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Apr 6, 2011 08:53 AM

Food "Souvenirs" From Rome

We have heretofore received most welcome advice from contributors to this site as to excellent dining destinations for our trip to Rome in May. Now we seek advice on foodstuffs to bring back from Rome. What we have in mind are items that are unavailable in the U.S. or available only in lower quality or significantly higher price. Here are our current principal "targets"; we will welcome advice on where best to purchase them:

1) Canned or jarred tuna; Tre Torri or similar quality (if there are other canned or jarred seafood specialties we should have in mind; by all means mention them).

2) Dried funghi porcini.

3) Moderate amounts of Pecorino Romano and Parmagiano-Reggiano cheeses; preferably from a purveyor able to vacuum pack them for travel.

4) "Unusual" (at least in the U.S.) spice mixes. About five years ago we purchased a moderate quantity of "erbe miste per pesce" at Drogheria Mascari in Venice. So many home-made seafood risotti have since been memorably enhanced by that seasoning, and, incredibly, it seems to have lost little of its potency. Nary a clue as to what the mixture contains, though we do sense the presence of fennel. If there is a spice or mix we should not leave Rome without, please tell us what it is and from whom to purchase it.

5) Similar to 4) above, if there is a marvelous seafood stock "base" or enhancer that we should have in mind, please send us in the right direction (we find it a lot more challenging to prepare palatable seafood stock from "scratch than chicken, beef or vegetable stock).

I haven't mentioned obvious items like olive oil or wine because we are squeamish about packing them amongst our clothing. Also, I have omitted pasta because we have access to a variety of artisanal Italian dry pasta at home at what we regard as reasonable prices. No doubt the above list excludes some "must buys" so don't hesitate to bring any such items to our attention.

Thanks in advance for your attention.

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  1. 1. Tonno di Carloforte, caught by traditional methods off Sardinia. The prices at Volpetti are about the same as in Carloforte, so even if they're high, they're acceptable.

    2. Dried funghi are lightweight but bulky, but sure.

    3. Volpetti will vacuum pack anything.They have excellent pecorino romano. I bought some the other day on the young side (to eat with fresh fave) and I must say it was superb. They also have great parmigiano-reggiano and much else.

    4. Spice mixes in Rome are for tourists. Probably elsewhere too. Their prevalence at the Campo de’ Fiori market is one reason I don't go there.

    5. Never seen one, but it never occurred to me to look. If you use bouillon cubes, they are probably better here.

    6. Get oil in cans and wrap it in your laundry. We take oil back to the US all the time without difficulty.

    I also recommend lentils. There are various varieties of gourmet beans and lelntils and other legumes that are easy to pack and would make excellent souvenirs.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mbfant

      Depending on where you live in US there might not be much to buy in Italy that you cant get at home.

      the funghi porcini are one item - you can buy packaged or at a market, by weight. If you go to Volpetti you will probably find something special to bring in addition to the cheese - I remember some wonderful fresh torrone (this was in winter) from Sardinia we brought back from there one year.

      We routinely bring back oils and increasingly liqueurs in our luggage - it can be rolled up easily in laundry and you can always bring a bit of bubble wrap along or bag it in a couple plastic bags if you have concern about breakage.

      As I said before, we usually bring home one or two big loaves of country bread to extend our italian experience a bit more - it travels and keeps well.

      Regarding seafood stock enhancer, fish heads and shrimp shells do wonders - or I suppose you can use an italian trick and add a fragment of boullion cube to enhance the flavor. I get STAR brand italian cubes at a local store. Sure you could pick some up in an a grocery store if you want a light, cheap souvenir. the only herb I can think of is "mentha romana", which I found dried one time in a little shop but have to say it did not subsequently get heavy use!

    2. Everything that has been said here about Volpetti applies similarly to Roscioli, so if that is closer to you, you can look for those food stuffs there (tuna, funghi, cheese).
      I also am against most spice mixes, but good/interesting spices (mentuccia, wild fennel, fogli di mirto etc) can be found at the castroni shops or at the lovely little spice shop in Testaccio (if you are going for Volpetti) on Via Luca della Voppia.
      I don't think any enhancer is needed for a fish stock (fish head & skeleton, bay leaf simmered for 20 minutes and skimmed - never boiled as that will make the stock bitter, delivers good results - even better if you can add shrimp shells, I can't due to husband's allergy) but you might think about Colatura di Alici, the Italian fish sauce, to enhance/deepen the flavor of many dishes, even unexpected, non-fish related ones.
      If you are really into fishy things, along with tuna I would also suggest bottarga. Or really good Alici, for example the ones from Cetara.

      Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

      3 Replies
      1. re: vinoroma

        We generally bring back dried porcini, large jars of anchovies, and a few kilos of very good arborio rice. Most often we bring back from Florence good Prosecco and from either city we bring at least 1 bottle of Amaro Averna.

        1. re: vinoroma

          Preliminary thanks to mbfant, jen kalb, and vinorama. A couple of thoughts:

          First, There was never much chance that we wouldn't have visited all of Castroni (near our hotel), Roscioli and Volpetti. My impression is that I can do all my shopping at their stores (or even at one of them). It sounds like there is no rational need to search hither, tither and yon for obscure, quality purveyors of items of greatest interest to us or to waste precious time wandering around looking for "bargains" . We have reservations at Checchino for lunch on Saturday. Perhaps we can present ourselves to Signor Volpetti pre-lunch and follow his guidance for all of our needs.

          Second, the spice mix "vision" has been put to rest. If nothing comes to mind to you three, case closed.

          Third, re stock "bases", rest assured I can make a decent seafood stock with shrimp shells and lobster shells (I never leave our local, South Florida, lobster emporium without taking the shells with me) and there are pretty good "enhancers" available in our local markets. Thanks vinorama for mentioning Colatura di Alici. I will look into that. Likewise jen, i will look into STAR bouillon cubes; have never seen them in our stores.

          Maureen, when I file my post-trip report you will again see your valued influence. Thanks for alerting me to Tonno di Carloforte. News to me. Gotta have some. Thanks again for the mention of lentils. Here, we can get dried beans, but a limited selection. The Italian selection is limited to cannelini. All responders have raised my courage on packing some olive oil, Do you have a recommendation for a canned-extra vergin olive oil good for general purpose cooking (particularly one appropriate for seafoods)?

          Thanks again to all for their guidance. Be certain that it is highly valued.

          Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

          1. re: sernoff

            Great, sernoff! One more rec: if you are going to be around testaccio on saturday, do go to the farmers market (on the riverside, by the ponte testaccio), attention, i do not mean the regular market of testaccio. There is lovely local dop and non olive oil in tins that you can taste before buying and many other food stuffs interesting for someone like you.

        2. Good list sernoff! If you can find any chocolates or chocolate sauce made by Guido Gobino, definitely get some.

          You are correct that we can get most of the good pasta here in the states, but I always keep my eye out for shapes that I cannot get here in Portland (i.e. the round stamped disks from near Genoa) or fun italian themed pasta to give as gifts upon our return.

          My favorite spice mix to bring back isn't really a spice mix, but more of a salt mix, made by Dario Cecchini in Panzano. Roscioli might have it. If they do, definitely pick some up.

          We have brought back some lovely honeys from Tuscany.

          Have a great trip!

          Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

          1. We brought back a lot of breakables from Rome (colatura, olive oil, etc.) and experienced no breakage whatsoever. I brought lots of bubble wrap, extra-large ziplock bags, tape, and even used the soft-sided cooler we had brought with us. Yes, I went overboard, but I was really happy that everything made it home in one piece. I've also heard that the thick UPS and FedEx envelopes are good padded protection. Good luck!

            1 Reply
            1. re: goodeatsgal

              Thanks to CJT, vinoroma, ekc and goodeatsgal for your helpful input. Much appreciated.

            2. i appreciate this topic immensely and would like some further assistance in understanding what types of food items are not allowed in customs for return to the US? i heard hard cheeses are ok and cured pork. is this accurate?

              thank you all!

              6 Replies
              1. re: mauimimi

                For the official policy on what food one can bring into the U.S., I would got the US Custom's website and go the travel link and look for "Bring Food Into the US".

                Travelers have different experiences with customs in different entry cities, therefore, how strict custom officers enforce the regulation can differ. There have been several earlier posts on food and US Customs on this board and also in the France board. I would do a search them for further reading.

                1. re: PBSF

                  The official statement (which you kindly reference) is not so helpful since it makes an extremely general statement. However, one of the FAQs on the site does have far more extensive and useful information, pasted below (apologies, long).

                  You may be able to bring in food such as fruits, meats or other agricultural products depending on the region or country from which you are traveling. Restrictions are placed on these products to protect community health, preserve the environment and prevent the introduction of devastating diseases to domestic plants and animals.

                  Failure to declare food products can result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties.

                  The following are generally admissible:

                  -Condiments such as oil, vinegar, mustard, catsup, pickles, syrup, honey without honey combs, jelly and jam

                  -Foodstuffs such as bakery items, candy, and chocolate

                  -Solid cheese (hard and soft), butter, butter oil, and cultured milk products such as yogurt and sour cream are not restricted. Cheese in liquid (such as cottage cheese or ricotta cheese) and cheese that -pours like heavy cream are not admissible from countries affected by FMD. Cheese containing meat is not admissible depending on the country of origin.

                  -Canned goods and goods in vacuum packed jars (other than those containing meat or poultry products) for your personal use

                  -Fish or fish products for your personal use

                  -Powder drinks sealed in original containers with ingredients listed in English. However, admissibility is still under the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agricultural Specialist.

                  -Bakery items, candy, chocolate, and dry mixes containing dairy and egg ingredients [such as baking mixes, cocoa mixes, drink mixes, instant cake mixes, instant pudding mixes, liquid drink mixes containing reconstituted dry milk or dry milk products (including those that contain sugar), potato flakes, and infant formula] commercially labeled and presented in final finished packaging are generally admissible.

                  Fruits and Vegetables:

                  Travelers may check the general admissibility of fruits and vegetables by consulting APHIS's FAVIR database at Simply select the type of fruit or vegetable in the "Approved Name:", and then select the country of origin in the "Country/Region:" field. You will receive one of the following results:

                  · 0 entries found means the fruit or vegetable is NOT allowed into the United States

                  · # entry(ies) found [followed by the name of the commodity and the name of the country] click on "CIR".

                  o If the import requirements indicate: 1 Subject to Inspection: This commodity is subject to inspection at the port of entry and all general requirements of 7 CFR 319.56-3. The fruit or vegetable is allowed into the United States pending Inspection.

                  o If the import requirements indicate: Condition of entry treatment then the fruit or vegetable is NOT allowed into the United States in passenger baggage.

                  Every fruit or vegetable must be declared to a CBP Agriculture Specialist or CBP Officer and must be presented for inspection - regardless of its admissibility status.

                  Note: See FDA Web site Food products imported from Japan and radiation safety.

                  Animal Products and Animal By-Products:

                  Meat, milk, egg, poultry, and their products, including products made with these materials, such as dried soup mix or bouillon, are either prohibited or restricted from entering the United States, depending on the types of animal diseases which occur in the country of origin. Fresh (chilled or frozen), dried, cured, and fully cooked meat is generally prohibited from most countries. Canned meat is allowed entry, except beef, veal, lamb, mutton, venison, elk, bison, etc., from countries affected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

                  Products containing raw egg ingredients are prohibited from most regions.

                  Pork and pork products are not admissible from Mexico, except for cooked pork in small amounts for a meal.

                  Effective January 14, 2010, cooked pork skins (also known as pork rind) entering as commercial cargo or in passenger baggage from regions affected with foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), swine vesicular disease (SVD), African swine fever (ASF), or classical swine fever (CSF) must be accompanied by an original certificate issued by an official of the National Government of the region of origin.

                  1. re: trueblu

                    The short version of all that as affects travelers from Italy to the US is:

                    - vacuum-packed aged cheese are OK (pecorino romano, parmigiano-reggiano, and the like)
                    - mozzarella, ricotta, etc., no
                    - no meats at all
                    - no fresh produce at all
                    - olive oil is fine
                    - jams and things in jars, except meat, are fine
                    - I regularly carry canned tuna and anchovies and dried lentils in the belief that they too are permitted.

                    I have brought in fresh truffles, but it was too stressful (nothing happened). If you check off that you are carrying food on your form, they will send you over to the Dept of Agriculture guy, who will dismiss you quickly if you say all you have is a can of olive oil and a pound of parmigiano, to the point that I don't even check the food box any more (but I list the products on the back of the form). Occasionally I see the cute little DoA beagle in his adorable little uniform working the baggage claim (my experience is largely JFK). One time I had peperoncino in my hand luggage and sweat bullets watching the dog till my suitcase came down the track and I could escape. But he was only interested in fresh fruit and veg. (I am not cut out for smuggling.)

                    1. re: mbfant

                      Your description sounds awfully familiar: I too am not a smuggler born. Have given up trying to sneak things in after having to declare a banana on one trip (damn you dog!) which I'd forgotten to eat from my hand baggage (in the end, I declared the banana skin due to the wait!).

                      It's all too stressful for me to try and get in contraband. But many and most of my friends do just fine.


                      1. re: mbfant

                        But pack the jars . . . they can be confiscated from carry-ons.

                        1. re: mbfant

                          Last time I entered the US from Italy, the customs people told me the rules on dairy products had been changed to allow in fresh milk cheeses (at least at that time), so it's likely worthwhile to check the website for updates near to the time of travel.