Featured FOOD & WINE

Best Italian Gourmet Foods For Travelers Yearning To Be In Italy

Published on: January 2, 2022 | Last Updated on March 27, 2022
An Italian pantry

When traveling in Italy, we routinely visit markets and specialty food shops, delighting in Italian gourmet foods. If the culinary treasures we discover in different towns and regions are small, non-perishable, and tickle our taste buds, we find a way to tuck them in our suitcase to take home.

But when we aren’t able to travel (as, in a pandemic), the next best thing we can do is to stock our pantry with a supply of imported Italian specialty foods, condiments, and sweets that evoke the tastes of il Bel Paese.

With a significant number of Italian-Americans living in our county (Westchester) in New York, we are able to find many of these items in nearby specialty food stores, supermarkets, and TJ Maxx and HomeGoods. (Did you know that TJ Maxx is one of the largest purveyors of specialty foods?)

When we can’t find them locally, we resort to online sleuthing and rely on the growing number of online importers of Italian gourmet foods.

Here are some of our favorite Italian gourmet foods that have become staples on our shelves:


Some of the Best Italian Gourmet Foods 


Star Porcini Mushroom Cubes

Italian Gourmet Foods: Star Porcini Mushroom Cubes

Star Porcini Mushroom Cubes

On every trip to Italy, we stop at a supermarket to pick up several boxes of Star Porcini Mushroom Cubes. The cubes have a rich porcini flavor that makes a wonderful base for soups (vegetable or mushroom, especially), gravies, and sauces for the time you don’t have fresh ones at hand. They also enhance the flavor of risotto. The cubes come packaged in a small green and yellow box, similar to the Knorr bouillon cube boxes you find in U.S. supermarkets. Small and easy to pack (provided you don’t mind the fragrant aroma in your suitcase), they’re also convenient to use: Simply dissolve a cube in two cups of boiling water and add it to whatever recipe you’re making.

Where to find it:

When we had a hard time finding them in markets, we discovered that our local Italian specialty store uses them in their own cooking, and they were willing to sell me individual cubes. They’re also available on Amazon.


Laudemio Frescobaldi Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Laudemia (Credit: Frescobaldi)

Laudemio Frescobaldi: Green Gold from Tuscany

The name Frescobaldi is associated with fine wines. After all, these iconic winemakers began producing them some 700 years ago in central Tuscany (outside of Florence). Now the 30th generation of the same family is equally as passionate about creating one of the most coveted olive oils on the market, Laudemio Frescobaldi Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Italy is a major world producer of olive oil: The color, taste, and aroma of oils vary by region, as well as by harvesting and production methods. We quickly became addicted to the fresh but zesty, dark green Laudemio olive oil with hints of artichoke, arugula, and cut grass. It is packaged in an easy-to-drizzle glass bottle (and box) that looks so attractive that it might hold perfume—making it especially gift-worthy for food enthusiasts. We use it as a finishing oil on fish, meats, and poultry, as a condiment for salads without any vinegar.

Where to find it:

Laudemio EVOO is carried by Whole Foods and is available at specialty food shops. We buy ours online from Amazon.


Instant Polenta from Cucina & Amore

Italian Gourmet Foods: Instant Polenta from Cucina & Amore

Instant Polenta from Cucina & Amore

Founded in 2007, Cucina & Amore is an importer of Italian specialty products. One of our favorite side dishes is the company’s Instant Polenta, a staple of northern Italy. Polenta—finely ground cornmeal—can be boiled, baked, or fried. It’s the perfect comfort food when you’re short of time and tired of pasta and potatoes. The instant version takes less than 10 minutes to prepare: Simply stir it into boiled, salted water until creamy, and then top with butter and freshly grated cheese (see Parmigiano Reggiano below). We found this one closer to the real thing than other brands.

Where to find it:

We snagged a couple of one-pound boxes on the shelves of Home Goods but you have to be lucky! You can also purchase instant polenta online from Cucina & Amore.


Colavita Pesto Sauce

Italian Gourmet Foods: Colavita Pesto Sauce

Colavita Pesto Sauce

When we need to whip up a quick dinner without any fuss, pasta with pesto is a go-to favorite. Colavita Pesto Sauce is a creamy blend of basil, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, chopped cashews, and EVOO. Pairing a small amount of the sauce with cooked trofie (one of my favorite pasta shapes) or fusilli makes for a satisfying meal that evokes memories of Genoa (Liguria region), the birthplace of pesto. We keep a jar on the refrigerator door to use as a sandwich spread. Colavita has been family-owned and operated since 1938 in the small region of Molise. Best known for its EVOO, the company also produces and exports a full line of authentic Italian specialty products.

Where to find it:

Colavita pesto sauce is widely available in local markets and shops and can be purchased online from Yummy Bazaar or directly from Colavita.


Pastificio G. Di Martino Rosmarino Pastina

Rosmarino pastina

Rosmarino pastina

The term pastina doesn’t refer to one particular type of pasta; rather, it means “little pasta,” which can come in a variety of shapes. This PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) bronze-cut Gragnano pasta, Pastificio G. Di Martino Rosmarino Pastina, is the perfect size and texture for soups and broths. It makes a nice side dish topped with cheese, and can be boiled or prepared using the risottata method, the same frying pan method used to make a classic risotto. 

Where to find it:

Pastificio Di Martino, (est. 1912) recently opened the company’s first pasta shop, restaurant, and bar, La Devozione, in NYC’s Chelsea Market. On sale are some 125 shapes of pasta. I discovered the hard-to-find rosmarino pastina in the specialty food aisle at TJ Maxx.


Firelli Hot Sauce 

Italian Gourmet Foods: Firelli Hot Sauce

Firelli Hot Sauce

Firelli Hot Sauce is a product of more than one region: Produced outside of Parma (in the Emilia Romagna region), it depends on hot chili peppers from Calabria to get its kick. The hotness of this medium-spicy sauce is tempered by a tasty blend of roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and Porcini mushrooms. A few drops of this versatile zero-calorie condiment adds zing to pizza, eggs, pasta, or just about anything else, even a Bloody Mary. The colorful red and turquoise bottle reflects the flair of Italian style.

Where to find it:

Although relatively new on the market, the hot sauce is popping up in a number of local supermarkets and can be purchased online from Firelli or Amazon.


Cento Anchovy Paste

Cento Anchovy Paste

Cento Anchovy Paste

Just a little squeeze of Cento Anchovy Paste (a ground mixture of anchovies, sunflower oil, and salt) goes a long way in adding a bit of umami (savoriness) to your favorite sauce,  salad dressing, dip, or scrambled eggs. Conveniently packaged in a resealable tube, it’s easy to use and store in the refrigerator after opening. It melts into any liquid mixture adding a burst of flavor. Cento is a major importer of a wide array of Italian specialty products.

Where to find it:

Available in most markets or online from Cento and Amazon.


Artisanal Salt from Cervia

Artisanal Salt from Cervia

Artisanal Salt from Cervia

Cervia Salt is an artisanal sea salt produced using traditional methods, made in the small town from which it takes its name in the Emilia Romagna region. Known for its sweetness, purity, and absence of bitter minerality compared to other sea salts, this ingredient is used as a natural preservative in some of the region’s most iconic food products, including Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham. We use this medium-coarse salt—variously nicknamed “white gold” and “salt of the Popes”—judiciously for cooking and also for seasoning at the table.

Where to find:

This is one of the harder-to-find products that we bring home with us from the source. It is available online from Eataly and Amazon.


Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Balsamic vinegar, “black gold” from Modena or Reggio Emilia, is definitely a culinary splurge. But even when used sparingly, it enhances the flavor of almost any dish. (You can even drizzle it over ice cream.) Two specific balsamic vinegar products overseen by a consortium of balsamic producers are recognized by the European Union for their exceptional quality, adherence to traditional production methods, and defined geographic origins: the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and the top-of-the-line Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

Where to find:

Wherever you buy vinegar, whether in a specialty food store or online, be sure to read the labels and look for the letters PGI or PDO. PGI is wonderful for everyday use, we use the latter to add a sensational taste to a cooked dish (like steak). Eatiamo has an excellent primer on choosing and purchasing balsamic vinegar from Modena.


Parmigiano Reggiano PDO

Italian Gourmet Foods: Wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO (credit: Pixabay)

Wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO

Parmigiano Reggiano PDO, the most popular and well-known of Italian cheeses, is also a favorite in our household. We always have at least one chunk in the refrigerator, handy for grating over pasta or risotto, or a thousand other uses. Produced with raw cows’ milk, the cheese is semi-fat with a hard, finely granular texture. It is white or pale yellow in color with a natural pall-yellow rind. Since the Middle Ages, cheesemakers have used the same ingredients and production methods. Strict regulations restrict production to the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena; parts of Bologna in the Emilia Romagna region, and parts of Mantua in the region of Lombardy. The quality of the cheese depends on the length of its maturation; color codes help identify how long the cheese has been aged: red (over 18 months), silver (over 24 months), gold (called stravecchio, aged over 30 months) and bronze (aged over 36 months).

Where to find:

The cheese is so ubiquitous that you can find it in almost any market or specialty shop. Just make sure you don’t get a “copycat” version by checking for the mark of authenticity on the rind. Costco sells authentic Parmigiano Reggiano aged for 24 months.


DOP Fontina Cheese

Italian Gourmet Foods: DOP Fontina Cheese

DOP Fontina Cheese

This year, we fell in love with Fontina—a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that is undoubtedly the Aosta Valley’s best-known cheese product; in fact, it is one of the most recognized cheeses both within and beyond Italy’s borders. Pale yellow in color, it has a medium-sharp, nutty flavor with a thin tan or orange-brown rind and some small holes in the cheese called “eyes.” It makes a wonderful addition to a charcuterie board and we use it for many recipes that call for melted cheese, including a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Where to find it:

Like Parmigiano Reggiano, Fontina cheese wheels are also marked with a stamp from the Fontina DOP Consortium of Producers and Protection guaranteeing their authenticity and quality. Although both Parmigiano Reggiano and Fontina cheeses are available online, we usually purchase them locally from a market or cheesemonger because the cost of refrigerated shipping can be expensive.


Lavazza Oro Espresso

Lavazza Gold and one of the moka pots in our growing collection

Lavazza Gold and one of the Moka pots in our growing collection

No Italian food traditions are as strongly ingrained as those of waking up with a cup of espresso made in a Moka pot; stopping for a quick cup at a local bar on the way to work; or sipping an espresso after dinner. We’ve tried a number of brands and prefer the medium roast, Lavazza Oro, a smooth but aromatic blend of South and Central American coffee beans processed in Italy. It comes in a grind perfect for espresso and makes a rich-flavored cup of cappuccino with foamed milk. Now a global brand, Luigi Lavazza opened the first Lavazza store in Turin (Piedmonte) in 1895.

Where to find:

Buy directly from Lavazza (which offers promotions from time to time) or from ItalianFoodStore.com online.


Venchi Cremino Gold Venezuela Chocolates

Venchi Cremino

Venchi Cremino

This venerable gourmet chocolate company dates back more than 140 years to Turin (Piemonte), one of Italy’s chocolate capitals. When someone travels to Italy, they would be hard put not to pass one of the 49 shops scattered across the country. (The company also has outlets in 70 other countries around the world.) If you have a sweet tooth, as I do, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the beautifully wrapped products suitable for giving or hoarding for yourself. Having tasted a large number, my favorites are the creamy Venchi Cremino Gold Venezuela Chocolates, made with alternating layers of different intensities of Gianduja cacao blends from Venezuela.  

Where to buy:

If you’re lucky, there may be a Venchi outlet close to you; if not, the online Venchi store offers the largest variety of products.


Mulino Bianco Abbracci Cookies

Mulino Bianco Abbracci

Mulino Bianco Abbracci

Perhaps, a little plebian but absolutely delicious! Since 1974, Mulino Bianco (the White Mill) has produced cookies that are easily recognizable by their yellow baker bags that line shelves in Italian markets (and increasingly, in the U.S.). For breakfast, Italians typically choose something sweet and quick with an espresso or cappuccino, usually a fresh pastry or sweet biscuits. We have sampled many varieties of these cookies and find it hard to choose one favorite. Sometimes, what we purchase depends on what we can find. We especially like the Abbracci (“hugs” that are a blend of shortbread and cocoa) and Biaocchi (small sandwiches of hazelnut cream between two butter cookies). The bakery, an offshoot of the Barilla company famous for its pasta, is based in Ascoli Piceno in the Marche Region.

Where to find them:

The cookies are available in specialty food stores, some supermarkets, and online at Eataly or Amazon.


Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com at no additional cost to you. Additionally, several other affiliate links allow me to earn a small commission from any purchase. We would never recommend products or services that we wouldn’t want to use ourselves.


Have you tried any of these Italian gourmet foods? We’re hoping to add to the list. Do you have any suggestions for imported Italian specialty products we should try?


Also on MoreTimeToTravel:

10 Italian Food Rules To Follow To Eat Like A Local

Pasta Etiquette in Italy: What You Need to Know

The Best Italian Chocolates Online: How To Find And Buy Them


Save to Pinterest!!

Italian Gourmet Food pin


 

  • Reply
    Sharon
    January 2, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    Wonderful introductions! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Share
Tweet
Share
Pin
Flip