The Reviews are in . . . Cantina Direct is a Hit!
It’s been almost one month since we launched Cantina Direct, making Umbrian EVOO and authentic Italian delicacies direct from Florence easy to give and receive. The reviews are in!
Order by December 18 to guarantee holiday delivery.
Traditional Tuscan Sweets from Cookies to Cakes
In the south, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies brought the royal house of Bourbon from Spain in the 18th century, and, with it, a predilection for rich, ricotta- and custard-based dishes like cassata, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and pastiera - all elevated by the exotic spices, candied fruit, or marzipan introduced to Italy’s southern ports via centuries of Mediterranean trade. In the north, the Turin-based Savoy dynasty brought French-influenced desserts across the Alps, and with it rare or expensive ingredients like chocolate, eggs, and cream that form the base of favorites like bonèt, panna cotta, and zabaione.
And central Italy? While northern and southern cuisines still carry strong inflections from their royal history, Tuscany is instead known for its “cucina povera”, or rustic rural fare. Sure, the Medicis would occasionally import a French chef to supervise their palace kitchens, but the most prominent Tuscan dishes from ribollita to lampredotto are the product of frugal farmwives making use of leftovers and offal to feed large families on a tight budget. Many Tuscan sweets also echo the region’s agricultural history, eschewing ingredients that were once hard to come by for modest farming families (refined sugar or flour, chocolate, spices) for ready replacements like honey, chestnut flour, homemade jams, and grapes or raisins - the base of classics like crostata, castagnaccio, and schiacciata con l’uva.
That isn’t to say that Tuscan sweets should take a back seat to their northern or southern neighbors. In fact, where Piemontese and Neapolitan desserts are often dairy- or egg-based and don’t travel well, Tuscan sweets lean towards baked cookies and cakes that can easily be shipped across the world and sampled fresh even if you can’t make it to Tuscany.
If you want to add a touch of central Italy to your holiday table, here are some of the cookies and cakes featured in our Florentine food boxes...perfect for yourself or as a gift to the Italy-loving gourmand on your list!
Meet the Producers: Luciana from Casa Gola Olive Oil
We spent a few days this week unpacking newly delivered tins of Casa Gola oil and shipping them to customers across the US to fill our first orders, and feedback has been excellent. Janice and Jeffrey wrote to say that they love the idea that they are buying directly from the farm in Umbria and supporting the local growers, one of the main missions behind our CantinaDirect.com gourmet Italian food website. Other recipients, like Barbara, were struck by the quality, commenting on the olive oil’s spectacular flavor, perfect for pouring on anything.
We believe in the importance of maintaining Italy’s rich and historic network of small farms and artisan workshops that produce everything from top-notch olive oil and wine to sweet and savory delicacies like chocolates, balsamic vinegar, and truffles. The quality is unbeatable, of course, but the human stories behind the food is what truly captures our hearts and trust, making us come back year after year to stock up on the same delicacies.
Casa Gola is a perfect example: this olive oil estate was founded in 1997 when Luciana Cerbini and Giovanni Picuti purchased the land to restore the old farmhouse and replant and revive the surrounding olive groves. We became friends with Luciana and Giovanni over the years, as their estate is not far from our home in Umbria, and Luciana often gives cooking lessons to our clients visiting Umbria. We know first-hand the care and love Luciana puts into producing their extra-virgin olive oil and wanted to share a bit of her passion by speaking with her about Casa Gola and her cooking lessons.
Read on for an inside look into Umbria’s fascinating culture and cuisine, and be sure to order your extra-virgin olive oil now ...olive oil is only produced once a year in the late fall and once it’s gone you have to wait until the following year to savor its uniquely peppery flavor again!
Cantina Direct is the new retail arm of CIU Travel, owned and operated by the travel consulting, opera singing, husband and wife team of Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore. For the last 17 years, Maria and Brian have split their time between their home in Umbria and the U.S, with a short time in Germany as well, creating private custom itineraries for travelers in Italy, and recently, Switzerland. Years of lugging suitcases packed with gifts of Italian cheese, oil, wine, pasta, sweets, etc., have eventually culminated in a website where favorite authentic Italian products can be purchased and shipped directly to the U.S. Of course, there are products available in the States that are made in Italy, but living in Italy with immediate access to the best local ingredients can truly spoil the taste buds! Maria and Brian realized that a lot of the so-called “authentic” products being imported are mass produced, low-quality imitations. CIU travelers in Italy often comment on how much better the food is in Italy, and one reason is the quality of basic ingredients - oil, cheese, vinegar, etc. During the 2020 Co-vid pandemic, Maria and Brian spent most of the year in the States, and eventually ran out of their favorite products. CIU travelers were also contacting them to ask about where they could find oil, wine and other products on par with what they had discovered in Italy. Cantina Direct was born!
Maria Gabriella and Brian
Maria Gabriella was born in Frankfurt, Germany and grew up in Springfield, Il. She has a background in art history (Barnard College, Columbia University) and studied opera performance at The Juilliard School. With winnings from a vocal competition, she studied the Italian language in Perugia, Umbria and has been in love with Italy ever since. In 2009, Maria Gabriella was named an Ambassador of Italian Culture by Perugia’s Università per Stranieri.
Brian studied American History and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Music Performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia. He cooked professionally in New York restaurants for several years before embarking upon a career as an operatic baritone. He has sung opera professionally in the United States and Europe. From 2007-2011, he was a principal baritone at Theater Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany, singing 200 performances of 17 roles. With his love of food, wine and music, it was only natural that he became an ardent Italophile.
Exquisite olive oil with spectacular flavor! Perfect for pouring on anything edible. Our entire extended family eagerly awaits the next shipment from Casa Gola!
Ideal Holiday Gift or Indulgence!
The contents of the box provide the makings for a delicious snack, an appetizing first course, or a light meal--all with the possibility of transporting the recipient to an ephemeral Italian experience to sustain the spirit in these times without travel.
We Love Buying Direct!
We love the idea that we are buying directly from the farm in Umbria and supporting the local growers. We use this superior quality oil in cooking and as a flavorful finishing oil. Thank you Brian and Maria for introducing us to this tasteful addition to our culinary adventures.