Authentic Italian products are perfect for photo-snapping foodies, sophisticated gourmands and amateur chefs alike. They’re tailor-made for sharing and enjoying together.
With the help of Grazia Solazzi (editor of Cook with Grazia) and Christina Conte (editor of Christina’s Cucina), longtime foodies and recipe extraordinaires, here’s our simple guide for choosing flawless authentic Italian gifts for any holiday occasion.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
The pinnacle of culinary decadence
“If you’re gifting an expert epicurean or a winter bride, you need something really special. The luxurious Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, labeled with a DOP red seal, fits the bill,” Grazia advises. “It’s the most refined Balsamic Vinegar of all. Affinato is 12 years or older, and Extravecchio is 25 years or older – the finest kind.” She adds that this exquisite entertaining elixir excels in both taste and style: “The beautiful bottle is designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, a famous Italian designer.”
For those savvy gifters on a budget, Grazia recommends Balsamic Vinegar labeled “invecchiato” with a blue Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) seal. “It’s three years old and has a bittersweet, slightly acetic aromatic flavour. It’s a sophisticated alternative to regular vinegar in salads and mains, and a great gift for the experimental or novice cook.”
While perfect for enhancing substantial Italian dishes, Balsamic Vinegar also makes a beautiful finishing touch for cheese and fruit. Grazia’s ultimate pro-tip? “It’s amazing on top of vanilla ice cream!”
Gourmet dried pasta
The DIY dream
Dried Italian pasta is the preference of gourmet chefs and culinary visionaries the world over. Because of its dynamic applications and rich taste, it’s the foundation of countless Italian recipes. “Don’t underestimate the wisdom of Italian pasta makers. They know what excellent pasta should taste like,” Grazia says.
So how do you choose the right one? “Pasta made with bronze die extrusion creates a more porous surface for better sauce absorption. Also, longer drying time (between 20 and 40 hours) usually gives the best result,” suggests Grazia.
When it comes to gifting dried gourmet pasta, Christina is all about the presentation. “Products that are made in Italy speak volumes about quality, but you don’t have to spend a kingly sum to create a lovely gift.” Choose a variety of pasta types – tagliatelle, linguine, penne, fregola – and arrange in a mason jar or cellophane bag decorated with an elegant gold ribbon.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The dynamic all-star
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a staple in Italian cuisine, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it makes one of the most thoughtful and gorgeous gifts, too. For pasta, meat, salads and appetizers Grazia is a major fan: “Italian EVOO is natural, healthy, pure and totally delicious.”
When it comes to buying Italian, check out our in-depth guide for details on how to choose real Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and make sure you pay special attention to the DOP designation.
“DOP Extra Virgin Olive Oil is perfect for the real foodie. Fragrant, fruity and pungent, the flavour should be reminiscent of almond, artichoke or tomato leaves, depending on the cultivar. Believe me, the wow effect is guaranteed,” Grazia advises.
The finishing touch
Parmigiano-Reggiano is everyone’s favourite Italian cheese, and Grazia is no different. “Parmigiano-Reggiano is aged at least 24 months, and 30 or 36 months-aged is the best kind,” she suggests. “It has a complex and nutty flavour, and leaves a wonderfully mellow after taste. It’s so delicious on its own, it’s the perfect gift even for someone that doesn’t cook.”
Shaved on salad, grated over pasta, or served along with honey, Prosciutto Toscano DOP, seasonal fruits and vegetables for a crowd-pleasing antipasto, there are a myriad of ways to serve this multifaceted cheese.
An artisanal Italian food basket
The foolproof favourite
Having trouble deciding on the perfect gift? Put together an individualized gift basket, filled to the brim with spectacular Italian products. “For an elegant Christmas package, prepare a basket with Parmigiano-Reggiano, a few excellent pears, a fig jam, dried fruit. If you need to upscale the gift, add Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena or a beautiful wine, like Brunello di Montalcino DOCG or Barolo DOCG,” Grazia advises.
“For years, I’ve been giving Italian-themed gift baskets filled with artisanal and authentic food and drink from Italy. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, specialty pasta, olives, Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP or Grana Padano DOP, Italian Olive Spread, biscotti and torrone,” Christina explains. She spoils a few special recipients with much more: “My brother gets a very large basket with cruets, olive boards and kitchen tools that are made in Italy. I know he looks forward to it every year.”
What are your favourite ways to gift authentic Italian products? Sound off with #MadeInItaly and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more. Keep up with Grazia and Christina for authentic Italian tips & tricks.