Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Buon Natale (e Felice Anno Nuovo)!


This has been quite a year! Like all of you, we were grounded in 2020 and, for the first time in over a decade, were not able to visit our beloved Bel Paese. The freeze on travel affected our business, of course, but it also temporarily robbed us of one of our greatest joys and forced us to look for other ways to channel our passion for Italy and all things Italian. As we settle in for a quiet holiday at home, we are celebrating the many things this year has given us rather than focusing on what it has taken away.

Christmas 2020 - Assisi

We are happy to report that we are in good health, as are our families, and we continue to dream about trips to come. If anything, 2020 has reminded us that the time we have together is precious so we shouldn’t put off that ski holiday, sister getaway, or even gastro blowout with a dear friend. As soon as it’s wheels up, we’ll be spending quality travel time with the people who are important to us.

Christmas 2020 - Assisi

Though we’ve missed catching up with our Italy guides in person this year, their dedication to sharing this country’s unique culture and history hasn’t waned and we were thrilled to be able to travel virtually to cities like Rome, Florence, Venice, and even ancient Pompeii with them this past fall. Many of you wrote us to share your fond memories of tours taken over the years with these same guides, which was such a pleasure to hear!

Christmas 2020 - Assisi

Rapidly depleting Italian pantry staples inspired us to launch Cantina Direct, our online gourmet shop for delicacies like extra-virgin olive oil from Casa Gola, food boxes from Florence, and - coming soon - the best Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Orders poured in over the first few weeks after our launch, and the opportunity to connect traditional local producers with foodies across the Atlantic was deeply rewarding.

Christmas 2020 - Assisi

Though 2020 was a year of uncertainty and the next few months pose new challenges, we feel fortunate that our far-flung network of friends and family, clients, guides, and colleagues made our world seem much less small during these hard COVID times. Though we hope to be able reconnect next year, we’d like to take a moment to send our warmest wishes to you and your loved ones for a safe and happy 2021!


CIU Travel | Concierge in Umbria | Contact Us

Wendy Perrin WOW List
2020 Wendy Perrin WOW ListTrusted Travel Expert for Italy and Switzerland

Condé Nast Traveler Magazine
Top Travel Specialist for Italy since 2006

Traditional Tuscan Sweets from Cookies to Cakes

Generally speaking, the most famous and beloved traditional Italian pastries and desserts (we’re not talking about tiramisù, a relative newcomer that exploded onto the scene in the 1980s after its debut at Le Beccherie restaurant in Treviso) hail from the southern and northern reaches of what is now modern Italy.

In the south, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies brought the royal house of Bourbon from Spain in the 18th century, and, with it, a predilection for rich, ricotta- and custard-based dishes like cassata, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and pastiera - all elevated by the exotic spices, candied fruit, or marzipan introduced to Italy’s southern ports via centuries of Mediterranean trade. In the north, the Turin-based Savoy dynasty brought French-influenced desserts across the Alps, and with it rare or expensive ingredients like chocolate, eggs, and cream that form the base of favorites like bonèt, panna cotta, and zabaione.

Featured in Collezione Maxi Gusto
DolceForte Gift Boxes are Available from CantinaDirect.com

And central Italy? While northern and southern cuisines still carry strong inflections from their royal history, Tuscany is instead known for its “cucina povera”, or rustic rural fare. Sure, the Medicis would occasionally import a French chef to supervise their palace kitchens, but the most prominent Tuscan dishes from ribollita to lampredotto are the product of frugal farmwives making use of leftovers and offal to feed large families on a tight budget. Many Tuscan sweets also echo the region’s agricultural history, eschewing ingredients that were once hard to come by for modest farming families (refined sugar or flour, chocolate, spices) for ready replacements like honey, chestnut flour, homemade jams, and grapes or raisins - the base of classics like crostata, castagnaccio, and schiacciata con l’uva.

That isn’t to say that Tuscan sweets should take a back seat to their northern or southern neighbors. In fact, where Piemontese and Neapolitan desserts are often dairy- or egg-based and don’t travel well, Tuscan sweets lean towards baked cookies and cakes that can easily be shipped across the world and sampled fresh even if you can’t make it to Tuscany.

If you want to add a touch of central Italy to your holiday table, here are some of the cookies and cakes featured in our Florentine food boxes...perfect for yourself or as a gift to the Italy-loving gourmand on your list!
Read More…

Meet the Producers: Luciana from Casa Gola Olive Oil

Our first shipment of Casa Gola’s extra-virgin olive oil, freshly pressed from the groves blanketing the hills of Umbria, has just arrived and we couldn’t be happier. Though 2020 has been tough for many reasons, it was a fantastic year for Italian olive oil, and the quality of the harvest is unparalleled. We weren’t able to make it to Italy this fall to help with the annual picking and pressing, but we’re thrilled that this season has brought the opportunity to share our favorite artisan olive oil with friends and clients in the US.

Casa Gola
Casa Gola Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available in the USA via CantinaDirect.com

We spent a few days this week unpacking newly delivered tins of Casa Gola oil and shipping them to customers across the US to fill our first orders, and feedback has been excellent. Janice and Jeffrey wrote to say that they love the idea that they are buying directly from the farm in Umbria and supporting the local growers, one of the main missions behind our CantinaDirect.com gourmet Italian food website. Other recipients, like Barbara, were struck by the quality, commenting on the olive oil’s spectacular flavor, perfect for pouring on anything.

CantinaDirect.com

We believe in the importance of maintaining Italy’s rich and historic network of small farms and artisan workshops that produce everything from top-notch olive oil and wine to sweet and savory delicacies like chocolates, balsamic vinegar, and truffles. The quality is unbeatable, of course, but the human stories behind the food is what truly captures our hearts and trust, making us come back year after year to stock up on the same delicacies.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct

Casa Gola is a perfect example: this olive oil estate was founded in 1997 when Luciana Cerbini and Giovanni Picuti purchased the land to restore the old farmhouse and replant and revive the surrounding olive groves. We became friends with Luciana and Giovanni over the years, as their estate is not far from our home in Umbria, and Luciana often gives cooking lessons to our clients visiting Umbria. We know first-hand the care and love Luciana puts into producing their extra-virgin olive oil and wanted to share a bit of her passion by speaking with her about Casa Gola and her cooking lessons.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct

Read on for an inside look into Umbria’s fascinating culture and cuisine, and be sure to order your extra-virgin olive oil now ...olive oil is only produced once a year in the late fall and once it’s gone you have to wait until the following year to savor its uniquely peppery flavor again! Read More…