RELAX LIKE AN ITALIAN

The Ultimate Gift Guide for the Italophile in your Life

Ah, the holidays.

As the end of the year and the festive season approaches, December is the perfect time to gather around the people that are dear to us.  If one of those people in your life loves Italy, well, we have the perfect tips on how to surprise them with a small gift from the bel paese.

1. Moleskine:

The choice of Hemingway (an Italy-lover himself), these small notebooks are now manufactured by a publishing house in Milan. High quality, ageless design and lightweight, these books are perfecting for jotting down to do lists, daydreams and trip itineraries.

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via Moleskine  

2. Moka Pot

A great Italian coffee does not require a plane ticket to Rome, or even a fancy espresso maker. All you need are some good beans, a few instructions and a classic stovetop coffee pot that is found in every Italian home. The most trusted is Bialetti, and this small gift can deliver great espresso for years to come.

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via Natalie Rae

3. Passport holder:

What better way to get excited for future travels than a beautiful passport holder? The dual purpose holders can protect documents while pretty-ing up a necessary piece of identification. There are hundreds of designs out there for any personality, but our favorites are timeless and made of Italian leather, of course.

Passport holder

via Gigi New York

4. Classic stemware:

Add a touch of sophistication to annual gift giving with wine glasses that can be used and treasured for years to come. For a made in Italy touch, check out the glasses from Luigi Bormioli, which offers stemware that will enhance the full flavors of your Italian wine.

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via Luigi Bormioli

5. Biscotti cookbook:

With so many occasions calling for a special treat in the coming weeks, biscotti recipes straight from Rome can come in handy. This lovely little cookbook shares the history of Italian cookies, with well-tested recipes that can be recreated in any kitchen.  These biscotti go well with everything from morning coffee to nightcaps.

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via Amazon.com

6. Lemon zester:

If it is already getting cold outside, simply imagine summer on the Amalfi Coast, with vibrant blue waters and hills covered in trees weighed down by citrus flowers. You can bring the taste of Amalfi anywhere with a simple lemon zester. Perfect for cakes, cookies, and even pasta, a bit of zest adds a new brightness to the winter holidays.

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via Amazon.com

7. Vintage map of Venice:

There are always new designers, artists and creative foodies innovating in Italy, but some things never change. The perfect example? Venice. This unique city is so hemmed in by canals that the streets have not changed in hundreds of years. A vintage map can be an inspiring piece of home décor, but it can double as a nearly usable map on your next trip!

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via BlueMonaclePrints

8. Taralli:

What goes perfectly with any glass of wine? Taralli. These simple snacks are served across Italy to tide you over before dinner.  They make an authentic and delicious hostess gift, and will keep crowds happy while you open another bottle of wine and put the finishes touches on your holiday feast.

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via Amazon.com

Happy Holidays!

 

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


Ten Days of Chocolate

Imagine walking around a city’s downtown and being surrounded by chocolate. For ten days every October such a dream becomes true in Perugia, Italy, thanks to Eurochocolate, a festival that is all about chocolate.

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This year’s edition of Eurochocolate started on Friday, October 16 and will run until Sunday, October 25.

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Eurochocolate 2025 has mustache as theme, so visitors can admire an enormous chocolate mustache sculpture, explore an exhibit dedicated to all things mustache, buy mustache-shaped chocolates or mustache-themed gadgets. Entrance to Eurochocolate and its activities is free.

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The festival takes place in the beautiful downtown of Perugia, including Piazza IV Novembre, dominated by the iconic Fontana Maggiore, Corso Vannucci, the city’s main thoroughfare, and the Rocca Paolina.

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The latter is my favorite part to visit: besides panels describing the phases of chocolate production, from bean to bar, there is a space devoted to showcasing cacao-producing countries, one for the chocolate boutique and, to get some respite from chocolate, one dedicated to Umbrian products, like the famous lenticchia di Castelluccio, various cheeses and cured meats.

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The festival’s program is always packed with activities, from chocolate sculpting to chocolate tasting. To get a good sense of the variety of chocolate and chocolates available takes some stamina, considering the large number of companies offering their products in the many stands.

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Stores in an around downtown go with the flow of chocolate and offer (Euro)chocolate-inspired products.

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Perugia is a beautiful city, worth visiting every time of the year for its rich history, precious art and old-world elegance. Eurochocolate is one more reason—a sweet one— to do so.

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With a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.


The Beginner’s Guide to Montalcino

When it comes to exploring in Italy, Tuscany ranks among the top destination on every traveller’s list.  Florence, for example, is consistently voted as the top city in the world.

As gorgeous as Florence is, the real beauty of Tuscany is in the hilltop villages and rolling vineyards, and olive groves that blanket the famous region.  Seeking out the back roads and undiscovered towns is an Italo-philes dream come true.

One Tuscan destination that cannot be missed is the village of Montalcino in the famed Val d’Orcia.  Home of the Il Poggione Winery where Mazzoni Wines are made, this historic region is well known for making the most highly praised Brunellos in the world. To make the most of any trip, or to imagine one from home, follow our guide to the hilltop town.

The Il Poggione Winery in Montalcino

The Il Poggione Winery in Montalcino

What to see:

Fortress of Montalcino:

Tuscan towns tended to be built on hills for defense, with the height serving to deter invading armies, or at least offer a better vantage point to observe invaders from. The village of Montalcino was also a walled city for further protection and the fortress was built into the city walls in 1361 at the highest point.

Chiesa di Sant’Agostino:

Follow the street extending from the fortress to arrive at the 13th century church of St. Augustine.  A building that formerly served as a convent next to the church is now a museum which houses the most famous artwork of Montalcino- a beautiful sculpture of the Madonna by an anonymous artist.

Historic center:

With small winding alleyways, cobbled streets and stone houses, the historic center of Montalcino requires no itinerary. Explore the different corners, old abbeys and characteristic Tuscan feel.

What to eat:

Montalcino is famous for its red wine, so order a glass and select a meal that naturally goes well with the full bodied wine.  In Montalcino this could be pasta with a ragu made with wild boar (none as cinghiale), roasted pork stuffed with herbs, or ribollita – a hearty soup made with vegetables, beans and bread to thicken.  Finally, in addition to wine, Montalcino is famous around Italy for its honey.

What to pack:

The easiest way to get around Montalcino once you arrive is on foot, so cute but sturdy walking shoes are in order. Spring and Fall call for a light jacket, whereas summer temperatures can reach the high 80s. Winter brings rain and some wind, and while it usually stays well above freezing, a winter coat will keep you warm while exploring town.

How to get there:

Montalcino is located in the province of Siena, but is also close to Florence and Pisa.   The easiest way to arrive is to take the train from any of these three cities, as the regional line runs several times a day. Schedules are available on TrenItalia. Buses from Siena are also an option, and the closest main motorway is the A1 to the SS478 for those arriving by car.

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_nNatalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


One Drink and Four Foods I Look Forward to Consuming in Italy

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Looking up at the Etruscan Arch in Perugia 

What does this Italian expatriate look forward to eating and drinking when she goes back to her country of origin? I grew up in Perugia and that is the city I usually visit first.

As soon as possible after my arrival, I go to a coffee shop and ask for un cappuccino. Two words, and I get what I had been wishing for during the long hours on the plane: an espresso mellowed by milk, topped with a layer of creamy foam, served in its own cup placed on a matching saucer, with a small spoon resting on the saucer.

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In the days that follow, I use my cappuccino break as my daily writing time. One of the places where I like to sit down with my notebook is You Grifo in downtown Perugia, where cappuccino is served with a side of fresh whipped cream (panna montata).

Next stop is the grocery store, il supermercato, where I go to the charcuterie and cheese counter to get prosciutto crudo, mozzarella di bufala and ricotta. Where the various types of prosciutto are displayed, I can usually find prosciutto di San Daniele (PDO), prosciutto di Parma (PDO) and prosciutto di Norcia (PGI), the latter produced in Umbria, the region of which Perugia is the capital.

Besides prosciutto e melone (with cantaloupe), a classic summer dish in Italy, when melons are plentiful and flavorful, the pairing with fresh fichi (figs) is also quite nice. My favorite way of eating prosciutto is with torta al testo, a traditional flatbread from Perugia. My husband prefers to drape slices of prosciutto on crispbread.

A bite of fresh mozzarella is like a dive into a cool pool on a hot day: deeply refreshing. When the mozzarella is made with buffalo milk, the experience is even more pleasant. A plate of sliced milky, fresh mozzarella and salty, aged prosciutto offers a perfect balance of opposites.

The word ricotta comes from the Latin recoctus, meaning cooked again. The name describes the process whereby ricotta has been traditionally made in Italy for centuries, by cooking again the whey (siero di latte) left over from making certain types of cheese.

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Ricotta can be purchased packaged in the refrigerated dairy section, but I prefer to get some of that sold in bulk. I choose ricotta di mucca (cow) or ricotta di pecora (sheep), depending on what I am planning to do with it, for example, dressing pasta. My favorite way of consuming ricotta is slightly sweetened, spoonful by spoonful. I regularly make cheese at home in California, and make ricotta with the resulting whey. It is quite good, yet not as delicious as the one I buy in Italy.

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I then go to the biscotti aisle. Biscotto is a word of Latin origin that means twice-baked: the dough is baked, cut into slices and baked again. From describing a cooking procedure, the word biscotto came to indicate a baked product, crunchy and fairly dry in texture. Nowadays, biscotti are not usually twice-baked (some of them are, like biscotti di Prato). In Italy, biscotti dipped in caffelatte are a breakfast staple (they have their own entry in the Italian food pyramid http://www.piramidealimentare.it/) and in grocery stores you can find a wide array of biscotti: frollini, novellini, petit, oswego (or osvego), etc.

When I moved to California, I did not find in the local stores any of the biscotti I was used to eating. On the other hand, I found plenty of ‘biscotti,’ that is, variations on the theme of a twice-baked product that up until then I had called cantucci. While I am able to find some of my favorite biscotti in the U.S., in particular my childhood favorites made by Gentilini, I like to eat a variety of them when I am in Italy.

But “What about pizza?,” some of you may say, “What about gelato?” Space limitations prevent me from listing all the foods I am looking forward to eating during my visit. Let me know in the comments what your shortlist is. In the meantime, as a preview, I will tell you that I am also planning to taste some chocolate: I will write about this in my next post. Stay tuned!

6a00d835508b1869e201a511871f44970c-150wiWith a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.


How to Make A Perfect Cup of Italian Coffee

There are many rules about living in Italy. For example, it is unlucky to make a toast with water- only wine will do!

Furthermore, you should never trim your toenails or fingernails on a Thursday, do anything associated with the number 17, or go for a swim without waiting 3 hours after eating. 3 hours!

But when it comes to coffee, the only rule is that it should be enjoyed often. (Also, that it should be called simply “caffé” not “espresso”).

Making Italian coffee at home does not require an expensive espresso machine.  You can make fantastic Italian coffee on a stovetop in these easy steps.  All you will need is water, finely ground coffee, and a moka pot- a staple in all Italian kitchens!

  1. Unscrew the top chamber from the bottom, and remove the basket.DSCF0863
  2. Fill the bottom chamber with water up to the faint line, or about 1 inch below the top.DSCF0864
  3. Place the basket back into the bottom chamber and fill with finely ground coffee. Tap lightly to smooth, but do not pack the coffee.DSCF0870
  4. Screw the top chamber on and place over low heat.DSCF0862DSCF0873
  5. The moka pot works via steam, and you can listen for the coffee to begin to brew and spurt lightly into the top chamber. Turn off the heat when the coffee stops, but allow the pot to sit for a moment for the sought after ‘crema.’DSCF0874
  6. Pour and enjoy!DSCF0876

If you have a new moka pot, brew as above but throw away the first batch to break the pot in.

Once you have made Italian coffee at home, you can enjoy a hot caffé, or turn it into any kind of Italian coffee you like, from breakfast to dessert!

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_nNatalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


Relax Like an Italian: The Art of the Passeggiata

In most Italian towns and neighborhoods around 6PM, there is a natural gravitation towards the piazza, or town square. Summoned by an invisible force, well-dressed couples and families slowly amble towards park benches and stop to greet friends and neighbors.

The daily passeggiata is a tradition that is hard to resist and exerts its pull on people of all ages.  From the verb passeggiare, “to stroll,” a passeggiata is a “little walk” – less workout and more a chance to socialize after a day’s work.

Rather than heading home to shrug into sweatpants, or strapping on running shoes for jog before dinner, the goal is to dress to impress. The need to fare la bella figura, or make a good impression, means that a well-executed passeggiata is a true art form.

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Originally, the evening stroll was a time for marriageable young ladies to catch the eye of potential suitor. Now, the passeggiata fills a range of other social needs- from nonnas (grandmothers) catching up on gossip, to a cheap and pressure-free first date idea.

The walk can end with a small glass of wine at a local bar, or a cheeky gelato before dinner.  However, a passeggiata is not about getting anywhere in particular.  The main aim is to reconnect over a few laps around the piazza.  It allows friends and couples stroll arm-in-arm outside of the private space of the home, and nurture that true sense of community.

When traveling in Italy, if you are out at about at sunset, you will likely find yourself even unintentionally a part of the custom.  However, it is easy to recreate tradition wherever you are in a few simple steps:

  1. Take a few minutes to recover from the day. Freshen up and dress up a bit. In the winter, the moda (fashion) of choice is furs and hats, while in summer, pressed white linen should do the trick.
  2. Head for the main street or center of town.
  3. Greet everyone, and stop to share a few details about your day and your plans for the evening.
  4. Enjoy the most social time of day before heading home to a delicious meal.

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.


5 Tips for Visiting Italian Churches

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It’s no secret that Italy is home to many historic churches, both big and small. These works of art are some of the greatest architectural feats in the world, and were created by some of the most famous artists of all time. Italian cathedrals and basilicas have become a travel destination, and are frequented by tourists and locals alike.

While many churches in the United States abide by a “come as you are” policy, Italians are much more strict about how visitors conduct themselves in religious spaces.  Below, we’ve provided you with a short list of ground rules to follow should you have the opportunity to tour an Italian church.

If you’re mindful of these few easy pointers, your exploration of Italy’s rich historic landmarks will be simply stress-free and awe-inspiring. Enjoy!

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via Shutterstock

  1. Cover up. Italian churches emphasize modesty, and all visitors are required to have covered shoulders and knees. If it’s hot and you must wear a tank top and shorts, bring along a few scarves to wrap around your waist and shoulders when you enter the church. And don’t forget to pack a scarf while you’re still in the US – many street vendors surrounding the church will attempt to sell you one at a highly inflated price.
  2. Quiet down. Much like many American churches, Italian cathedrals and basilicas are a reverent place meant for contemplation, reflection, and appreciation for a sacred environment. That means you should keep your voice low, walk slowly, and turn off your cell phone.
  3. Save your selfies for the beach. Most churches have a no photography policy, so if you don’t want to get involved with any security guards, look for prohibitory signs as you enter the church. Often, this rule is to preserve the artwork inside. Of course, you can take photos of the building from outside!
  4. Eat on the street. Trust us, we know it’s not easy to put the pizza down when you’re in Italy. In respect of your surroundings, however, save the snacks for after your tour!
  5. Visit during Vespers. If you’re interested in seeing an Italian mass in action, Vespers is the way to go for tourists. It’s a quiet evening service made up mostly of repetitive songs, and has several benefits for tourists. You don’t have to wake up early for morning mass, it’s usually the shortest of the services, and the repetition and song is easiest to listen to for non-Italian speakers.

Have you visited an Italian church before? What’s your favorite? Have a tip we left out? Share in the comments below!