A few months ago, we sent our Imports & Exports Procurement Manager, Scott Case, on an Italian trade mission to Italy. Along with representatives from several other specialty retailers from around the USA, he scoured local markets and shops for new products and visited with several producers of authentic Italian specialty products. This effort was to bolster trade with Italy and to ensure that the word is getting out about the great work these small, artisan producers are doing.
We’re thrilled to share with you all his adventures in Italy and some of the wonderful products he found while abroad. With any luck, some of these might be hitting our shelves and site in the coming months!
Our first full day in Parma and the delegates were invited to a Private Label and Logistics seminar by the Fiera di Parma. We were joined by over 100 producers from all over Italy and were welcomed by the ministers from the agricultural sector. The driving force behind this trade mission was two-fold – the protection and promotion of truly Italian products and better coordination of logistics handling here in Italy – after years of disorganization and inefficiencies in the supply chain, Italians are starting to understand that cooperation and organization of shipping patterns will be a necessary step to keep their products viable in the world market.
After the initial introductions and speeches, the Italian Trade Commission set up one-on-one meetings with the nine delegates. There was a strong contingent of producers from Emilia Romagna – I met with several prosciutto producers (both crudo – what we know as Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Danielle, for example – and cotto or cooked), as well as Grana Padano and Parmigiano producers. In addition, several aziende (producers) presented their balsamic vinegars for Di Bruno Bros. consideration. Don’t worry, fans of Latteria Soresina Parmigiano and Grana Padano, Bellei and Campari balsamic vinegars, we’re not planning on switching suppliers anytime soon! That said, it never hurts to keep an eye out for new and exciting products.
There were several interesting products at the fiera (including mortadella studded with black truffles and new lines of Sardinian cheeses and Pugliese cookies and crackers). However, the conversations outside of the scheduled meetings were also great – I had the chance to meet several suppliers face to face, including Stefano Solieri from Acetaia Bellei (balsamic vinegar), Luigi Conti from La Madia (jams and savory condiments) and Chiara Del Grosso from Coppini (olive oil). This group also introduced me to their producer friends, offering Di Bruno Bros. another opportunity to expand our Italian offering through a network of like-minded, quality-first Italian producers. Sometimes, to find the good stuff, you have to go to the people you know!
The night ended with a memorable trip to the restaurant Al Cavallino Biano, the famous restaurant in Polesine Parmense, just outside of Parma, across the Po river from Cremona. Set in a building dating back to the sixteenth century, chef Massimo Spigaroli and his brother Luciano run a restaurant that fully captures the idea of Italian cuisine – they cook from the heart, using ingredients strictly sourced 100% from their farm on their grounds. They also make some of the best salumi I’ve ever tasted, including the elusive culatello – illegal to import into the United States (although it can be purchased from domestic suppliers). In the centuries’ old caves of their palazzo, the cool Po valley winds help them age thousands of culatelli. At 100 euro per kilo of 24-month aged culatello, and roughly 4 kilos per culatello, we figured that the basement was worth somewhere north of 800,000. These salumi are so precious that some of the top Italian restaurants and even some royalty often reserve their culatelli in advance – the group noticed one culatello earmarked for Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro.
We spent the night talking about the future of true, authentic Italian products in the U.S. market and brainstorming ways to promote them. After a productive and delicious dinner, we took some time to shop in the tiny store of the restaurant, where they had some culatelli, as well as a new-for-me salame called strolghino, made from the leftover raw meat from producing culatello.
I had a “kid in a candy store” moment when I noticed cylinders of cheese wrapped in paper among the traditionally shaped Parmigiano Reggiano wedges. “Questo e’ il cuore? (Is this the heart)?” I asked the chef. Yes, he confirmed. They cut the heart of the wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano out, shaped in small cylinders and sell them separately. Since the heart ripens faster, it’s always the most delicious part of the wheel – something commonly overlooked. Seeing that Chef Spigarolli appreciated this and took the time to celebrate it put the final exclamation point on a fantastic night!