stocking up on groceries in Italy
What Italian ingredients should I bring home? Any tips for the best olive oil or balsamic vinegar? Unusual products to try? I live in Europe, so customs aren't a problem and I'm vegan, so any veggie-specific suggestions are welcome!
Generally speaking, there's probably not much that you can't easily get in Frankfurt. I rarely bring things home from other European destinations these days. Maybe look out for well-priced good quality dried mushrooms, or a truffle oil?
Other than that, I can only suggest a walk round a good supermarket or a deli or two to see if anything takes your fancy.
I have the same opinion as the above poster. I live in US but spend time in an apartment in Paris and I rarely ever bring food back to either. I can find everything I need for about the same price in Paris and probably same for you in Frankfurt. Only thing I've bought back recently is a bottle of just pressed olive oil from Lake Garda. Olive oil are the best fresh, therefore, best to not stock up too much.
There might be a few items you could get, for example local honey, like corbellozzo, the good fresh local oils, some balsamico from a good producer (tradizionale if you can afford it, condimento if you cannot), good quality porcini mushrooms, obscure liqueurs like alchermes,cedro,cent'erbe, nocino from artisanal producers. Fresh vegetables of a type you cant get at home, a special cheese. I take home to NY the big country breads from Italy or France - they keep well.
Most "groceries" can be found pretty much every where if you search, but there are special products findable at the best local food stores, for example Volpetti in Rome,.Specialty stores in smaller towns or cities, like say Orvieto, Pienza, Modena may also have unique local products on offer or a more knowledgeable or "curated" selection..
Where are you going? I find this an impossible question to answer unless I know that.
I mean, if you are going to le Cinque Terre and aren't doing carry-on, there are some local producers of jarred pesto that really can be exceptional, believe it or not. if you are going to Bologna (or other parts of Emilia-Romagna or Lombardy), there are great and unusual mostarde worth looking for.
If you are going to someplace like Venice, I wouldn't bother looking for balsamic vinegar or olive oil. And nowhere in Italy would I buy truffle oil! (Here in Liguria, you can get some terrific truffles packed in olive oil for a very nice price). There are some places great for dried mushrooms, but others -- eh.
If you are going to be in the south, many dried pastas are just terrific and don't export.
Anyway, I do imagine that where you are in Europe has some high-quality Italian foods and liquors in local stores that would be a pain to haul home since you can buy them there.
But again -- where are you going in Italy???
Found Venice to be a very tough place to find unique local food souvenirs - like BB said, dont look for oil or balsamic or other "italian" items there. I found the grocery store that is often recommended, Drogheria Mascari, to be unimpressive. Pastries can be a good (shorter lived) souvenir. Marchini sells exquisite expensive cellophane wrapped pastries (I couldnt help thinking fo the Japanese trade) but some of the traditional venetian cakes are unusual and delicious. Colussi's foccaccia (a sweet bread) would also make a good edible souvenir if you can catch them open at the end of the week/weekend. Or, there is always a sack of lamon beans from the Rialto.
San Marco, Spadaria, 676, Venice, Veneto , IT
Pasticceria dal Nono Colussi
Calle Lunga San Barnaba, 2867A, Venice, Veneto , IT
re: jen kalb
Drogheria Mascari has a good stock mainstream items such as dried fruit/nuts, hard candies, honey, jam, spices, liquor, etc; it is not a place for food "souvenirs". They do have one of the best wine cellar in Venice and probably the Veneto, especially for wines from the Veneto, Friuli and the Alto Adige. The Foccaccia de Venezia from Tonolo is excellent. They bake it every Wednesday and usually sold out by Friday. The problem is that they are truly bulky and not for stocking up on. One of the few things that I take if I am going back to Paris.
If you go to Drogheria Mascari (near the Rialto) pick up some of their erbe miste per pesce (mixed herbs for fish). I can't tell you what is in the mix --unfortunately for me--but can assure you that it will dramatically improve your ability to make a seafood risotto at home that will taste like one you loved in Venice.
Florence or Lucca would have the best selection of Tuscan olive oil (DOP or IGP); there is a DOP saffron of San Gimignano, but I don't recall seeing it on sale there; Siena's most famous products are pastries, but neither is vegan: panforte is made with honey, ricciarelli with egg whites. Balsamic vinegar (tradizionale di Modena) might still be cheaper in Florence than in Frankfurt, as might chocolate from "Chocolate Valley" producers like Amedei.
There's a list of Tuscan DOPs and IGPs here, including things like chestnut flour, beans and farro that might be of interest to a vegan:
For a vegetarian going to Lucca, I would definitely consider bringing home some local FARRO. I also highly recommend that you see if you can purchase TESTAROLI vacuum-packed ("sotto vuoto"). Testaroli looks like a crepe or thin pancake sold in large or small rounds (sometimes the rounds are cut into small squares, sometimes the large pancake is rolled up like a scroll). It is a delicious, delicious fundamental pasta that dates back centuries and is actually from the nearby Lunigiana area, but since Lucca has so many specialty food stores near its anfiteatro, there is a good chance youn can find it there. It looks like this:
For San Gimignano, you might have to go to a farm for saffron, but it's such an important part of San Gimignano's history, it might be well worth the adventure. You can probably find other places like this with google searches:
If you are going to Lucca, I would stop at Caniparoli Cioccolateria on Via S. Paolino - a wonderful chocolate shop and stock up on their amazing chocolate sauce.
If you are going to be near Greve, one product of Tuscany that I love (and actually have an Italian friend ship to me a couple times a year) is the "Profumo di Chianti" sold by Dario Cecchini at his Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a fabulous (and famous) butcher shop in the tiny hamlet of Panzano. Granted, being a vegetarian most of the products are not for you, but his salt-blend is fantastic and I love it on grilled veggies. It is sold in vacuum packed bags, so it is easy to pack.
There is lots to bring back!
Since you are vegan that narrows the possibilities a bit, but also makes it more of a challenge.
Do some research online, before you go. See if there are farmer markets. You can visit this site:
But also check local web sites, for days and places of markets.
Here are some things to look out for:
Legumes: This is where a vegan can go wild. There are so many great, local beans. And they really don't export a lot of them, so worth bringing back.
Ditto for grains like farro, which is really expensive outside of Italy.
Keep your eyes open for home made jams.
Sun dried tomatoes and olives
At the markets, you can also find lovely spreads, made from nuts, spices and vegeatbles. (like pesto) Many of these don't get exported. Some are made with truffles.
Hope this helps!
Thank you for all of the suggestions! I have a good list of things to look for and will have lots of fun shopping and eating next week! :)