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!
Gourmet Food Boxes: A Traditional Italian Gift
Come December, shops across Italy from tiny corner grocers to huge supermarket chains begin displaying sumptuous “cesti natalizi” (Christmas baskets) of every shape and size. In this food-centric country, it comes as no surprise that one of the popular and beloved holiday gifts is these decorative baskets or boxes stuffed with holiday goodies like wine, chocolates, panettone, and even lentils and zampone...a traditional New Year’s Eve dish.
From the most basic packages pairing a bottle of spumante with a small panettone to elaborate cellophane-wrapped confections bursting with dozens of sweet and savory treats, these gourmet gifts are exchanged between close friends and family as well as between casual acquaintances and colleagues with equal enthusiasm, and the contents enjoyed for weeks or months after the holidays.
When we were deciding what to feature on our new CantinaDirect website - dedicated to authentic Italian food that can be ordered directly for home delivery in the US - we knew we wanted to include these quintessentially Italian gourmet food boxes and reached out to Elena Carradori, a long-time friend and source for sweet and savory gourmet delicacies in Italy. Her Florentine shop, Dolceforte, is our go-to for quality chocolates, cookies, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Tuscan artisanal pasta, and other delights selected from local, sustainable, and traditional producers.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Ten Facts about Italy’s Liquid Gold
The popularity of Italian olive oil has spread across the globe and today this rich oil, beloved for its unique flavor and health benefits on both sides of the ocean, is known as Italy’s “liquid gold”. Unfortunately, high demand has also been its downfall as cheap imposters of dubious quality are now commonplace on supermarket shelves. Today, many oils marketed as “extra-virgin Italian olive oil” are made from olives harvested outside of Italy, extracted with harsh chemical methods, or created in a lab with a mix of Italian and lower quality oils.
How do you know you’re getting the highest quality oil? The best way is to purchase your oil from a trustworthy source, ideally directly from the producer. You can also brush up on your olive oil knowledge to help you suss out an authentic and high-quality Italian oil from cheap substitutes.
Here are the most important facts about Italy’s extra-virgin olive oil to guide you to real “liquid gold”...
Cantina Direct: Italian Olive Oil and Other Delicacies Delivered to Your Door
This year has been a difficult one for so many reasons, but for lovers of travel like us - and like all of you - being grounded for the better part of 2020 has been one of the biggest challenges. We said goodbye to our beloved second home in Italy last December, never imagining that we wouldn’t be able to return for over a year.
There are many things we miss about Italy, but the fact that we’ve been gone for such a long stretch really hit home recently when our precious pantry provisions - those stashes of aged Parmigiano Reggiano, extra-virgin olive oil, impossible-to-find local wines, artisan pasta, and other delicacies that we routinely bring back in our overstuffed suitcases - began to run low. Though it is getting easier to find Italian specialty foods state-side, nothing beats the quality of what you can get on the ground in Italy.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in our quest to restock our own stores we realized that making these same excellent products that we love available to fellow gourmands would be a perfectly-paired side business to CIUTravel. We have long been ardent supporters of small-scale local producers in Italy, and many of our clients have visited our favorite foodie meccas from Umbrian olive farms to Piedmontese truffle woods. Today, you can savor many of these same quality products from home via Cantina Direct.