For years, when I visited the States for the holidays (or anytime, really) I would stress the seams of my luggage by overstuffing it with Pecorino Romano, Gragnano pasta, panettoni, horse jerky, whole guanciali. You know, the usual. A run-in with the USDA put an end to my meat deliveries—I still don’t have a horse hook-up in the US…if you have one holler at me—but the boom in domestic Italy-inspired products in America, as well as the availability of excellent exported Italian products, means I don’t have to haul so much stuff west across the Atlantic anymore. If you’re looking for a bit of Italy to give to your favorite Italophile any time of year, this handy guide features Italian-made and Italy-inspired gifts I love.
Cured meats, cheeses, and specialty items
For guanciale, lardo, ’nduja, and other porky products, check out Chicago’s ‘Nduja Artisans, and Philly’s 1732 Meats. The recently published book Carne: Meat recipes from the kitchen of the American Academy in Rome has some fun recipes for making Italian-style cured and cooked meats at home.
For Italian cheeses, I visit Formaggio Kitchen, Di Bruno Bros., Market Hall Foods and Murray’s. Meanwhile, for Italian specialty products of all sorts, it’s tough to beat Gustiamo (see below). The Gusti team has really assembled a next-level assortment of items from small producers.
A visit to JB Prince, a kitchen supply store on the 11th floor of a Midtown Manhattan office building, is a gift in and of itself. If you can’t get there, you can buy machines online for the pasta maker in your life. Sur la Table also has machines and pasta-making tools available via mail order. If homemade pasta is your recipient’s cup of tea, may I suggest Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto and Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta? Artisan Pasta Tools sells corsetti stamps and garganelli boards, while Vermont Rolling Pins crafts fancy handmade wooden rolling pins from cherry, walnut, and maple. If you just want to gift some cool pasta made by nice people, Semolina is doing nice extruded durum wheat pasta in East LA.
For Christmas I love gifting beautiful, buttery, spongy, naturally leavened panettoni by Roy Shvartzapel of From Roy. The panettoni are made by hand and with gorgeous ingredients so they are delicious and moist and magical unlike the standard industrial junk peddled by Italian supermarkets at home and abroad.
Celebrate Italy’s potent potable with the excellent books Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas and Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes, both of which offer amazing cocktail recipes with a healthy shot of history.
I love mixing aperitifs and other cocktails with artisanal vermouths, amari, red bitter liquors. This year, go beyond Campari-owned brands and explore smaller producers. Take a spin through Haus Alpenz’s portfolio and ask your local liquor store if they can get their hands on any of the fun Italian stuff in there. If you’re in NYC, head down to Astor Wines for Vermouth del Professore, Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano, and more. For domestic products, the sensational Megan Krigbaum has the lowdown on American-made amari and aperitivo liquerus here.
I’m so proud of my friends the Marcellis for their dedication to importing products from their ancestral homeland of Abruzzo. I teamed up with my pals to create the Tasting Rome gift basket that includes a copy of Tasting Rome (pardon the self promotion) as well as (more importantly) a rich and nutty organic sheep’s milk cheese, Masciarelli spaghetti cut from bronze die and slowly dried at low temperatures, and extra virgin olive oil.
Gustiamo also has an awesome TR gift box (not to mention a huge array of exceptional Italian products) featuring whole mullet bottarga, fine sea salt, anchovies in sea salt, Cru di Cures EVOO, Gazzani carnaroli rice, pasta from Martelli and Faella, filter grind coffee and Miracolo di San Gennaro plum tomatoes. Btw you can visit Gustiamo in the Bronx. Though they are mainly an online retailer, the Gustiamo warehouse is open to the public for shopping every Friday from 10am-4pm. It rules. Check it out if you can.
Bread & Pizza
For bread and pizza bakers, grab some flour from Hayden Mills, Molino del Ponte (via Gustiamo), or Anson Mills and cookbooks like Bonci’s Pizza: Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium, Lahey’s My Pizza and My Bread, and of course Tasting Rome🙂 If you’re in the market for a personalized or signed copy of TR, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Last but not least, support a local food bank. It’s not a specifically Italian gift, of course, but it’s wonderful gesture to make a donation in a friend’s name.