The Epiphany

dsc05091The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th.  That historical date is rooted as the three Magi presented its’ three gifts to the baby Jesus twelve days after his birth.  The Feast of the Epiphany or “little Christmas”  is an important holiday in

Italian culture.  Aside from the religious significance, the fabled “Befana” features prominently in Italian tradition.

If one is not familiar with La Befana, the translation is a witch.  She is more or less an old woman who flies on a broomstick on the eve of January 6th delivering gifts and sweets to all the good children in Italy.   The bad children receive lumps of coal in their stockings.  According to legend, the three Magi stopped at the old woman’s house asking for directions.  The Magi invited the old woman to join them on their journey however the old woman replied she was too busy.  The old woman has since regretted it and now visits all the children of Italy once a year.

As in large festivals across Italy, La Befana has regional celebrations. The Befana is also interpreted as a symbol of discarding negative experiences of the past year and bringing in the new. For example, Veneto holds a symbolic bonfire called the “panevin.” In other northern regions, bonfires are held and glasses of mulled wine and Panettone are served. Venice holds gondola races dressed in Befana costumes. Residents in Rome and Florence display a puppet in the window. Let’s not forget Christmas markets all over Italy partake in the celebration by selling toys (giocatolli), nuts, fruits, and cheeses. However way you celebrate La Befana…we leave you with a traditional poem.
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col vestito alla “romana”
viva viva la Befana!!
Porta cenere e carboni
ai bambini cattivoni
ai bambini belli e buoni
porta chicchi e tanti doni!
[English]

The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all broken
With a dress in Roman style
Up, up with the Befana !!
She brings ashes and coal
To bad nasty children
To the nice good child
She brings candies and many gifts!

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The Beginner’s Guide to Best Italian Wines of 2017

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October is wine making season and oenophiles everywhere are celebrating. Wine can be daunting to choose depending on region, year, and reviews. There is no question that Italy is one of the biggest wine producers in the world. In 2017 alone, Italian imports grew by five percent despite early frost and rainstorms. The wine world is expanding exponentially with domestic and foreign imports from places such as South Africa, California, and New Zealand. Although wines from these areas can be quite good, we put together a list for the tried and true in Italian wines. Here is our Beginners Guide of Best Italian wines of 2017.

Lambrusco
A blend of several varietals native to Italy made in a semi sparkling form. It is actually one of the oldest blends originating in Italy. Lambrusco has a slight fizz and pairs well with a cheese and charcuterie plate.

Pecorino
A native to the Marche region, Pecorino is a dry wine with floral and fruit notes. The crisp wine, not to be confused with Pecorino cheese, has medium acidity and makes an excellent pairing with seafood, chicken,and pork.

Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo
If you’re looking for wine with great value and great taste, Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo makes our list. This hearty red wine comes from the Abruzzo and surrounding region. This wine makes a great complement with pasta and meat dishes.

Amarone della Valpolicella
It is best to save this red for a special occasion. It can be priced somewhere between $50 to $60 but very well worth it. Valpolicella is an area located just outside of Verona meaning “valley of many cellars”; a fitting name for the home of Romeo and Juliet. It considered the patriarch of the valpolicella grape and makes our list of a definite must try.

Falanghina Terredora 2016
One of Italy’s unsung wines is the Falanghina Terredora. This wine is big in the Campania region of Italy and bountiful on tables in Naples and the surrounding coasts. Full bodied with notes of pear and citrus fruits, try this
with a seafood risotto or other fish and poultry.

This harvest season, don’t be afraid to check your local retailer’s Chairman’s Selection or download apps such as Vivino and Delectable for the latest in Italian wines! In Vino Veritus!

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The Evolution of Espresso

The Evolution of Espresso

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Espresso: one of the most beloved universal symbols for coffee lovers around the world. As we celebrate International Coffee Day on September 29th, let us explore how espresso came to be.

In the early twentieth century, Luigi Bezzara, an inventor from Milan, was looking to create a “speedier” version of making coffee. He created a patent for an espresso machine to compact the coffee grounds and serve a type of “express” coffee. By 1905, Desidero Pavoni purchased the patent, and the first espresso machine went into production. The Ideale reached temperatures up to 284 ° and extracted coffee in 45 seconds. It is said the consistency is very similar to today’s modern day standards.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, espresso culture in Italy developed mainly for working class men. Bars quickly became a social setting for those looking for a quick caffeine pick me up during the working day. The term barista came about in the Italian vernacular in the late 1930’s. Barista was re-introduced in American coffee culture thanks to Starbucks. During the incoming decades, improvements were made to the Ideale machine. However the espresso machine changed the world when the Faema E61 was introduced to the market. Achille Gaggia invented the machine which essentially was able to extract the natural oils of the coffee bean which is known as crema. Ernesto Valente, the head of the Faema company, produced the machine and the coffee bar culture exploded.

Today, the espresso is as much ingrained in Italian culture as a cup itself. Locals, pedestrians, business professionals, tourists, and retirees enjoy a stroll in the piazza to their favorite coffee bar. Every topic of discussion can be overheard standing up over the bar with an espresso cup in hand. Travel to Italy and you will find a coffee bar in every corner of every street, every piazza, every city and town all over Italy. Whether you are a tourist or local, you can order a macchiato, doppia, or a regular espresso and you are served with a long spoon and glass of water. As with many other things, the Italians perfected the art of the coffee culture.

Then of course, a new love story was born of how the Italians influenced North American coffee culture in the latter part of the twentieth century. Howard Schultz, then marketing director for Starbucks Coffee Tea & Spice Co., visited Italy for a trade show and it was love at first sight. He took in the sights, sounds, and the passion of Italian coffee culture. He knew he had to bring it back to the U.S. As written in Washington Post, “I felt the unexpressed demand for romance and community,” he wrote in his book “Pour Your Heart Into It.” “The Italians had turned the drinking of coffee into a symphony, and it felt right. Starbucks was playing in the same hall, but we were playing without a string section.”

The art of coffee is enjoyed around the world and a symbol of the essence of life itself. Love, passion, and art are all combined when we share an aromatic cup of espresso with our neighbor, friend, and loved one.

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

Want to know the difference between ice cream and gelato? Find out here!

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

Source: The Sweet Deal About Gelato

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The Sweet Deal About Gelato

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Have you taken a vacation photo lately with a delicious ice cream in hand? Gelato is one of the great pleasures of taste and life. Italian gelato may be confused with imitations such as Italian ice, ice cream, or a cross breed of water ice and ice cream, which some may call “gelati.” If you have every eaten gelato in Italy or at an authentic gelateria anywhere outside of Italy, you know that imitators can never replace the true taste of gelato. What exactly is gelato? Ice cream uses heavy cream whereas gelato is made with whole milk resulting in a higher density and creamy texture.   In addition, the chemistry process of mixing, adding gas, and ratios all factor in.  It may not seem such a big difference however taste makes all the difference in the world once you sink your teeth into the sweetness.

Gelato has become serious business. Gelato masters have devoted their lives to the art of gelato and an art it is. Carpigiani Gelato University is located in Anzo D’Emilia, a short drive outside of Bologna. People from all over the world line up to hone their craft in gelato making by taking up courses. There is also a museum that offers historical origins of this sweet delicacy which is said to have originated in Mesopotamia.

Today, artisanal gelaterias offer exotic fruits and other unique flavors in season. If you happen to stop by a gelateria, the server may ask “coppa o cona?” Cup or cone? If you have a hard time choosing, take both.

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Cannolis!

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In honor of National Cannoli Day, what better way to celebrate than enjoying this delightful sweet treat?   One of the most famous references to the adored cannoli is of course in the movie The Godfather. The character Pete Clemenza infamously exclaims, “Leave the gun. Don’t forget the cannoli.”

If you are still unsure what exactly a cannoli is, well here is a brief explanation. A cannoli is a Sicilian pastry delicacy that is comprised of a fried dough outer tube shell with a sweet cream filling.   For this simple dessert, there are several variations.   Traditionally speaking, the cream consists of ricotta or marscapone cheese combined with vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and other flavors. You may have seen a few with lemon or orange shavings or candied fruit.

 

Where did the cannoli exactly originate from? Well there are a few theories that the cannoli originated in Palermo and the surrounding areas. At one time, Sicily was ruled by the Arabs , which is theorized that desserts such as cannolis, gelato, and other sweets were born during that period in time and evolved into traditional Sicilian desserts. Another theory is the cannoli was a symbol of fertility during Carnevale and the Lenten season.   Naturally this delectable pastry was brought to other parts of the Western world from Italian immigrants. There have been a few modifications however don’t be afraid to create your own traditional filling. The good thing is the cannoli can be celebrated during any time of year!

Recipe for cannoli cream

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 1 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese,strained
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (Optional)

Whip the cream in the bowl or use a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Place the cream into a small bowl and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Fold in the whipped cream and chocolate chips.

Chill the cream for at least 2 hours before filling the cannoli shells.

 

 

 

 

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Destination – Italian Wedding

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Wedding season is already here and June was voted the number one month of wedding ceremonies. Since we love all things Italian, we’re focusing on what a dream wedding inItaly is really like! Hint: much more than you dreamed of! Incredible food -check.   Incredible atmosphere-check. Incredible fashion- done and done. Here is the real secret. It’s not as difficult as you think, seriously.

Imagine! A destination wedding surrounded by gorgeous mountains or the Mediterranean sea, out in the country, in a small town church, or even a civil ceremony in one of the great Italian cities.   We have seen glamorous couples like John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and of course honorary Italian citizen George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. However, you don’t have to be a celebrity or pay the bill like one in order to host a wedding in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

Just like anywhere else you would plan a wedding, the time of year is important.   Statistically speaking, June is by far the most popular month of the year for weddings and October following a close second. For Italy in particular, the month of August is dicey as it is generally hot and most Italians take their vacations. Many stores and companies actually close down.

If you’re considering an Italian destination wedding, here are a few things you will need in advance. For U.S. citizens, you will need a valid U.S. Passport.   If you were never issued a passport, call your nearest passport office for proper guidelines.   If you have a passport, make sure it is up to date or you have ample time for renewal. Prior to your wedding ceremony, you must have your birth certificate translated into Italian and notarized with the “Apostille” stamp in accordance with The Hague Convention. This can be done with your nearest Italian Consulate office. Your best bet is to call the domestic office and make an appointment prior to your departure. If you were previously married, you will also need to have a divorce decree and/or death certificate translated and notarized also.   For non U.S. citizens, it is best to check with your country’s embassy or general consulate office.

There are innumerable locations which a manager or professional can organize the ceremony for you. Universities or former abbeys are becoming very popular venues even for Italian citizens. If you plan on marrying on hotel grounds, a concierge professional can organize all of the details for you. If you are enamored with the charm of local churches, you will need to have a civil ceremony prior. Generally speaking, two witnesses in front of the town clerk with the proper paperwork is required. This can be a bit tricky if you’re not familiar with local customs however there are professional websites that can do the work for you.   Once the legalities are in line, then it’s time for some fun!

You may have attended large feasts but no feast matches that of an Italian wedding. It is not unusual to have eight to nine courses of every imaginable seafood, pasta, and meat dish. Typically in North America, a guest is asked to choose a main dish and a second course. In Italy, they’re all included! There is no choice and no selection but it is presented after each course. You may wonder, how can one eat so much food? That is something where a little pacing will have to come into play. The best part of your Italian wedding is that local chefs prepare meals of local fare and in season. You may even get a surprise or two. Wines are plentiful and usually already factored in the overall cost.   Three types of Italian wedding cakes are Crostata di Frutta, Pan di Spagna, and Millefoglia. They can consist of anywhere from three to six layers. Yes, pizzelle, cannoli, and biscotti trays are bountiful. That’s if you have enough room in your tummy. So time to think about how you can make that dream wedding into a reality. The land of la dolce vita will have you exclaiming “now that’s amore!”

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