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Jul 23, 2013 01:10 PM

Suitcase Stuffers from Italy?

Most of the threads here on what to bring back from Italy focus on what is legally allowed to be brought into the US. However assuming there were no restrictions, what foods would you bring (keeping in mind they have to survive a 16+ hour flight with connections)?

Are there any meats that would survive? Mortadella? Any cheeses (especially something with a different taste flavor) aside from parmiggiano and pecorino?
Other things I'm thinking of include aged vinegars, capers, sundried tomatoes, porcini, Gentilini, coffee, Marsala wine, limoncello...anything else? I'd be interested in Italian 'baking' ingredients but not sure what they'd be. Good cocoas?

(For the record, we're flying to India where Italian ingredients are rare or prohibitively expensive and Customs hasn't cared much in the past about 'smuggling' in food).


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    1. re: Bkeats

      +1 without the question mark, tuna bottarga of course. Add a cooler with a big slab of mortadella and fresh porcini's, why not. Need to delay your trip as its a bit early.

      1. re: Ray2

        Had not heard of bottarga before. Will try it on my next trip and try to bring some home! I've never cooked with fresh porcini - wouldn't it be difficult to bring them fresh since they would have to be used up fast? Dried ones you can savor for months and months in the freezer (I make icecubes out of the soaking water and use them in risottos or soups later).
        Thanks bkeats and ray2!

        1. re: popquizkid

          Bottarga from mullet is readily available in the USA. Its mostly from France and has a light yellow color. Found much less frequently is Italian mullet bottarga. Its orange and quite a bit stronger, I much prefer it to the French.

          Unless you will be in Sicily you will have a very hard time finding tuna bottarga in Italy. We summer on the Italian side of Lake Lugano and a restauranteur we know cannot source it for us. I've never seen it in boutique grocers. No idea what it would cost but think white truffles with a known Piedmontese provenance.

          If you see it on a menu (not common) it will typically be shaved or ground over a bed a fresh egg pastas. If its mullet its an interesting twist with little downside if you don't like it. If its tuna, you will have been introduced to a new realm of eating. You will either love it or take one bite and be finished with it. I love the stuff. My very food adventuresome friends and wife always take a pass at even the smallest bite. It makes a Genovese stoccafisso taste mild in comparison.

          Out of season fresh porcini's have become more and more common in Italy over the past few years. Those that are out of season tend to lack strength and don't have the firm texture (almost a snap when you bite) that the in season ones have. No idea where they're from but there are many mushrooms in Europe bearing a very close resemblance to the porcini but lacking in flavor and bite. My suspicion is there are a lot of fresh non-porcini porcini's sneaking their way onto off-season Italian menus.

          Good ones are not as strong as cooking with dried porcini's. However the taste and texture of a good fresh porcini mildly sautéed and served over fresh egg pasta's or on a salad mixed with a bit of pancetta is a delight to my senses. The frozen ones I've bought in the USA are not worth using for anything. I've tried them twice so far and both times they ended up being used as filler.

          For years we always brought back dried porcini's from Europe. They were much stronger and had better texture than those we could source in the USA. However, over the past few years our Italian gourmet grocer has been getting superb dried porcini's. As a suggestion, bring back a small pack and see for yourself. It may introduce you to a new level in dried porcini's.

          Disclaimer: my wife is Swedish where you can simply drive down logging trails and find porcini's on the side of the road. We summer in Italy in a small village surrounded by forests. One day we came back with 8 kg's of porcini's. They are our friends, we both know and love them.

    2. air dried meats and aged cheeses travel well, especially when vacuum packed (even more so when whole, as in a whole salami or small cheese is better than a piece of a larger one)
      Wine and liquor, canned seafood, dried mushrooms and spices and chocolate are all on my euro-shopping lists as well

      2 Replies
      1. re: caganer

        Thanks! What are good Italian chocolates and spices? I bought Baci and some herbs. Wasn't sure what spices they are famous for which we wouldn't have in India.

        1. re: popquizkid

          I have a feeling India has the herbs and spices covered - there is a really good dried oregano from Sicily that's sold in bundles of little stems, like a bouquet, that is far better than any dried oregano I've ever tasted and rivals fresh sometimes. I think you've got everything else.
          I prefer to stick with interesting local, "artisanal" chocolate makers when I travel - at least then the product will have a connection to a time and place so when you go back to eat it you can reminisce.

      2. Not that I'd bother lugging them from Italy, but in the early sixties dad was in the Navy and usually brought braids of garlic and cans of olive oil home. Nice memories.

        1. I love the tubes of Rio tuna pate. I think there is a Rio salmon pate in a tube also. Great for dispensing on crackers. Very lightweight.

          2 Replies
          1. re: shoo bee doo

            So my Italian MIL was a little flummoxed by my request for these and said these were 'supermarket' brands. But I just tried some and they were yummax! Also so convenient as a snack. She also finds it weird I bought stuff at Ikea to take home. (We don't have Ikea in India and some of their kitchen stuff is so economical..)

            1. re: popquizkid

              Yes, just grocery store stuff, but I loved them because they were tasty and so convenient. I wish they had them in the US. I miss them.

          2. You can get a lot of good stuff in the duty free areas of the airport. Everything is packaged properly.

            2 Replies
            1. re: shoo bee doo

              I find the duty free areas quite expensive compared to going to a good supermarket beforehand. Though on the plus side I guess duty free purchases don't count towards your baggage allowance.

              1. re: popquizkid

                Also, sometimes you aren't allowed to go through customs with meat or dairy unless you buy it from the duty free shop.