Italian cuisine

Exploring slow food and the future of Italian cuisine in independent commerce | food drink

Italian cuisine is not going anywhere as 2023 approaches, in fact it is only gaining momentum as one of the most popular cuisines in the world.

The Slow Food Effect
This is undoubtedly music to the ears of Slow Food, a global movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986 to promote public interest in local food cultures and traditions.

“The guiding idea is that food is a prism through which to look at the world and the most effective tool for transforming it, as it connects so many other aspects of life, culture and politics to the world. agriculture and the environment”, explains Marta Messa. , General Secretary of Slow Food. “Through our food choices, we can collectively influence how food is grown, produced and distributed, and thereby change the world.”

It is not for nothing that this now global movement – ​​it is currently active in 160 countries – started in Italy. “Italy has a particularly strong food culture: sharing meals together on a daily basis or spreading out a tablecloth as a kind of unspoken ritual before each meal are examples of how food is rooted in the Italian way of life.

“So Slow Food fits easily into the Italian way of experiencing food,” says Marta. “Italians constantly celebrate food and everything around it, and Slow Food has at its core the joy of food as a way to change the food system for the better, for everyone. food resonates in all cultures, far beyond Italy.

Slow Food is indeed part of all cultures, because all cultures are rooted in food traditions. More importantly, we all need food to live and our movement defends everyone’s right to food. As a global movement, we act together to ensure good, clean and fair food for all. We believe in uniting the joy of food with the pursuit of justice, for the right to pleasure, and policies that champion the multitudes of that minority of people who want to turn happiness and life itself into commodities.

Of course, to use John Donne’s expression, Italy is not an island – it is as impacted by environmental and social factors as the UK market – and one of the hardest hit sectors is honey.

“We are facilitated by a global trend: consumers today are more concerned about the quality of what they buy, especially when it comes to food. They look at food products with a discriminating approach, also made possible by the wide range of information now available,” says Emily Mallaby, board member of the Associazione Ambasciatori dei Mieli (AMi).

“In Italy there has always been an important beekeeping culture, favored by the generosity of our territory, both in terms of landscape diversity and variety of flowering. The bees both benefit and increase this variety,” says Emily.

“Our country can count on a real wealth in terms of quality and variety of honey. We can produce up to 40 different monofloral honeys, as well as an infinite number of wild flower honeys. This fortune is something of which we are very proud and which has always generated an important market, both national and foreign.

“In Italy, a good channel through which quality local honey enters people’s homes are the local markets. There, beekeepers sell their own products directly to consumers and have the opportunity to describe to people the terroir of their honeys.

For consumers who don’t have the pleasure of interacting face-to-face with beekeepers, AMi exists to fill the gap. “The association wants to represent an interface between the world of production and that of consumption, starting from the experience and values ​​that underlie beekeeping, to transform them into elements of knowledge and cultural growth”, explains Emily.

Fortunately, for the honey sector in Italy as well as for the country’s environment, “the number of beekeepers, especially for self-consumption, has grown steadily in recent years. The growing awareness of the importance of bees and their role as pollinators, the awareness of environmental issues, the post-pandemic desire to change their lives or simply to get closer to nature, lead to a further increase in the number of beekeepers.

Serving the consumer of tomorrow
Keeping one foot in the past while keeping an eye on the future is key to the continued success of Italian cuisine in the UK market. “The future of Italian cuisine is to dig even deeper into our regional food tradition while being able to innovate and open up to new trends,” says Matteo Ferrari, chef and co-founder of White Rabbit. “The real challenge will be to keep our roots alive while creating delicious traditional dishes that anyone/everywhere can enjoy.”

“Italian cuisine is not only associated with a delicious sensory experience, but also with tradition and provenance, which have made it famous and also give it a special quality and authenticity”, says Peri Eagleton – who has co-founded Seggiano with her husband David more than 30 years ago, — all attributes that must be maintained by importing businesses new and old.

“Right now, it looks like a few relatively ‘new’ distributors will have a harder time getting merchandise into the country than established distributors,” explains Vincenzo Spalice.

“We may soon find ourselves in a place where there are fewer but stronger distributors. There will always be quality Italian food – the demand is there, probably customers are now a little more discerning and tend to buy less but higher quality produce.

For Masha Rener, head chef at Lina Stores, a successful range of Italian food and drink must be both traditional and innovative. “We really see it as a balance,” she explains.

“There are those traditional Italian products that our customers have been asking for for decades, like fresh handmade pasta, classic meats and cheeses or San Marzano DOP tomatoes, for example. However, there are also newer products that have become more popular over the last couple of years in London.

“For example, we’ve been stocking ‘Nduja for decades, but we’ve seen its popularity rise over the last decade or so as it has become more accessible outside of Italy. A spreadable spicy salami from Calabria, it is made with a blend of ground pork and hot peppers and is an incredibly delicious ingredient that can enhance any dish as it is so versatile.We have also seen increased interest in pistachio products recently as customers use them in their cooking Pistachios from Bronte, a village behind Mount Etna in Sicily, are generally considered to be of the highest quality and we use them in our Pistachio & Olive Oil cake in our delicatessen.

For Charles Carey, owner of The Oil Merchant, it’s important that food professionals maintain a positive attitude despite the current clouds on the horizon. “Let’s move on from the B-word and the collapse of the value of the pound against the euro,” he says.

“These are issues that we importers have to deal with. Our customers, the lovely shops we sell to, also have a lot of problems, as do their customers. But there is always a place in life for good food, and good food and Italy are synonymous. This, combined with a growing interest in provenance, traceability and the respect of Italian farmers for their land and their products, makes me very confident that Italian products will continue to occupy many pages in our list, and those of our competitors, in the future.

“You don’t know what the Italian food scene has in store,” says Slow Food’s Marta. “While the European farm-to-fork strategy has laid the foundations for greater sustainability, the setback has been strong and visible, both at European and Italian level.”

The challenges facing the British and across the world are just as active in Italy. “Given the current climatic, economic and geopolitical situation, marked by increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation, political instability and war, we have all the more reason to work to strengthen food systems and local economies that feed people and communities rather than feeding the profits of a few multinationals. This is as true in Italy as anywhere else.

By supporting the mission of quality Italian producers to promote – and support – the future of the country’s finest food and drink, independent fine food and drink retailers in Britain can not only provide their customers with which they increasingly crave, but push for a better future for artisans across the country. The good news is that there’s a lot to sink our collective teeth into.