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Fall in Italy is when food gets serious.

Both in terms of work load—it’s wine harvest time!—and in terms of flavors.

The richest produce that comes out of Italy, from olive oil to truffles to figs to the deep purple grapes that flavor schiacciata, makes its appearance in the fall.

So it’s little surprise that some of the most important food festivals on the Italian calendar fall at the same time.

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Image © Italian Concierge

Travel + Leisure’s announced this week that Italian Concierge has made the Travel + Leisure A-List for the fifth year in a row (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and now 2013).

Travel+Leisure had some questions for me about my experiences in Italy that I wanted to share with you here.

Over years I've led tours and worked as a travel specialist, I've logged approximately 12,000 hours in Italy planning and leading groups. In the last year alone, I've visited Rome, Florence, Venice, the Dolomites, Puglia, Emilia Romagna, Toscana, and Piemonte.

I do not consider myself a travel agent. My desire is only to see and experience everything in Italy. I could not answer one travel question about another country. My goal is to know Italy inside and out from every perspective, be it on foot, train, car, bike, skis, or boat.

The four most important milestone of my time in Italy have been:

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Now that the summer travel season is in full swing, we’ve been talking a lot about souvenirs you can bring home from Italy:

Now let’s look at those little accents you can keep around your kitchen that make all of those other special picks pop: gourmet goodies for your pantry.

Salt is so crucial to Italian cuisine, from salting pasta before it cooks to salting meat to cure it into delectable culatello and prosciutto to salting a perfect tomato to further heighten its flavor. My favorite finishing salt is the Sicilian salt from Trapani.

But you can add some Italian salted flair to your food in many forms, especially with capers. A key ingredient in many southern Italian pasta sauces, you can’t make an authentic puttanesca with them. I love the capers from Pantelleria (pick up some of their famous passito while you’re there) as well as those from Salina and Lipari.

Flavors of Earth and Sea


Whenever you get the chance, pick up some dried porcini mushrooms, one of the most earthy-tasting ingredients available. Excellent in risottos, they impart the elusive “umami” flavor. Just check the bag to make sure all your mushrooms are porcini; vendors often put a layer of porcinis on top with lesser mushrooms underneath. The caps (top portion) should be very large, four to six inches in diameter.

Another hard-to-find-at-home risotto ingredient to grab if you can is nero di sepia, or cuttlefish ink. Just keep in mind restrictions for packing liquids. But to get the essence of the sea in one small, compact, non-liquid package, look for bottarga, dried fish roe. It has quite a smell, so be careful how you pack it. Grating a touch into your pasta will transform any dish from average to that inexplicable perfection you find rampantly in Italian cuisine.

Captured Essence of Italian Sun


Tomatoes ripened on the vine, bursting with juice and a brilliant, almost blood red hue are one of the greatest joys of eating in Italy. Unfortunately, you can’t really take them home, but the next best thing, sun-dried tomatoes, concentrates that intoxicating flavor even further. My favorites are the sun-dried tomatoes from Pachino, Sicily.

And if you’re checking a bag and have a little space to spare, it’s a shame not to tuck a little (or a large) bottle of olive oil in there, packed securely with some clothes. You’ll never find such beautiful unfiltered olive oil at home without paying the equivalent of an entrée at a top-notch restaurant. The best is the EVOO from Mandranova, with medium fruit and subtle flours, made from Sicilian nocellera olives.
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Accolades

2008 - 2012 CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER ITALY SPECIALIST

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2009 - 2020 TRAVEL + LEISURE A-LIST

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