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We can all attest to the allure of great Italian food. Most of us have at least a handful of Italian dishes in our repertoire – spaghettis bolognese and carbonara, vibrant green pesto and pizza (potentially created Neopolitan-style on an Ooni, lockdown-style) – and our collective larders just don’t feel complete without a pack of dried pasta.
It’s little surprise that Italian cuisine has long been considered one of Brits’ most favoured foodstuffs, but what’s the current state of play, and where do the opportunities lie now? To find out, Speciality Food spoke to Italian food experts from across the industry. Spoiler: the future looks bright for la dolce vita.
Celebrate the art of Italian living
As purveyors of fine quality produce from just around the corner and across the world, Speciality Food readers have a valuable role to play when it comes to promoting the very best of Italian food and drink. Thankfully, there’s a raft of producers passionate about helping you do just that. After all, who better to communicate the wonder of Italian produce than the makers themselves?
“Our mission is to bring to the UK what makes Italy so ‘Italian’: the maximalism, the ability to amaze, the conviviality, the colour and the ability to appreciate small moments of everyday happiness, just like sharing a box of chocolates with your loved ones,” begins Giovanni Battista Mantelli, maître chocolatier at Venchi – a heritage Italian brand that has brought fine quality chocolate and gelato recipes to an adoring audience since 1878.
“Crunchy or creamy, milk or dark chocolate, Gianduja, with nuts or surprising fillings to savour layer by layer… in Venchi’s colorful Chocogelateria you can find a rich selection of chocolates, an entire wall of chocolate bars, delicious handmade pralines, chocolate fountains and many authentic Italian gelato flavours freshly made every day in the boutique lab following the Italian tradition, only with natural and selected ingredients.”
Renowned for, in Giovanni’s words, “celebrating the Italian art of living”, Venchi – and its fellow fine food counterparts – exist to bring the very best of Italy to food lovers across the world.
For Claudia Galetta, strategic partnerships director at Bellavita, Italian passion is a tried and true asset of Italian cuisine: “We don’t just put passion in what we do, we were born passionate,” she says.
With producer pride in what they do built in, ensuring quality and a story to connect with – both boons for fine food retailers – fine Italian food and drink is naturally aligned with Speciality Food readers’ messaging.
“We naturally put love, energy, beauty, fun, as well as hard work, in everything we do. It is contagious though so even our foreign colleagues buy into the dolce vita mood pretty quickly once they join the team. New Italian products in the UK are actually, very often, exceptional regional food that have existed for many years and this is fantastic. This happen in Italy as well where products from a region get to be known by other regions. I find this sensational.”
An evolving feast
Italy may be overflowing with delicious food and drink traditions, but that’s not to say that even its most passionate advocates are choosing to stick not twist. For Matteo Ferrari, chef and co-founder of White Rabbit, there’s no reason why one of the country’s most iconic dishes – pizza – shouldn’t be evolved to suit today’s audience.
“With 1 in 10 people in the UK avoiding gluten, there is a clear opportunity to provide authentic Italian food that is gluten-free – and this is what White Rabbit is all about. Bringing the joy of Italian cuisine, to all,” he begins.
“We want everyone be able to have the Italian experience no matter their dietary needs (also spending as less time as possible in the kitchen and reinvesting that time to really enjoying that treat moment). You can sit at our table to enjoy authentic Italian food whether you are coeliac, vegan or flexitarian.”
And while the archetypal image of the hours-long Italian feast rich with family and friends is a real selling point of Italian food scene, shoppers don’t need to have a whole afternoon to while away slow-cooking a ragu or fermenting the perfect pizza dough.
“Italian food fundamentally delivers on consumer demand for convenience, simplicity and taste enjoyment without compromise. In a world moving so fast, Italian food remains a go-to if you want to treat yourself – or the persons you love – and enjoy the moment together in full,” explains Matteo.
As the international landscape evolves as a result of numerous outside influences, one product which is stayed the course – proven itself to be an invaluable asset to UK storecupboards, in fact – is pasta.
“It’s been a strange road for the last two years for pasta, one of the stockpiled products during the pandemic, when quality Italian pasta was eaten by many here in the UK as everyone tried to get their hands on any pasta available, finally there was an appreciation of the slightly more expensive quality Italian pasta and the realisation that all pasta is not the same,” explains Sally Assinder of Pasta Garofalo – fine pasta makers since 1789.
“However, we are in a completely different scenario as food inflation continues to accelerate now at a 14-year high. With the dramatic increase in energy and interest rates, eating out will become less frequent and home dining will once again become more of a treat with quality authentic premium pasta being seen as a very affordable alternative to dining out and delivering restaurant quality food.”
In good news for coeliacs, and in line with Matteo’s message above, Garofalo is also catering to the gluten-free crowd. “If a fine food retailer is stocking gluten free pasta, an area still growing, then look for shapes that can’t be found in the supermarkets. At Garofalo we regularly hear from customers how great it is to discover our more interesting gluten free shapes like mafalda corta or casarecce and even linguine,” says Sally.
Truffle – an iconic food synonymous with Italian cuisine – is another product combining tradition and innovation in the hands of Tartuflanghe. The business, producer of delicacies including fresh and freeze-dried truffles, storecupboard favourites and sweets, is a proud ambassador for the unique product.
“Truffle is appreciated all around the world, because it gives a magic touch to all dishes, with first historical studies since the eighteenth century,” explains Veronica Giraudo, export director. Tartuflanghe is located close to Alba, a town in the Piedmont region of Italy which is considered by experts to be the home of the white truffle.
“The Alba White Truffle is the most prized in the world for intensity, richness and complexity of aromas: over 120 aromatic molecules that blend in perfect balance and, depending on which trees they grow under, reveal varying hints of bush and artichokes, garlic and hay, very delicate notes of honey and hazelnut, but also moist earth and spices,” she explains. With such a rich and unique flavour to bestow on food lovers, it’s no wonder that truffle has become something of a legend in foodie circles.
Tartuflanghe has continued to experiment with the prized ingredient since it was launched in 1975. “This helps us to ‘invent’ upcoming trends: visionary flavours of the future in functional, practical and contemporary forms that are meant for everyone,” says Veronica.
“The excellent management of production and processing has enabled us to establish a special bond with the world of haute cuisine, which we help innovate through constant research and development in our artisan laboratories. Our products, from salty to sweet ones, have been awarded in major international competitions, and have even gone into space. Meanwhile, we continue to experiment, constantly searching for the perfect taste and the absolute sensorial experience.”
In the right hands, the future looks bright for Italian truffles – and their place on British independents’ shelves. “Our goal for the future of the Truffle are: create a rational, traceable and guaranteed truffle cultivation, from the spore to the table, and promote the regeneration of a natural environment, now greatly at risk, that continues to host the Alba White Truffle,” says Veronica.