In a normal year, I’d make roughly 6 trips to Italy between research and tastings, trade fairs, my teaching gigs at Slow Food U., and a press junket or two (a few years ago, I made nine trips over the course of 12 months!). At this point I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back. I’m scheduled to teach in January 2021 but it’s looking unlikely, given the prevalence of COVID here, that the EU will lift the travel ban on American citizens before then.
So much of my adult life has been shaped by my connection to Italy: from my first years as an undergrad, my cover band in Veneto, my doctoral research there, and then my focus on wine and food writing and consulting. And even now when I am unable to get there, I continue to interact with Italians, here in the U.S. and in Europe, on a daily basis (thank you, WhatsApp and Zoom!).
But there’s something missing that leaves a big hole in my heart (and my stomach): Italian wine and food.
Here are just some of the highlights from my very last trip to the Bel Paese in January of this year. I MISS ITALY!
Properly trimmed and sliced mortadella. Isn’t it hard to believe that “bologna/baloney” was inspired by this mother of all sausage? That’s at the Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.
Club sandwiches. Yes, club sandwiches. Over the last decade or so, Italians have gone crazy for classic American cuisine. No joke. The only difference is that they use high-quality ingredients, including homemade mayonnaise. O how I wish I could treat you to a club sandwich and a glass of Franciacorta! Another Dispensa “new” classic.
I visited the Nicolis winery in Valpolicella for my client Ethica Wines this year. Its Amarone and Recioto are top wines from the appellation imho. But tasting this classic humble delicious Valpolicella, one of the best food wines in the world, took me back to my university days in Padua. What a great wine and what a great memory of a hopeful time!
There are two overarching categories of pizza in Italy: authentic Neapolitan and pan-Italian. I love both. That’s a classic pan-Italian pizza topped with air-dried and shredded horse meat and arugula in Treviso. A great pizza and a pint of cold beer, one of the greatest pairings of all time.
Prosciutto d’Osvaldo at La Subida in Friuli, a stone’s throw from the Slovenian border. La Subida is one of the most magical places in the world. The rooms there are as enchanting as the food and wine. It’s one of my all-time most happy places — a true locus amoenus. So many great memories of dinners and wines opened there with great folks.
Fascist inscriptions, this one discovered in Tuscany. As a student of Italian history, I’ve always been fascinated by Fascism and Fascist-era art and iconography. “Chi non è pronto a morire per la sua fede non è degno di professarla” (“those not ready to die for their faith are not worthy of professing it”).
Brunello di Montalcino. Man, when it’s great, it’s GREAT. I had never tasted the wines of Ridolfi, a new producer (imported by my client Ethica) before this trip. Guys, if you like the Soldera- and Poggio di Sotto-style of Brunello (which should really be called the “Gambelli” style, but more on that later), look out for Ridolfi. Trust me. This is going to be the next great from Montalcino. Amazing wines.
Fontanabianca, another under-the-radar Barbaresco grower (imported by my client). Even some of my wine people friends in Italy haven’t heard about or tasted these astounding wines. Sorry for the many product placements here but believe me: you’ll thank me. At least I’m not hawking Doritos!
Seafood. Anywhere in Italy. Believe it or not (because seafood is generally an afterthought in beef-centric Piedmont), that’s at Grecale in Barolo (Novello). Italians just do it better. What a great and original restaurant! Thank you, Alberto. We drank Alberto’s wines, all red, all night that evening. A wonderful experience.
Tacos at Taqueria El Sol de México in Houston. I love Italy, Italian food and wine, Italian history and culture, Italian literature, etc. But there’s no place like home. And there’s just something about that first tortilla that puts it all into perspective.
Thanks for letting me share…