New Yorkers love Italian food. Walk down any street and you are apt to find an Italian restaurant, from the neighborhood pizzeria to a trendy trattoria. Then there are the specialty shops like Agata and Valentina, Citarella’s and Grace’s Market offering imported and domestic Italian food products. Even your local Food Emporium or Gristedes displays tins of imported tomatoes, Italian cookies and a large selection of pastas straight from Italy. So why would a New Yorker buy from an online Italian food importer?
Well, if the website is Gustiamo.com mail order suddenly makes sense. This website promises “Italy’s Best Foods” and this women owned company keeps its promise. Shopping on Gustiamo’s website is like shopping in an Italian market with a wicker basket on one arm and my Italian grandmother on the other advising me on which organic preserves from Sicily or porcini mushrooms under oil from Emilia Romagna to choose.
Gustiamo was founded and is owned by (in photo above, from right) Beatrice Ughi born in Naples and Martina Rossi Kenworthy, originally from Bologna. Their small, ten year-old company, is run by these two women with a very personal hands-on approach and a passion for perfection. The company’s overview explains it best: “Gustiamo was founded by native Italians with a passion for extraordinary food. We grew up spoiled by the cooking of our mothers and grandmothers. Our taste is opinionated and uncompromising. We believe that eating well is a birthright.”
Now thanks to Beatrice and Martina, you too can share in their birthright, right in your own kitchen. “This is a business of men,” says Beatrice, but their feminine touch has worked well for them. They supply some of the top food merchants and restaurants across the country, as well as selling directly to consumers online with delivery anywhere in the U.S. You can also reach them by phone. Daniela is a person, not a recording, who will listen to your suggestions, questions and complaints.
Gustiamo’s products are hard to find, often made by hand and organic. There is a wonderful selection of rice from Piemonte and the Veneto. They offer Latini and Martelli pastas, which are artisanal and from a higher quality of wheat than commercial brands, thus the flavor of these pastas is more subtle and aromatic. Then there are the olive oils. Homer called it “liquid gold,” Gustiamo calls it the highest quality extra virgin olive oil that money can buy. Their producers use only olives from the latest harvest and they have full control over every stage of their production. You can make your selection of oils and vinegars from eight different regions of Italy. And because Gustiamo’s standards are high, they do not sell any of the trendy flavored olive oils because “we always felt that we shouldn’t compromise the excellent quality of our oils with eccentric distractions.”
I met with Beatrice Ughi over a cup of Sant’Eustachio espresso and soon understood her passion and commitment to her custumers and to the families who grow and produce her products. “These are incredible people,” she says. “They are artisans, their small farms are family-run. They are trying to survive in a world of sharks. Our producers are faithful to their products…organic eggs, stone ground flour, hand made and no chemicals. They are the heroes and we try to help them protect the land.”
By the way, that Sant’Eustachio espresso I drank with Beatrice is their biggest seller. Gustiamo flies it in from Caffe` Sant’Eustachio, in Rome, just a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona. The caffe` has been producing this signature coffee since 1938 and wood roasting it on the premises using no chemicals. Caffe` owner Roberto Ricci selects the beans himself. It is uncompromising standards of taste and quality like this that all of Gustiamo’s producers share. They produce and manufacture products in the traditional way…”come una volta.” Beatrice and Martina make frequent trips to Italy to visit their producers personally. They also get recommendations for new artisanal products from valued friends all over Italy. There is saffron from Abruzzo, sea salt form Sicily, capers from Puglia, anchovies from Campania, roe from Sardinia, Vesuvian apricot jam and Sicilian wine jellies, to list but a few.
I have a hedonistic weakness for the jars of Piennolo vine ripe tomatoes, certified organic and grown in the rich volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius. I can tell you personally that these little tomatoes will taste like an explosion of happiness in your mouth. Add a little olive oil and garlic to a skillet, sauté until golden, add the tomatoes for five minutes, toss in a few leaves of fresh basil and “eccoci qua!” You’re in Napoli! The Gustiamo website has many easy recipes straight from Italy and lots of interesting information about their products and Italy in general.
If you’re thinking Italian sweets for the holidays, then take a look under the “sweets & coffee” heading for buttery cookies like “Lingua del Gatto” (tongue of the cat) and “Brutti Ma Buoni” (ugly but good) from Lazio. There are artisanal hard nougats and chocolates made by two brothers who own a shop in Pistoia. The soft nougats come from Noto, a tiny Sicilian Baroque village in the middle of nowhere. Corrado Asensa, owner of Caffe` Sicilia, fills his soft nougats with the best pistachios to be found. And then there is the Panettone from Marchese Pasticceria flown in from Milan, so fresh “it’s as if you are in Milano,” says Beatrice, adding, “I have friends from Roma who fly to Milano for it.” This Panettone is perfectly pure, no flavors, please! Mario Batali, famous chef and restaurateur, buys it from Gustiamo for Christmas.
If you prefer a more personal shopping experience, Gustiamo also invites you to their warehouse in the Bronx. There are driving directions on their website. Tell them you are coming in advance. Have a cup of their famous coffee, meet the Gustiamo family, tour the warehouse, pick out your holiday gifts in person and take them home with you.
All of this goodness comes with a price. Gustiamo is a high-end purveyor with high-end prices to match. But if you can afford it, Gustiamo will not disappoint. Whether you order a gift crate full of products or just a couple of items, remember that these food products are meant to be savored. A splash of special olive oil or a sprinkle of exotic sea salt can bring out the subtle flavor of a dish. Every product has a story, a history and an Italian family behind it. Shopping with Gustiamo is a unique experience; it is almost like a quick trip to la bella Italia.
For more information, go to www.gustiamo.com
Jane Hope Fox lived in Florence, Italy for four years. She is a passionate Italophile who spends much of her time traveling, mostly in Italy, and writing about it. She is currently working on a book of Italian memoirs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.