Postcards from Italy

Gourmet Food Boxes: A Traditional Italian Gift

Come December, shops across Italy from tiny corner grocers to huge supermarket chains begin displaying sumptuous “cesti natalizi” (Christmas baskets) of every shape and size. In this food-centric country, it comes as no surprise that one of the popular and beloved holiday gifts is these decorative baskets or boxes stuffed with holiday goodies like wine, chocolates, panettone, and even lentils and zampone...a traditional New Year’s Eve dish.

From the most basic packages pairing a bottle of spumante with a small panettone to elaborate cellophane-wrapped confections bursting with dozens of sweet and savory treats, these gourmet gifts are exchanged between close friends and family as well as between casual acquaintances and colleagues with equal enthusiasm, and the contents enjoyed for weeks or months after the holidays.

Collezione Buon Gusto
DolceForte Gift Boxes are Available from

When we were deciding what to feature on our new CantinaDirect website - dedicated to authentic Italian food that can be ordered directly for home delivery in the US - we knew we wanted to include these quintessentially Italian gourmet food boxes and reached out to Elena Carradori, a long-time friend and source for sweet and savory gourmet delicacies in Italy. Her Florentine shop, Dolceforte, is our go-to for quality chocolates, cookies, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Tuscan artisanal pasta, and other delights selected from local, sustainable, and traditional producers.

Truffle Products - Collezione Maxi Gusto

Our first Florentine food boxes have already arrived in the US and customers are very pleased.
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Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Ten Facts about Italy’s Liquid Gold

In a country known for its unparalleled food, Italy’s extra-virgin olive oil stands apart. One of its most important gourmet exports and a staple of Italian cuisine from north to south, the oil extracted from the fruit of the Olea Europea, or European olive tree, has been gracing tables in Italy for three millennia. The ancient Greeks imported the tree around 1,000 BC and since then Italians have used olive oil for dressing, cooking, and preserving food - as well as in medicinal and beauty treatments.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct (Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The popularity of Italian olive oil has spread across the globe and today this rich oil, beloved for its unique flavor and health benefits on both sides of the ocean, is known as Italy’s “liquid gold”. Unfortunately, high demand has also been its downfall as cheap imposters of dubious quality are now commonplace on supermarket shelves. Today, many oils marketed as “extra-virgin Italian olive oil” are made from olives harvested outside of Italy, extracted with harsh chemical methods, or created in a lab with a mix of Italian and lower quality oils.

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

How do you know you’re getting the highest quality oil? The best way is to purchase your oil from a trustworthy source, ideally directly from the producer. You can also brush up on your olive oil knowledge to help you suss out an authentic and high-quality Italian oil from cheap substitutes.

Here are the most important facts about Italy’s extra-virgin olive oil to guide you to real “liquid gold”...
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Cantina Direct: Italian Olive Oil and Other Delicacies Delivered to Your Door

This year has been a difficult one for so many reasons, but for lovers of travel like us - and like all of you - being grounded for the better part of 2020 has been one of the biggest challenges. We said goodbye to our beloved second home in Italy last December, never imagining that we wouldn’t be able to return for over a year.

There are many things we miss about Italy, but the fact that we’ve been gone for such a long stretch really hit home recently when our precious pantry provisions - those stashes of aged Parmigiano Reggiano, extra-virgin olive oil, impossible-to-find local wines, artisan pasta, and other delicacies that we routinely bring back in our overstuffed suitcases - began to run low. Though it is getting easier to find Italian specialty foods state-side, nothing beats the quality of what you can get on the ground in Italy.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in our quest to restock our own stores we realized that making these same excellent products that we love available to fellow gourmands would be a perfectly-paired side business to CIUTravel. We have long been ardent supporters of small-scale local producers in Italy, and many of our clients have visited our favorite foodie meccas from Umbrian olive farms to Piedmontese truffle woods. Today, you can savor many of these same quality products from home via Cantina Direct.

Introducing Cantina Direct

cantina direct

Come visit our new CantinaDirect website to order a variety of Italian goodies shipped directly from the supplier or local independent gourmet shop. We will be expanding our inventory over the next few weeks, but you can order a number of carefully selected items already:

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

We are missing olive picking season this year, but are looking forward to enjoying the peppery flavor or freshly-pressed olive oil from our old friends and suppliers Luciana and Giovanni from Casa Gola, hidden in the Umbrian hills. You can only get fresh olive oil during the final few months of the year; we buy several 5-liter cans to stock our pantry, transferring the oil to smaller bottles for kitchen use and to give as gifts. Over the last few years, we have actually been fulfilling orders for our local friends and neighbors in the States, and due to the pandemic restrictions with everyone cooking so much more at home, many of them have doubled and even tripled their order!

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Casa Gola extra-virgin oil is made from moraiolo, leccino and frantoio olives - three heirloom varieties common in Umbria -and the fresh oil is bright green with a golden tint. The scent of this vibrant oil combines notes of artichoke, fruit, and herbs and the flavor is slightly bitter with a pleasant peppery finish. We use this smooth, yet decisive, oil to dress meat, fish, vegetables, or to simply drizzle over a thick slice of Italian bread for a rustic bruschetta.


You can order a 5-liter can here.

Gourmet Italian Food Boxes

When clients come back from Italy, one of the most common questions they ask us is where they can find pasta, wine, olive oil, and other products on par with what they had tasted while traveling. Unfortunately, many imported products that are touted as authentic are actually low quality, commercial-grade imitations and it’s not always easy to find the real deal on this side of the Atlantic.

E6A658B3-D26C-4D17-BE71-D7411CE2D9E9_1_105_c(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

One of our favorite gourmet shops in Italy is Dolceforte in Florence, where we regularly stop to stock up on some of our favorite Italian delicacies. We’ve partnered with the delightful Elena from Dolceforte to put together a selection of gourmet gift boxes brimming with delicious delights like artisan chocolates and cookies, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Tuscan pasta, and other specialty items sourced from local eco-friendly producers who are keeping the traditional cuisine of Italy alive.

C686387F-02A4-4091-8860-07F6C175C6B2_1_105_c (Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

There are a variety of boxes to choose from and all are packaged in a Dolceforte box, handmade in Florence using paper from the Tassotti di Bassano printing house. Gourmet gift boxes are a beloved holiday tradition in Italy, when family and friends exchange overflowing baskets of indulgent seasonal treats.

B4EDE0F0-E531-4AE1-A452-1A45BC6E42D8_1_105_c(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Browse our Florentine gift boxes here.

We’ll be adding more Italian pantry provisions regularly over the next few weeks and months, so be sure to check back regularly to browse some of our favorite delicacies from the Bel Paese. Buon appetito!

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

Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Venice with Caterina

Venice is one of the most popular and extraordinary destinations in Italy, and among our favorite cities in the world. Like most travelers, we’ve had to forgo a trip to Venice this year - along with the rest of Italy - due to travel restrictions, and we have particularly missed exploring the tiny lanes and canals of La Serenissima in this year of staycationing and plotting future trips.

We couldn’t end our popular “Meet Our Guides” series of blog posts without dropping in on the Floating City and getting some background and insider intel from one of our top Venice guides, Caterina Nardin. Like all of our guides, Caterina passed the rigorous exam to become a licensed guide in Italy and now spends her days sharing the highlights and hidden gems of Venice with clients from across the globe.

Caterina - Venice

If you’re just discovering our “Meet Our Guides” series now, be sure to go back for more guide interviews and insights into cities like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, Tuscany with Roberta, and Sicily with Italo. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!

But first, take a virtual trip to Venice with us this week...
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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Sicily with Italo

This year has perhaps been the longest stretch of time we’ve spent away from Italy since we first fell in love with the Bel Paese decades ago. We miss the food and wine of course, as well as the dazzling views, world-class culture, and slower “la dolce vita” pace of life. What we miss most, however, are the people, including old friends and neighbors, trusted shopkeepers and restaurant owners, and our network of outstanding local guides in cities and rural villages across the country.

To feel a bit closer to Italy, we began reaching out to our favorite guides last month and sharing short interviews on our blog about their journeys to becoming licensed guides in Italy (a famously difficult profession to break into), the highlights and downsides of their cities or areas, and insights into the top things to see and taste. These conversations have uncovered delightful surprises to seek out on our next trip and moving memories of past tours - some with our own clients!

If you haven’t been following our “Meet Our Guides” series, take some time to delve in and visit destinations like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, and Tuscany with Roberta. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!

Italo - Sicily Guide

This week we continue our series by heading across the Strait of Messina to the island of Sicily for an interview with Italo Giordano, one of our favorite Sicilian guides. Specialized in archaeology, Italo is our go-to local expert for unpacking the millennia of history behind many of Sicily’s most fascinating ancient sites. Here’s what he had to say about his career and island:

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