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Jul 8, 2013 01:28 AM

Best quality Italian supermarkets?

Hi there

We are staying on the Tuscany / Umbria border for a week, near Chiusi, and planning to do some of our own cooking.

There are a few supermarkets nearby - we will use these for basics, to supplement food from local markets.

Can anyone tell me which are the best supermarket chains in Italy for quality and variety?

We're from the UK, where there is a very clear hierarchy of supermarket quality. Basically we're looking for the Italian equivalent of Waitrose or Whole Foods.

There are a number of supermarkets nearby, including Famila, Lidl, Coop and others, but I have no idea how they compare.

Many thanks for any suggestions!

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  1. In that area of Italy you should definitely shop at Coop. I think you've even got an Iper Coop near that area.

    The Coops are very dependable and usually have a good selection of local products as well. In addition their butcher and fish counters are great.

    I've never heard of Famiglia, but Lidl is a low cost chain, mostly good for paper products, etc. I don't really trust their food items. While cheap, I'm never so sure where they are coming from.

    1. Where I live Italy, Co-op runs a very poor second in my estimation to Carrefour -- but that doesn't mean it will be true where you are staying. My advice is to check them out yourself.

      However, having lived in the UK and now Italy, and also those parts of the US where Whole Foods has created humongous food entertainment centers, you need to know that the supermarkets really are not the same kind of animal in Italy. Meaning, you would be nuts to care about entering a supermarket except for things like dish soap, cat food, Greek yoghurt. Yes, occasionally an Italian supermarket is surprisingly good in some narrow category relative to its competitors. (There is a local one that has nice Pugliese bread.) But that's a fluke, and during a week's stay, I really doubt you will be consumed by the thought that one supermarket has better paper towels than another, in more varieties. For your one week living in farm country, buy your olive oil, meats, cheeses, wines etc from local small producers as much as possible and grab the salt and pepper from wherever is easiest.

      Chiusi is reputed to have one of the best and most enjoyable weekly food markets going in Tuscany. I'm sorry I was not in Chiusi on the days it happens.

      1. I am one of those who likes to check out local food sources, and supermarkets are always interesting. But if you really want to experience the local food culture, you will go to the local shops and buy the oil, wine, breads, meat etc produced locally. The supermarkets may have a broader range of products (and may be useful for stuff like fruit juice, yogurt or coffee) but they are unlikely to have the best of the local products. Then too, there is the cannibalization of local food culture by the supermarkets and the gradual replacement of the smaller specialized venders. we have noticed it over the years in visits to the UK (in a small town we visited in Scotland for example a local fruiterer, cheese vendor and butcher all disappeared between two visits after two supermarkets opened in the area. Plastic wrapped, refrigerated cheese replaced the fresh artisanal cheeses the smaller store had brought in for its clientele, and this replacement and standardization is a trend in Italy as well -its worth enjoying the smaller scale, more local producers on their home ground while you still can.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jen kalb

          Jen's point is well taken. Finding your neighborhood cheese shop, wine shops, butcher, bakeries and so on is the beauty of living on the economy. Return customers always have a leg up.

          Having said that, supermarkets have their place. That's where we grab household essentials and beer.

          I'll take a controversial position and say that Eataly in Rome is interesting. A little overwhelming at first, but well worth a return visit after you've taken a full inventory.

          A more controversial position is that the new Testaccio Market is a disaster: stalls are repetitive; produce merely ok; bored vendors. The place has no pulse.

        2. The two best of central Italy are definitely the Coop and Emi (sometimes called Emisfero) chains.
          The Coop also has a line of high quality products regionally sourced around Italy called FiorFiore - great for pasta, coffee etc. Their organic line called ViveVerde is also pretty good.
          The Emi chain has a line called Sapori Umbri, which I haven't tried, but should be a good range of Umbrian products.
          If you can, try to buy most of your fruit/veg from the local "Fruttivendolo" (fruit/veg store) in your town, as these typically tend to be of a little higher quality than the supermarket (unless, of course, you are lucky and there is an open air market in your town.)
          As Elizabeth said, stay away from the Lidl and also Eurospin.

          1. Thanks for all the replies!

            Yes we will definitely check out local stores and markets, especially for fruit & vegetables, and ham etc - but for things like breakfast cereal and basics it's good to know about supermarkets.

            Thanks again.