One of the things that excites me the most when I am back in Italy is to head off for one of my special food shopping experiences. I don’t mind driving for hours through the stunning Italian landscapes, as long as I get to taste and buy delicious Italian artisanal products that represent the regions’ true excellence and heritage. This for me is what luxury travel and Italian luxury holidays are all about!
So when a friend and client called me up telling me that he was staying in one of the luxury hotels in the Venice area and wanted me to show him some of my favourite places where to buy rare and exclusive Italian products, I thought it was the perfect excuse to turn his request into a special Italian private event and take him on a unique food and wine tour, something many of our clients immensely enjoy as part of our luxury travel service.
In the two days that we were together, I decided to focus, gastronomically speaking, on two different regions.
Of course we had to start in the Veneto region! We headed to the area of Vicenza, known for its impressive and historic luxury Italian villas, to visit the only butcher in Italy with a Michelin star and a great deli attached to it. After having enjoyed a lovely meal which was an homage to beef (the ageing of Piemontese beef was a true Italian luxury experience) we headed to the shop which featured an incredible selection of meats, hams and cheese from the leading producers in Italy and a choice of artisanal wines worthy of the best wine tour. But what was really out of this world was the selection of cakes, sauces and other lovely salty and sweet treats. I could have easily spent the rest of the day there shopping while teasing my taste buds with great food and wine.
The following day we decided to drive east to the somewhat undiscovered region of Friuli, home to many wonderful artisanal produce, especially wines, hams and cheeses. In the charming town of Cormons, in the heart of the Collio wine production area, there is a small family run deli where two sisters delight locals with an impeccable selection of products from the best artisans of the region. This is really one of my favourite spots not only for the sublime selection of food, but also because I adore the passion of the owners… it really does make a difference. Every time I travel here, there are 2 products which I always buy: Prosciutto D’Osvaldo, a Parma like ham from a local producer which is regarded as one of the best out there and Jamar, a semi hard cow cheese aged in the caves of the Carso hills located about 20km from the shop. Both truly represent the very best this region has to offer and all I want to do is watch my client’s face light up when he tastes a little sample to get a further approval. As we were in the heart of one of the best wine production areas in the world; it was a must to go and visit one of my favourite wine producers for a mini private wine tour.
After less than a 10 minutes’ drive we arrive at this tiny estate. Forget big and impressive cellars with beautiful wine tasting rooms, this artisan is all about substance – his wines, in particular the reds are some of the best in the country in my opinion. It’s always so much fun to meet him as he is such an hilarious character. An opinionated and direct man but also profound and sophisticated in his thoughts – very much like his wines. After a brief tour of the vineyards we head to the cellar for a moment of magic. He only works with local indigenous grapes as he wants to pay true respect to his traditions and history. His wines are simply outstanding – from the punchy Schioppettino to deep and complex Pignolo, a wine that he releases every 15 years (currently he is out with the 2001). My friend was over the moon, he loves his reds and wanted to hug the producer for making such incredible wines. But, just when he thought things could not get any better, Fulvio (the producer) led us to a particular barrel. Inside was “sleeping” a Pignolo from 1997 which still has not been bottled! He pulls out a small sample and… moments of silence – we just could not believe what we were drinking, only Fulvio could do such an insane and extreme wine.
After a couple of fantastic hours spent in the company of a wine maverick, my friend looks at me and says: its 12.30 should we have a bite? Little he knew that I was about to take him to eat the best Fricco, a hearty cheese and potato tart that every human being should at least try once in their life-time. But such a dish deserves a separate chapter… so I am afraid you will just have to wait for our next luxury vacation story!