At the Winter Fancy Food in San Francisco, your hidden foodie fantasies are realized... Find out what's new in the world of Italian gourmet imports!

By Laurie Berger / Published January 24, 2018 

“An exciting trade show, with a lot of beautiful new products,” said Franceso Lupo of Cibo Italia as the first day of the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show came to a close. “Especially lots of new Italian products: great cheeses such as primosale from Sicily, anchovies also from Sicily, and olive oils from all over the country…. It’s exciting, it gives me a lot of hope for the future… Mangia italiano!”

This sums up nicely the 2018 edition of the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Organized by the Specialty Food Association, the fair showcased thousands of food artisans, entrepreneurs, and importers from all over the world.

For us at Foodiamo, the main attraction was the presence of Italian food companies, providing an endless stream of samples of everything from ducorino toscano stagionato (aged Tuscan pecorino) to authentic, long-aged aceto balsamico. Think of the Fancy Food Show as the best place to taste all sorts of Italian imports–without going to Italy.

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For the rest of you who missed out, we sat down with some of the Italian producers and distributors in attendance to find out what’s good, what’s new, and what’s going to happen in the magic world of Italian food, especially regarding the US market.

Francesco Ricci of Agrumato

Back to the basics: olive oil and flour

You could have easily spent one afternoon tasting olive oils from all over the world at the Winter Fancy Food Show. As far as Italian oils are concerned, the Manicaretti stand was a true delight. Besides the excellent products available for tasting, the owners themselves were in attendance, giving us a glimpse into the day-to-day business of oil-making.

“We had a drought last year, but it didn’t damage the olive trees, so we are very happy,” said Beatrice Contini of Tenuta di Capezzana, from Carmignano near Florence. “It’s a very old area of oil production. My sister found a document describing a farm here in Capezzana making olive oil back in 804 A.D.” In light of the 1200+ years of oil-making tradition, Contini knows a thing or two about how to best consume it. “This olive oil cake has no butter, just our own oil. Rolando [Beramendi, owner of Manicaretti] has developed a version with honey, instead of sugar, so it’s even healthier”.

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From the region of Abruzzo came Franceso and Lucrezia Ricci, the father-and-daugther team behind Agrumato. They produce these unique oils by crushing together olives and fresh, whole citrus fruits—unlike the infused/flavored oil that are so common these days. Interestingly, the idea came from re-discovering an old milling tradition. Back in the day, olive producers would clean the olive mills with lemons. Rather than a gourmet condiment, this was what local farmers would keep for their family and friends. And next Christmas, look out for their version of panettone, made with lemon, orange, citron, or tangerine olive oil instead of butter!

Note the wall of parmigiano reggiano wheels in the back

Different region, different product. Antonella Titone of Titone flew to San Francisco from the province of Trapani, Sicily. “Back in the nineteenth century, my ancestors were pharmacists,” she explained. “Then, in the early 1900s, my family turned to agriculture, and more recently to organic agriculture.” Her oil, like the best oils from the region, is highly aromatic, with notes of tomatoes, artichokes, and herbs. “Remember that oil shouldn’t cover flavors, rather harmonize and balance them,” she concluded.

Hailing from the province of Padova, Veneto, Paolo Spadaro was probably one of the busiest men at the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show. As he demonstrated how to make pizza with Cinque Stagioni flour, he basically fed hundreds of attendees. You may not give too much thought to the flour in your pantry, but you should! “As with coffee, selecting the best wheat from all over the world and milling it, which we do in our Italian plants, makes all the difference,” he explained.

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“Our most popular item is still the Neapolitan-style pizza flour. But pizza romana, aka pizza “in pala”, isthe new trend. In fact, our research and development department developed the new Ciabatta Romana flour mix specifically for that.”

Umberto Marino slicing mortadella at the Winter Fancy Food Show

Italian cheese and salumi at the 2018 Fancy Food Show

Emanuela Perenzin, the owner of Perenzin Latteria dairy farm, was inspired by the history of the Silk Route to create a new line of goat milk cheese, known in Italy as caprino. Back in the day, Venetian merchants would use cheese and oil as a currency to buy spices, silk, and other exotic products.” All our cheeses have something special, from the caprino with Vietnamese pepper and extra-virgin olive oil, to the award-winning “drunken” caprino steeped in Traminer grapes”. And if you ever find their “Tre Latti” cheese in the stores (three milks: cow-goat-buffalo), give it a try!

Speaking of Italian cheese, did you know that it takes 25% of Italy’s milk production to make Grana Padano? Paolo Grandjacquet, from the marketing office of the Grana Padano Consortium, gave us some figures on one of Italy’s most-consumed cheeses. How many wheels are produceded every year? Almost five millions. Let that sink in for a moment.

Next, as he was slicing some Levoni salumi, Umberto Marino of Bertozzi  listed their new items on the market, such as coppa, roasted coppa, and smoked pancetta. All our porks are born and raised in Italy, and we have full control over the production.” While their product line keeps growing, he noted, “mortadella and Prosciutto di Parma are still the big hits among US consumers”.

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And what’s the best way to consume Prosciutto di Parma? Elke Fernandez, who grew up in Parma, was quick to respond. “People there mainly consume as is, sliced as thin as possible. With bread,  parmigiano reggiano, maybe with fruit in the summer. Prosciutto di Parma is very well-known on the East Coast, but the West Coast, having a developed food culture, is catching up.”

Risotto demonstration at the ICE stand

What’s new in the world of Italian pasta (and rice)

What else is Italy known for, besides great food? Fashion and design, for example. If you think fashion and food have nothing in common, you should see the new, colorful packaging of Pastificio Di Martino pasta, designed by none less than fashion house Dolce & Gabbana. The company is based in the town of Gragnano, basically the “homeland” of dry pasta in the region of Campania.

The product got a completely new look, which is surely going to impress your dinner guests, but at the end of the day it’s what’s inside that matters. Being well aware of that, owner Giuseppe di Martino recommends a good old bowl of spaghetti al pomodoro, simple yet delicious when done right, to let his pasta shine. “All you need is a great olive oil, great tomatoes, and, of course, great pasta”.

Greetings from the Fancy Food Show

Speaking of pasta, Gianluigi Peduzzi, President of Rustichella d’Abruzzo, presented two lines of pastas, Saragolla and Senatore Cappelli, made with two organic grains that the company has re-discovered from local traditions of the Abruzzo region. How to best appreciate high-quality pasta? “Use very simple condiments,” Peduzzi commented. “Just extra-virgin olive oil is enough to understand and enjoy the unique texture of this product”.

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For an alternative primo piatto, aka first course, consider Acquerello rice from Vercelli, Piemonte. Owner Maria Nava Rondolino explained how, by carefully selecting, milling, and aging Carnaroli rice, the company developed an “idiot-proof”(her words) way to make risotto, easier and faster than you’ve ever thought. “Bring three parts of water to boil and pour one part of rice into boiling water. Add butter and parmigiano and/or other condiments, and let it rest off the fire. When the rice absorbs the condiments in five minutes, you got yourself a nice risotto”.

Mr Espresso stand at the Fancy Food Show

Wrapping up the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show

Looking for dessert? Alberto Carli and Cristina Rigoni of Rigoni di Asiago presented the dairy-free version of their signature Nocciolata. “We increased the other ingredient shares, especially the hazelnut content, so it’s richer and thicker.” Their fruit jams, which are extremely popular in Italy, are also available in the US at Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and other organic/natural markets.

For our coffee break, we headed to the Mr. Espresso stand. Back in the Seventies, Carlo Di Ruocco from Salerno started roasting coffee beans in a garage and “preaching” the espresso religion to California, thus earning the nickname of “Mr. Espresso”. “We buy coffees from all over the world”, said Francesca Morabito from the Seattle office. “Over the years, we have perfected the technique of oakwood-roasting, which now makes us unique in the US market”.

If this got you hungry, why not getting some of these products at home and cook with them? That’s the promise of Farmers Basket, a new recipe box service that will soon launch in the US. Each box contains all the organic, Italian ingredients that you need to create an iconic Italian recipe. As Massimo Cugusi explained, “it’s designed for those who want to eat tasty food, but staying healthy and knowing where their food comes from”. His favorite dish? “Being from Sardinia, spaghetti with bottarga, aka mullet roe. Too bad we can’t box that one yet, because it wil have to be refrigerated!”

Speaking of bottarga, we got great advice from Viola Buitoni, a San Francisco-based cooking instructor and Italian food ambassador. “Slice the bottarga and marinate it wth lemon juice, lemon zest, parsley, and a whole garlic clove. Cover everything with good olive oil and let it rest overnight. The next day, cook your spaghetti al dente, toss them with the marinade and you’re all set.”

That’s all from the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show. Got a favorite Italian product? Let us know in the comments and we’ll go find it next year!