough for me. The artisanal pastas are great ( I often see them at TJ Maxx or World Market), and the different shapes are always fun, but I do not find them necessary for normal cooking. (And, again, check dates. Sometimes those are the oldest pastas).
With a well stocked pantry (in an upcoming post I will give a serious list to help) you can always cook a great, healthy dinner in less than 30 minutes. Winter weather always makes me feel like Ribollita – the Tuscan bread soup. It makes a huge pot that tastes better every day. And, it makes me feel healthy.
Here’s a recipe I adapted to use Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix, and you can use Mauro’s Mix as well.
Ribollita – Tuscan Bread Soup
This is a traditional Tuscan soup that stays good till you finish it. Days or even a week and it holds up perfectly. Supposedly it should be thick enough for a spoon to stand straight if you put it in the pot. I adjusted the recipe to use Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix or Mauro’s Mix to ‘kick’ up the flavor a little more.
1 onion finely chopped
1 leek sliced
2 quarts chicken broth
1 head kale or nappa cabbage or regular cabbage
2 stalks celery sliced
1/2 cup parsley leaves chopped
2 carrots sliced
2 zucchini sliced
1 small bunch basil leaves torn
1 10-ounce can cannellini beans or kidney or borlotti
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tsp Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix (to taste – you might start out with only 1 tsp and adjust)
1 teaspoon salt preferably sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil extra virgin
1/2 pound stale Italian bread
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sautè onion and leek in 1/4 cup olive oil several minutes until translucent. Add a cup of chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the kale, other vegetables, and basil to the onions and broth. Cook for 20 min., covered. Add the beans and the rest of the broth. Add tomato paste, oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 90 minutes. At this point it should not be thick. It is best to let the soup rest a day in the refrigerator. It does deepen the flavor a lot. Put the soup in a pot and layer the soup with thin slices of day old bread. It doesn’t make any difference how stale, or whether it’s torn or sliced, or what kind (although a good Italian or French is best). Heat while stirring until the bread breaks up and thickens the soup. You can add more broth or water if needed (but I haven’t ever needed any).
When the soup is done, turn off the heat and stir in 1/4 cup olive oil. Taste for salt. Serve with fresh grated cheese on top. It just gets better and better. This is the typical cucina povera of Italy.
It is unfortunate that we have to spend so much energy to decide what is good for us, but it is worth the time to protect your health.
I hate to continue to nag about olive oil, but it seems every week there is more evidence that so much of what is available is either mislabeled, overpriced or not even real olive oil. If you did not see the expose on “CBS 60 Minutes” recently, look for the video online. I know that much of the oils imported are not good, but I really didn’t think about the extent of mafia involvement. I do know they send containers of oil to the U.S. which is then bottled here. It can have sat waiting for customs in the heat for a month, which destroys most of the value of the extra virgin oil, but they still label and sell it as premium oil. I used to hear that Europeans did not send their best oils because Americans did not know the difference. Unfortunately, most Americans have still not tasted good olive oil.
A friend forwarded a newsletter from Brenda Watson, an author and expert on digestive health care. She had lists of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ olives oil. This was apparently originally from a Consumer Reports study. I won’t drag on about the ‘good’ list. The bottom line is always, read the label. It should have the per cent of acid in the oil, the date of harvest and best use by. And, it is important to know exactly where it comes from. In Italy, the city is always on the label, usually the type of olives and to qualify as extra virgin the acidity level must be below 0.8%. Don’t pay for any extra virgin not labeled as such.
The bad oils are a real disappointment. Those are most of the best known oils available in our stores. Do not think you are getting the health benefits of olive oil if you are using these:
Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian, Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway and some of the Whole Foods oils (other than their 365).
I bring back only olive oil that I can find at the frantoio (olive mill), where they follow the very stringent laws of Italy to produce their extra virgin oil. As often as possible I bring the olio nuovo (which is the first pressing of the beginning of the harvest). It is rarely sold in stores. And, the on-line sales run into the same problems of temperature variations and delays. And, their prices are higher than mine. I still have this season’s harvest oils so if you want to experience the true liquid gold of Italian Olive oil, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a note here.
In addition to olive oil, I still have honey from Sardinia and dried Porcini from my last trip. I am constantly searching out the finest, freshest products. My last stop on every trip is Campo dei Fiori in Rome to meet with Mauro Berardi. Mauro is generous with his time and they always pack me the freshest spice mixes. If you are out, get in touch. I usually have on hand his primary mixes. I can always shop for you when I am there for some of the more unusual products from him, just let me know what you want and I’ll get it for you.
I know that having to spend so much energy reading labels is a drag. I am finding that it makes such a difference in the flavor of what you cook though, it is well worth the extra time. Be healthy! Eat Italian.
This is an exciting time – spring is bound to be hitting the whole country soon, Easter is almost here and the 2015 Expo Milano is almost ready to open! This Universal Exposition which takes place every five years, each time in a different country. This year, from May 1 to October 31, the 272 acres the Expo is on will be available for the world to enjoy.
Expo 2015 is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” with a focus on sustainability and innovation. All 140 participating countries will showcase their unique cultural and culinary traditions, within self-built lots, to the 20 million expected visitors from around the globe. Whew! That’s a lot of people, but it is a great amount of space to cover. And that’s without considering that there is also all of Milan to see. And, the Milanese have so many planned events in the city to entertain all the visitors it is a cannot miss trip.
The layout of the Expo grounds are inspired by a Roman city of ancient times. The city has allocated over 60 pavilions in this ‘village’ to participating countries which will line either side of the long central division. Italy’s exhibition area intersects to form a global meeting place called Piazza Italia. The space has also provisioned for event areas like the open-air theatre, Lake Arena and children’s park, as well as clusters for other official industry participants.
There is even a Google interactive map you can watch what is happening in real time. Check it out. Google Earth – Expo 2015 the EU pavillion – interactive map http://europa.eu/expo2015/node/115
I did not see that the U.S. Pavilion has a google map dedicated to it, but it is moving along quickly to completion. The US Pavilion – Designed by award-winning architect, James Biber, the USA Pavilion pays homage to our rich agricultural history with an open design delimited by a large vertical farm that will be harvested daily. An homage to the barn is reflected in the design of the pavilion.
Located in central Milan for the duration of the Expo, the James Beard American Restaurant will showcase American cuisine, ingredients, and beverages with a rotating roster of American culinary talent. Thanksgiving dinner will be served every Thursday and Jazz or Gospel brunch every Sunday.
Leading up to Expo Milano and throughout the six months of the fair, the USA Pavilion will be programming daily activities, on the topics encompassed by our theme American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. From conferences on global food security to cooking demonstrations, panels on technological innovation in the food system to conversations with top farmers and chefs, we’ll explore various aspects of food, food culture, and the future of our food system. Topics will cover a broad and diverse spectrum, including how to manage water resources, the importance of food labeling, healthy school lunch, traditional American cooking, and how can we create a burger that’s better for our health and better for our environment.
If you are planning on travel in Europe this year, be sure to put this on your itinerary. It’s really a unique experience that cannot be repeated. Being Milan, the city has really gone all out to provide an Expo experience throughout the entire city while the fair is happening. There are art events, fashion events, tours, and so much has been already completed to make the entire city ready for the spotlight.
Among the most important events already on schedule, Milan will feature the biggest exhibition ever organized in Italy of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.
Another exhibition will be dedicated to Giotto, the Florentine painter who revolutionized the depiction of figure in the 1300s, with three of his masterpieces on loan.
International artists from avant-garde to today will represent the theme of motherhood that most of all embodies the idea of nutrition, central theme of Expo Milano 2015, in an exhibition, “The Great Mother,” gathering over 80 works of the 20th century.
Music will be central, Del Corno added, with extraordinary programs at Teatro alla Scala, that for the first time will stay open in August with a total of 140 spectacles during the six-month expo, and Piccolo Teatro, which will perform in many languages including English, Chinese and Greek.
“Milan will be a stage open to everybody,” the assessor went on saying. Duomo Square, in the heart of Milan, will host classic and pop concerts free of charge, while public spaces in the city from parks to trams will be animated by countless music performances, book fairs, street markets and thematic events including many dedicated to water.
The architecture of the fair is wildly impressive. Here’s a photo of the entry gate proposal, I saw in Milan a couple years ago. This is the only structure that will remain after the fair. It’s by Nemesi & Partners and is a smog eating, almost zero energy building. It is exciting and I cannot wait to see this in person.
If I sound excited, I am. I have already purchased tickets for my upcoming trip in April (they have a ‘soft’ opening starting this month), but also for my fall trip, in September.
I’m leaving on my spring buying trip in late March! In addition to touring the Expo Milan, I’ll be shopping for all kinds of goodies to bring my shoppers.
Fresh Sardinian honey and propolis as well as some of his propolis soap and beauty cream is high on my list. Honey from Sardinia is extra special since it is harvesting from one of the few pollutant free environs in the world. No wonder it tastes so good. Stefano has honey from a variety of locations on the island, since there are over 200 species of nectar producing plants, I get everything from Acacia and Ailanto to Malata and even Corbezzolo. From the Maremma I will bring some of their unique items like Colatura di alici da Cetara, and the purest fennel pollen available anywhere and some of the products from the organic small growers in the area like La Parrina and Terra Etrusco in Capalbio and near Il Poderino in Montiano.
And, of course, the important stop at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi’s Spezie famose nel mondo (world famous spices). Anyone who has visited that market seems to have purchased some of his spice mixes. And, they are not available anywhere else. He does not ship outside of Italy, but he is happy to supply me to bring them home and make them available to everyone. The most popular are the Campo dei Fiori Mix and Mauro’s Pasta Mix. Both of these have the same ingredients, except Mauro’s mix has no salt or pepper. This mix enhances everything it touches. Whether cooked or fresh, it adds a depth of flavor well beyond the ingredients listed. I use it in almost anything I cook from salads (where I sprinkle a small bit on the lettuces) to soups, meat marinades, and any pasta. If you’ve tried it, you are a fan, no doubt.
Every trip brings special requests and new finds. If you are already on my newsletter mailing list, you’ll be kept up-to-date on my trip. If you are not receiving the newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.
Don’t forget this is a great year to travel to Europe. The euro exchange rate is lower than in many years, currently about 1.10 euro to a dollar. And, Expo Milan is a unique experience never to be repeated.
Well the New Year has started and it has taken me till mid-January to get my feet beneath me to settle in to this new year. It has been a very busy time and I am looking forward to a very dull and boring February to allow myself some breathing space and the chance to feel like I am really here. Of course, I could be in Italy.
One of my English speaking blogs from Rome just sent a newsletter saying that Rome’s politicos are at it again. They often bring a smile along with the news, even when the news is bad. Rome’s tourists could be hit with new tax hike. Visitors to Rome may soon have to rethink their budget, if plans to increase hotel tourist tax go ahead. Under these recent proposals, tourists could see up to €10 a night added to their bill, Italian media reported on Thursday.
The planned changes come just four months after city hall hiked the “accomodation tax” to between €3 and €7 a night depending on the type of hotel, while those pitching a tent have had to pay €2 for the privilege since September 1st. I’m not sure where you can even pitch a tent in Rome.
The new €10 a night rate would apply to five-star hotels in the Italian capital, for a maximum of ten consecutive nights, a city hall spokesman said. The measure needs to be discussed and voted on before it can implemented. Tourist tax rates for lower-grade hotels will stay the same. You have to laugh when the rest of the article states that “Rome is reeling from revelations of widespread corruption at city hall, allegedly led by a one-eyed former terrorist whose mafia group for years siphoned off vital funds for services. You have to love the way the Italian government works. The best news is that is will unlikely happen and if it does it will not be implemented effectively. As it is the earlier raise to 3 euro a night disappeared into the city coffers and no one can tell where it went and certainly not whether it benefitted tourism in any way.
When I talked of catching my breath, I was referring to my return from my fall trip to Italy. I returned to LA just in time for Thanksgiving. Yes, it has taken me that long to get back to a normal schedule. I arrived just in time to unpack all my goodies and begin packing gift basket orders before breaking briefly for Thanksgiving dinner (which I did not cook this year). Then, back to work, for days doing the complicated calculations of converting weights, euros and ingredients from Italian to English. While a dear friend had a end of season event for Cabi clothes at my home we did a bit of an Expressly Italian tasting of the new products. Then it was back to basket construction right up to Christmas week. I did manage to factor in a little Christmas shopping before Christmas. But, the baskets were delivered and received with great enthusiasm. Every basket was unique and tailored to the receiver as much as possible, from the basket for the man who does not cook at all, to the cook who is so experienced she is impossible to impress. Everyone seemed to be excited to try all their surprises. And, it made me realize that baskets should not be just for Christmas, but are just as exciting to receive for Easter, or birthdays or anniversaries or any time gifts. Keep that in mind.
It’s been pretty breakneck speed since Christmas as well. Our family Christmas was after Christmas in Petaluma with about 75 of us, yes, 75. Then back to work organizing the products and meeting my invaluable friend Carole who was nice enough to show up at LAX with the two suitcases of goods that were waaaaay over my maximum limit to return with when I came back in November. So, fully loaded, I have been working on the latest newsletter / price list ever since, with only short breaks for a couple of birthdays.
The newsletter just went out. Lots of Mauro Berardi’s World Famous Spices from Campo dei Fiori mixes are available. It always impresses me how far Mauro has reached with his spices. I’ve had contacts from all over the world looking to replace the spices bought from him in Rome. It is a great to know that I can bring them to people who can not make it back to Italy to get them in person. Mauro may sell spices to visitors from all over the world but he refuses to even use email. And, he has enough difficulty shipping within Italy and will never attempt to ship outside the country. I get contacted from people from Austria to Australia looking for His spice mixes. Often while the costs for shipping (and customs restrictions) make it impossible, I am able to work with ever Increasing numbers of people who revere his mixes. It is lucky for all the US and Canadian customers for sure.
I’m excited to get the honey, spices, and condiments that I have on hand sold so I can make another trip back in the spring. And, for the first time in a decade the exchange rate is not so bad. I just checked my exchange rate for transferring funds and it is currently $1.19 through the foreign exchange. which is fabulous. It’s most often been closer to $1.40. It’s exciting not to feel like you are paying a penalty for anything bought in Europe.
They put a banner at the Trevi fountain this week to commorate the passing of Anita Ekberg, the wonderful actress who waded into the Trevi Fountain in the movie “La Dolce Vita” this last week. Ironically, the fountain she waded in is currently without water. There is restoration work being done on the Trevi for the next year or so. It’s quite a shock to see that huge fountain drained and shrouded while they work on it. They have managed to make it interesting by putting a transparent walkway all the way at the back of the fountain allowing visitors to walk around the back of the fountain. Strange, but interesting. Oh, and they left a little opening at the very front so you can still toss a coin into a little water dish.
If you have visited Rome and the Trevi fountain in the past seeing it now is a shock. Having been at that spot so many times it is just such an odd feeling looking at that structure so unrecognizable. With so many monuments and fountains in Rome there are always major projects going on to restore something and usually it takes a couple years to do the work so even if a major monument is not fully visible, there are numerous others that are. This month, they finish Quattro fountane – the four fountains at the corner of XX Settembre and via delle Quattro Fontane. Four beautiful late Renaissance fountains grace the corners of the intersection. They were so filthy I was hoping they would get to them before they started falling apart. They are due to be finished by late February. I understand the city refused to allow the new Bond movie to film a nightime car chase through that intersection fearing damage to the newly restored fountains and am relieved they decided to encourage them to use CGI. I am excited to see those fountains cleaned and restored on my next trip. I’ve always loved them.
In case you are not familiar with Expressly Italian’s mission; I act as a personal shopper for you in Italy. I can bring back duty free products you’ve purchased and want again or suggest products I have found in my travels throughout the country. Even those that travel often have found that having me bring back items for them saves them much aggravation and weight in carrying luggage back with them. I have established relationships with small sources that are helping me bring you the finest products available. Often these are not easily found even by residents and expats who live there, so it’s been a great treat to show up with things that even locals have not found. It has been thrilling to find every trip brings new friends who introduce me to different products and sources and experiences. It has been an exciting learning experience and I’ve been so happy to have you along for the journey. I hope you will continue to join me.
This spring brings with it the Milan Expo 2015, which sounds so exciting and I am looking forward to visiting. There are numerous feste and sagre that I will have to choose between including the South Tyrol Festival. If you have not visited Bolzano, you should make the effort on your next trip to get to Bolzano and Brixton Bressanone. So beautiful and the food is fabulous. And, the history of the area is fascinating.
As the ‘Slow Food Movement’ makes faster progress, Italy becomes ever more important in teaching us how to eat and how to grow our foods. And, hopefully, how to slow down and enjoy eating them for a more healthful and enjoyable life.
I know that is a goal for me this year. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments or suggestions. Follow along with me and we’ll explore together.