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Articles by: Susannah Gold

  • Events: Reports

    Politicians and Italian CEOs Express Optimism At Inaugural Italy - US Summit

    During the inaugural Italy-US summit held on February 11, 2013, former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and Vittorio Grilli, the Italian Minister of Economy and Finance since July 2012 were positive about Italy’s future, noting that reforms had made big inroads in the past few years.

    Mario Monti’s government instituted reforms in a number of areas including constitutional reforms on a balanced budget provision, a spending review of public expenditures, legislation to combat tax evasion and tax avoidance, fiscal simplification and fiscal reforms, tightening of the eligibility requirements for old-age retirement, and measures to reduce public debt, among others.

    The CEOs of major Italian firms – Enel (Fulvio Conti), Eni (Paolo Scaroni), Alitalia (Andrea Ragnetti) and Wind (Maximo Ibarra) also expressed optimism about the future of their country despite impending elections and a lingering debt crisis. The event was held at the Council on Foreign Relations and moderated by Gideon Rose, Editor of Foreign Affairs. Entitled “Opportunity amid the Eurozone Crisis,” the participants outlined their views of the current economic scenario for their particular company and their opinions on what Italy needs to move forward.

    Held two weeks before the Italian elections and the day of Pope Benedict’s resignation, Italy was already on many people’s mind. The Italian elections will take place on February 24-25, 2013.

    At this moment it is unclear if the left led by Luigi Bersani will be able to garner enough votes together with Mario Monti’s party or if Silvio Berlusconi will once again grasp enough votes to lead the country.

    Internationally the idea of another Berlusconi mandate seems impossible to fathom but Il Cavaliere has risen from the ashes in the past. Recent allegations of scandals surrounding Italy’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena and the political parties of the left make this growing rumor a possibility.

    The markets are nervous ahead of the elections because many reforms have been undertaken and the fear is that a new Berlusconi government will overturn them. Berlusconi is also threatening to leave the Euro. In fact, Brussels is also waiting the Italian elections very closely as a sign of what may happen in other countries as well, if a government hostile to reforms and Europe comes into office.

    The general view at the meeting was that much had been done during Prime Minister Mario Monti’s term but that the road is still long to make Italy an attractive place for investment. The meeting was held in part to discuss the current climate in Italy and in part to dispel incorrect beliefs about the state of the Italian economy.

    David H. Thorne, USA Ambassador to Italy touched on themes of what makes the US-Italy relationship enduring and fundamental and commented on what reforms have been taken to address pressing issues. He stated the need for judicial reforms and the simplification of bureaucracy, stating that Italy ranks 73rd out of 185 countries in the Doing Business 2013 data produced by the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank, a striking figure.

    On the positive side of the Italian balance sheet is the fact that Italian exports are central to their economy and that they have hundreds of products that are exported and many more that can be exported. Additionally, Italian households tend to have little personal debt and high per capita net worth.

    The CEOs commented on the inflexibility of the labor market as being a considerable problem as well as the need for education and training. The four companies that were present during the summit are one piece of the Italian economy but small and medium size family run enterprises are the backbone of the Italian economy. These firms often have a different set of problems than their larger global counterparts, usually involving their inability to get credit from banks and being too small to export goods to grow their businesses.

    One thing that small and large Italian companies have in common is the need to export. Demand at home alone cannot support growth. Executives on the panel were of the same mind that smaller firms need to scale up in order to compete. Family-run firms also need more managerial resources. In most cases, firms are run by the second generation of the family that may or may not have formal managerial training.

    A number of sectors that could be drivers of an Italian resurgence were outlined by the Italian Business & Investment Initiative (IBII), the organizers of the event, including high-tech zones, arts & culture and machine tools.

    Italian Minister Grilli noted that further privatizations would take place that should help the economy as well as private-public partnerships. IBII noted that there are also a growing number of private equity and venture capital funds that are active in Italy, further signs that the economy is looking more attractive to investors.

    Former Prime Minister Amato also reminded the audience of the inescapable factor of changing demographics. He suggested Italy should embrace better immigration policies so that the social safety net continues into the future.

    While no policy proposals were launched that day, the conversation about the state of the Italian economy for US investors was on everyone’s lips. A far cry and a welcome change from thinking about Italy only as a place of “pizza, pasta, mafia and mandolins.”

  • Facts & Stories

    This Year’s Balzan prize.The Italian-Swiss Answer to the Nobel Prize

    How long will it take before the sea level rises so that it creates new lakes in some parts of the planet and dries up others that we have grown up with? Do we inherit habits or characteristics that our parents have despite the fact that they are not part of our DNA sequence? What is the relationship between free will and legal interpretation? These questions and others of this abstract and significant nature are just a few of the questions that winners of this year’s Balzan prize  are able to predict or explain how one would arrive at a prediction.

     

    What is the Balzan prize you might ask? The Balzan prize in the sciences and the humanities is the Italian-Swiss answer to the Nobel Prize. Like the Nobel, it recognizes supreme achievements in a host of different sectors. The nature of the fields for the 2012 prizes was that each winner worked in a interdisciplinary way, much the opposite of the push to specialization or better, marrying specializations in a number of fields. One example is Kurt Lambeck who won the prize for his work in the Earth Sciences.

     
    The International Balzan Foundation awards four prizes, 750,000 Swiss Francs or $800,000 dollars each, a figure that places the Balzan Prize amongst the biggest prize funds in the worlds of Science and Culture. Since 2001, the winners are each required to allocate half of their prize money to funding research projects carried our preferably by young scholars or scientists in their respective fields. In the last twelve years, 48 research projects in a wide array of disciplines have benefitted from an input of 23 million francs and launched the careers of numerous young researchers.
     
    The awards ceremony took place on November 14 in Rome at the Quirinale, the official residence of the Italian President. On November 15, the prizewinners held an interdisciplinary forum with members of the Balzan General Prize Committee and Members of the Academia Nazionale dei Lincei.
     
    According to established tradition reflecting the Italic-Swiss nature of the International Balzan Foundation, the Award Ceremony takes place in alternate years in Rome, in the presence of the President of the Italian Republic, and in Bern, in the presence of a Representative of the Federal Council of the Swiss Confederation, usually the Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs.
     
    These lofty conversations and lives dedicated to the study of the sciences and the humanities are quite different one from the other – be it by country or by field - yet all are touched by the life of one man – Eugenio Balzan. This year’s winners included a German, a Dutchman, an Englishman and an American who work at some of the world’s greatest universities: the Australian National University, Cambridge, Oxford, and New York University.
     
    Who was Balzan?
     
    Eugenio Balzan, who died in 1953, was a journalist who spent his career at Corriere della Sera in Milan. He started working for the paper in 1897. From his humble beginnings at as an editorial assistant, he rose to become the managing director of the paper’s publishing house and finally became a partner with a small stake in the company that ran Corriere della Sera.
     
    Balzan was fiercely independent and believed in freedom of speech and thought. For this reason, he chose to leave Italy in 1933 because of the attitude of the Fascist regime to Corriere’s independent journalistic stance. He moved to Switzerland, first Zurich and then Lugano, the Italian-speaking portion of Switzerland. Thanks to a series of good investments, this son of an impoverished family was able to leave a sizeable estate to his daughter Angela Lina upon his untimely death. She established the foundation in 1957 to honor his memory and his lifelong involvement in philanthropy.
     
    At this year’s ceremony, we heard how the funds will enable one Professor who has been ‘forcibly retired” because of his age (70 years old) to continue his groundbreaking work and to guide students and how another intended to explore the interconnectedness of music traditions throughout history.
     
    Some of the young researchers whose projects have been funded by the Balzan prize monies spoke during the four day festivities in Rome and noted the results of their research, the influence that the Balzan monies had had on their careers and how an extra source of funding allowed them to continue on a path of inquiry that they wouldn’t have been able to follow.
     
    This relatively unique situation in terms of funding has allowed the prizewinners to explore areas and make discoveries they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to access. Lambeck mentioned the timing of the funding and how fortuitous it is in his career. Other prizewinners have said the same thing and this has become a signature of the foundation.
     
    Another aspect of the foundation is that its cross border nature has expanded from being two different sides of the foundation in two countries to collaboration between the National science academies of both countries as well as considerable collaboration between the consulates of each country in the United States. Collaboration and interdisciplinary work is the way forward and Balzan is helping to contribute to this methodology.
     
    The 2013 Balzan prizes will be awarded in the following four areas: Medieval History,
    Sociology, Quantum Information: Processing and Communication, and Infectious diseases: basic and clinical aspects. The prizes will be announced in September 2013.  

  • Facts & Stories

    Competitiveness of Italian firms. Hopes & Upbeat Mood

    Despite the somber mood of the day, September 11th, a recent panel discussion held by the Bank of Italy and moderated by the Editor of Global Finance, Andrea Fiano, left participants in a surprisingly upbeat mood. It seems an incredible act of will in the current economic environment that is hindering Italian hopes for growth and yet the conclusions from the discussion left many feeling a tad more optimistic about Italian prospects, especially if its exports can increase.

    At the moment, though, Italy is feeling a lot of pain. The Italian economy has been shrinking over the past quarters and is expected to contract in 2013 as well. Italy’s economy contracted for its fourth straight quarter in June, a victim of the worsening Euro zone crisis at home and abroad. This is the latest in a long line of economic woes that have befallen il bel paese.

    The panel discussion took place at the Casa Zerilli-Marimò, an appropriate venue created as a tribute to Guido Zerilli-Marimò, a noted Italian entrepreneur who helped with the economic rebuilding of Italy, noted Stefano Albertini, Director of the institution.

    The panel included Salvatore Ross, a Member of the Governing Board, Deputy Director General, Banca d’Italia, Federico Mennella, Managing Director, Lincoln International, Fernando Napolitano, President and CEO, Italian Business and Innovation Initiative, and Paolo Timoni, Entrepreneur in Residence, at McKinsey Solutions at McKinsey & Company.

    The panelists focused on three themes: Internationalization, Innovation and Finance. Rossi outlined Italy’s economic outlook under a comparative lens, with a look at its’ position compared to France and Germany. Rossi showed that certain areas of Italy, such as the Veneto and Northern Italy in general were actually doing very well when comparing their exports to those of their European counterparts while the country as a whole had slower export growth. Rossi also showed that in certain sectors, Italy was very competitive both with France and Germany. Rossi also noted that Italy did not become less competitive but that France and Germany became more competitive. The high cost of Italian labor by the unit was said to be an additional component in Italy’s lack of competitiveness.

    Rossi also called into question the wisdom of continuing to have small family firms with few employees citing statistics that noted that larger firms are better able to compete. While there wasn’t total agreement on this point, there was an acknowledgement that small firms have trouble profiting from certain kinds of technology that is cheaper when you have economies of scale.

    The discussion also revolved around why firms are so small whether it be tradition, bureaucracy, tax structures, lack of incentives to grow or other reasons. Mention was also made of a lack of managerial skills at these family-run firms.

    If internationalizing a firm on its own is too difficult, Paolo Timoni suggested the creation of clusters of companies that could share sales, marketing and distribution channels. Timoni mentioned Luxottica as an example of a very successful Italian company that began to truly compete globally after it purchased its supply chain. Timoni also mentioned the case of Fiat that now owns Chrysler. He envisioned a holding company that had a number of smaller companies within it. At their current size, Italian companies can still compete in Europe but to compete in the United States, they needed to be much larger. Italy, it was said, has one-quarter of large-mid size firms that Germany does.

    Fernando Napolitano, a very energetic former manager at Enel noted that Italian firms are ripe to partner with US companies to compete for their fair share of the export market and to innovate. In order for that to happen however, Napolitano stressed the need for Italians to communicate in English and to change the current perceptions about Italy.

    Federico Mennella also weighed in on some of the financial complexities that plague the Italian firm. Among them, corporate governance structures, the judicial system and the ease of doing business in Italy. He noted that even when an Italian company holds an IPO, they usually only list 30% or 40% of the firm and thus retain control of the company which can lead to stagnation. He also noted how much smaller the Italian stock exchange is than the Germany one. Mennella reminded the audience that 800 years of history is hard to shake off in the blink of an eye.

    Italy ranked 87 out of 183 countries in 2012, down four places from its 83 ranking in 2011 in the Doing Business Project survey. The “project provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 183 economies and selected cities at the subnational and regional level,” according to the website. The project, launched in 2002 by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, looks at domestic small and medium-size companies and measures the regulations applying to them through their life cycle.

    Despite all of these obstacles, all of the participants on the panel felt that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is on the right track with his policies and all five suggested they hoped he would be able to continue through his mandate in 2013. While no one was willing to make long-term predictions, the feeling in the room was one of possibility. No mean feat on a September 11th in New York City during the worst European debt crisis since the start of the European Union.

  • A Sunday Afternoon Back to the Jews Ghetto of Rome

    The sold out event was quite the sought after affair and as I made my way into the room, I heard a number of ladies lamenting their not being able to get inside. Once in the beautiful auditorium, everyone in the audience was transported back to the Jewish Ghetto in Rome through a lovely series of photographs projected onto a large screen.

    The Ghetto lasted for 350 years. Jews throughout Italy were freed upon unification in 1861 but the Roman community - the oldest diaspora - was only finally freed 10 years after Italian Unification in 1871.

    The choral group was composed of nine men led by Claudio Di Segni and featuring the Hazan or Cantor of Rome, Alberto Funaro and the organist Federico Del Sordo. The concert was very touching from the first notes until the last. One particularly touching number was the “Hebrew Chorus” from the well-known Giuseppe Verdi opera, Il Nabucco.

    “Va Pensiero” is an incredibly meaningful work for Italians and for Jews in particular. It tells the story of the exile of the Jews after the destruction of the First Temple. It is also the somewhat unofficial anthem of the Italian people and is well loved and sung by everyone. The group also sung the Israeli national anthem that the crowd responded to immediately by rising in silence.
     

    The group was brought to these shores thanks to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Centro Primo Levi, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Divinamente New York Festival, the Jewish Community of Rome, and RAI Italian Broadcasting Company in collaboration with the American Society of Jewish Music. It was also made possible through the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 150th Anniversary of the unification of Italy.

    The event created by the Italian actress Pamela Villoresi, was part of a four-day program called the Festival of Spirituality. The festival is also part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unification.

    “The Italy which we are proud to celebrate is not only the Italy that has been, but also the Italy that is (and will continue to be) capable of developing: an ongoing process of construction, a project for the acceptance of diversity, of solidarity; a project brought to life by the freedom of courageous and sincere spiritual enquiry, a place that welcomes all those who believe in human dignity and happiness, and express values which provide comfort, cohesion and solidarity in the midst of diverse opinions and beliefs,” the organizers said.

    Choirs have been part of Roman Jewish tradition for centuries said Berkeley Muscologist Francesco Spagnolo. He also spoke about how competing influences came through the synagogue walls and how in many works you could hear strains of opera, chamber music, Arabic music, songs from the Iberian nations of Spain and Portugal and other places. The Jewish diaspora came to Italy in many waves and each consecutive group brought their own Sephardic or Ashkenazi liturgical tradition too.

    Jewish liturgical music was said to have been enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike and to be one of the ways that the Roman Jews sought to reach out to other groups. All of this ended with the Holocaust during World War II. Choirs were not part of the Jewish tradition since the War but there has been a recent resurgence in them and an interest in rediscovering their repertoires.

    The event also took place in a very beautiful and appropriate location, the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The museum was “created as a living memorial to those who perished during the Holocaust, the Museum honors those who died by celebrating their lives—cherishing the traditions that they embraced, examining their achievements and faith, and affirming the vibrant worldwide Jewish community that is their legacy today.”

    The resurgence of joy through singing seemed to fit very nicely into these lofty goals. Hearing the choir and reflecting on the goals of the museum was a nice respite from hurried New York life for all who had the privilege of attending the event.

  • Art & Culture

    A Sunday Afternoon Back to the Jews Ghetto of Rome

    The sold out event was quite the sought after affair and as I made my way into the room, I heard a number of ladies lamenting their not being able to get inside. Once in the beautiful auditorium, everyone in the audience was transported back to the Jewish Ghetto in Rome through a lovely series of photographs projected onto a large screen.

    The Ghetto lasted for 350 years. Jews throughout Italy were freed upon unification in 1861 but the Roman community - the oldest diaspora - was only finally freed 10 years after Italian Unification in 1871.

    The choral group was composed of nine men led by Claudio Di Segni and featuring the Hazan or Cantor of Rome, Alberto Funaro and the organist Federico Del Sordo. The concert was very touching from the first notes until the last. One particularly touching number was the “Hebrew Chorus” from the well-known Giuseppe Verdi opera, Il Nabucco.

    “Va Pensiero” is an incredibly meaningful work for Italians and for Jews in particular. It tells the story of the exile of the Jews after the destruction of the First Temple. It is also the somewhat unofficial anthem of the Italian people and is well loved and sung by everyone. The group also sung the Israeli national anthem that the crowd responded to immediately by rising in silence.
     

    The group was brought to these shores thanks to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Centro Primo Levi, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Divinamente New York Festival, the Jewish Community of Rome, and RAI Italian Broadcasting Company in collaboration with the American Society of Jewish Music. It was also made possible through the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 150th Anniversary of the unification of Italy.

    The event created by the Italian actress Pamela Villoresi, was part of a four-day program called the Festival of Spirituality. The festival is also part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unification.

    “The Italy which we are proud to celebrate is not only the Italy that has been, but also the Italy that is (and will continue to be) capable of developing: an ongoing process of construction, a project for the acceptance of diversity, of solidarity; a project brought to life by the freedom of courageous and sincere spiritual enquiry, a place that welcomes all those who believe in human dignity and happiness, and express values which provide comfort, cohesion and solidarity in the midst of diverse opinions and beliefs,” the organizers said.

    Choirs have been part of Roman Jewish tradition for centuries said Berkeley Muscologist Francesco Spagnolo. He also spoke about how competing influences came through the synagogue walls and how in many works you could hear strains of opera, chamber music, Arabic music, songs from the Iberian nations of Spain and Portugal and other places. The Jewish diaspora came to Italy in many waves and each consecutive group brought their own Sephardic or Ashkenazi liturgical tradition too.

    Jewish liturgical music was said to have been enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike and to be one of the ways that the Roman Jews sought to reach out to other groups. All of this ended with the Holocaust during World War II. Choirs were not part of the Jewish tradition since the War but there has been a recent resurgence in them and an interest in rediscovering their repertoires.

    The event also took place in a very beautiful and appropriate location, the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The museum was “created as a living memorial to those who perished during the Holocaust, the Museum honors those who died by celebrating their lives—cherishing the traditions that they embraced, examining their achievements and faith, and affirming the vibrant worldwide Jewish community that is their legacy today.”

    The resurgence of joy through singing seemed to fit very nicely into these lofty goals. Hearing the choir and reflecting on the goals of the museum was a nice respite from hurried New York life for all who had the privilege of attending the event.

  • Life & People

    Italian Working-Class Women in the US at the Start of the 20th Century

    Immigrant Italian women living in the United States during the earlier part of the 20th Century have been little studied in contemporary history. That is until now. Jennifer Guglielmo in her seminal new book, Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945 (University of North Carolina Press) which was awarded the Organization of American Historians Lerner-Scott Prize, describes in great detail and brings to life, scores of Italian woman who were radicals at the turn of the century and the contributions they made to their communities, families and the labor movement.
     

    Jennifer Guglielmo specializes in United States history in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Her research and teaching interests include women, immigration, transnationalism, imperialism, labor, race and racism, social movements, political radicalism and working-class studies, according to the Smith College website where she is an assistant professor. Until Guglielmo’s work, these women really have taken a back seat to stories of their male counterparts such as Sacco and Vanzetti, the two anarchists who were executed in the 1920s. While many of these women weren’t objects of the same type of rage and hatred nonetheless they lived a hard existence and their struggles are eloquently laid out in this new work.

    Guglielmo explained in a discussion at the John D. Calandra Institute on September 22 that she first became interested in the stories of Italian immigrant women through her own family, specifically her grandmother. Guglielmo said she sees the work as a “love poem to her ancestors and to everything that they fought for.”  Guglielmo showed numerous photographs that outlined the bleak nature of life for many of these immigrant families. While acknowledging the struggles these women went through, Guglielmo said that she thought it was “slander to see these women as powerless and dominated.” She set out to tell the true story that she had heard in her own family.
     

    Guglielmo sees beyond the obvious in the series of photographs that she showed us and has delved into what else went on in people’s lives. She points out the importance of the family table, cooking and gardens in the lives of Italian immigrant women at the turn of the century. Most worked in the garment trades and were part of the early garment unions. Some took to the streets to protest while others led quieter protests against injustice within their own homes. She mentioned their strong resistance, their struggles and their creativity in finding a sense of “dignity and purpose.”
     

     Italians were the largest group of immigrants to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and hundreds of thousands led and participated in some of the period's most volatile labor strikes. Guglielmo looks at the lives of activists in two generations of New York and New Jersey women who worked in the needle and textile trades. The first part of Guglielmo’s book takes place in Italy while the latter is set in the United States.
     

    Guglielmo is the co-editor of the 2003 book, Are Italians White? How Race Is Made in America. During her talk at the Calandra Institute she also spoke about the role of race relations between the Italian immigrants and their new country. Many of those who came to the United States hailed from Southern Italy where people tend to have darker skin. She notes that this too created controversy and difficulty for the new arrivals.

    Guglielmo’s talk was followed by a performance by Artist Annie Lanzillotto who brought to life some of these women’s struggles through readings. Many in the audience seemed to related first hand to Guglielmo’s book and she noted that for her, speaking at Calandra was like “coming home.”

    Guglielmo isn’t resting on her laurels however. According to the Smith College website, “Guglielmo is currently beginning research for a book on grassroots activism among working-class women in Harlem from the 1930s through the 1950s, and translating short essays written in Italian and Spanish by immigrant women anarchists in early 20th-century New York City and northeastern New Jersey, which will be reprinted in her next book, My Rebellious Heart: Immigrant Women's Anarchist Feminist Prose in New York City's Radical Subculture, 1890-1930.”

     

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    1.0.0% Qualità Italiana. Unaprol's Brand to Distinguish Italian Olive Oil

    Italian olive oil producers are making a stand to differentiate their products from those of other nations. For too long they say, other nations have been bottling olive oils in such a way that it seems that they are from Italy when in fact, they are not. This is true of many Italian products be it cheese, coffee, or panettone.

    Unaprol, the Italian consortium of olive oil producers, has decided to make a stand and has created the 1.0.0% Qualita Italiana Brand. Unaprol represents over 600,000 olive farms. Italy is one of the world’s leading producers of olive oil in the world with 350 cultivars that represent different aromas and flavors and are linked to specific terroirs. There are over 220 million olive trees in Italy.

    While Unaprol has been active since 1966, their role is increasing and now includes helping to protect the traceablity of olive oil from the place of production to the bottling facility. Unaprol runs many programs for both the trade and consumers and helps to offer precise details about the products and education on olive oil in general.

    Education on olive oil was what Lou Di Palo’s presentation at the Fancy Food show was all about. Di Palo, the fourth generation proprietor of Di Palo’s Fine Food, a specialty food shop in Little Italy led a group of journalists in an olive oil tasting.

    Colavita brought olive oil to the United States more than 30 years ago and since that time there has been a huge proliferation of olive oils sold whether they are from Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Tunisia and even California is getting into the act.

    Di Palo stressed that the first rule for olive oil is to understand its’ acidity level. It can’t be more than .8% acidity to be considered an Italian Extra Virgin olive oil by the Ministry of Agriculture but to be considered a 1.0.0% Qualita Italiana, it can only have .4% acidity. The olive oil that can use this branding must be able to be traced from tree to bottle as well. It has a variety of other stringent requirements.

    Di Palo said that olive oil has four enemies: oxygen, light, heat and time. The shelf life of an olive oil is about 18 months. He also noted that various olive oils have different uses. For example, a monocultivar, or an olive oil made from a single varietal can be used as a finishing oil on salad or grilled vegetables while other oils that are made from blends are better suited to cooking. 

    If you feel insecure about buying olive oil, Di Palo said that you one way to tell what type of oil you are buying is the price. The blending oils will be much less expensive than say a mono cultivar oil.

    In addition to the acidity factor, another important issue for quality olive oil is how and when it was produced. The olives shouldn’t touch the ground when they are harvested because they will become be more bitter. The olives should also be pressed within hours of harvesting. The olives have a different taste depending on when they were picked. If they are picked in October, they will be more intense whereas they will be somewhat softer on the palate if picked in December.

    We tasted four oils made with different indigenous cultivars and varying degrees of fruitness. The lightest oil, Sololivo DOP Dauno Gargano, was from Apulia and was made with the Ogliarola garganica olive. It was fruity and delicate and would be a great finishing oil..

    A second oil made by Frantoio Figoli was from Calabria and was made with a blend of olive varieties including Dolce di Rossano, Carolea, Frantoio, Nocellara del Belice and Coratina. This oil was grassier and had hints of artichoke. This is also considered a finishing oil. It is made using cold extraction techniques. It is slightly spicier that the previous oil.

    The third oil was from Lazio and was an organic oil made by Quattrociocchi. The cultivar was Itrana. This oil was somewhat buttery in taste with tomato, pepper, almond and artichoke notes. This firm also used cold extraction. All of the olives were hand harvested..

    The fourth oil was also from Apulia and was called Robusto made by Guglielmi. It too was made from a 100% indigenous cultivar, this time, the Coratina olive. The firm does mechanical harvesting without letting the olives touch the earth. This oil was more peppery than the others and could be used on meats and with full flavored sauces.

    This mini panorama of olive oils was just enough to give a taste of how varied the panorama for olive oil can be. The largest producing regions in Italy are Apulia, Calabria, and Lazio but Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, Lago di Garda and other regions also produce olives. Of the 20 Italian regions, the only one that doesn’t is the Valle d’Aosta.

    Olives are part and parcel of the Italian diet and landscape. Unaprol’s renewed attention to quality control and detail as embodied by the 1.0.0.% Qualita’ Italiana brand is an important step towards protecting this delicate product, a worthy and delicious cause

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Sips of Fancy Food. Tasting Italian Coffee to the Top

    Italian coffee producers who were present at the Fancy Food show in Manhattan June 27 to June 29, 2010 were optimistic about the U.S. market for coffee. Despite increased competition and a host of local and foreign competitors, Italian producers saw room for their coffee products thanks to an expanded product range as well as a new found love for Italian coffee, be it cappuccino, espresso or a Latte Macchiato.

    Coffee beans are not produced in Italy but Italian torrefazioni are among the most famous in the world for their coffee blends. The two main types of coffee are Arabica and Robusto. Arabica coffee from Coffea Arabica is more prestigious than the Robusto from which comes from Coffea Canephora.

    Coffee generally comes from Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

    Robusta coffee beans are generally stronger than Arabica and are used more often in Espresso blends. Each producer makes their own blend either using different combinations of coffee beans in terms of the two types as well as coffee beans from a variety of countries. Brazil is the world’s leading producer of coffee beans, followed by Vietnam, Indonesia, and Columbia.

    Andrea Bernini of Mokaflor, a coffee firm from Florence was excited to participate at the Fancy Food Show saying that there was an important increase in American coffee drinking of espresso coffee. “We are pretty pleased with the fair. We need to find the right importer for our mid-sized company. It’s a challenge for us.”

    Mokaflor was bought by a family in 1950 and has been run by that same family for generations. It saw its first growth after World War II during the economic boom years. Mokaflor is very well represented in Central Italy in bars and restaurants.

    “We make our blends from coffees from eight coffee producing nations. Some of our products are blends while others are from a single cru producer. We have two lines, an Arabica and a Robusto. We also have a new product called Chiaroscuro targeted specifically for specialty shops and coffee houses,” Bernini added. “The particularity of our coffee line is that we have a wide range, with 10 blends and a single producer coffee.”

    Most of the coffee firms who were present at the fair agreed that the world of coffee is undergoing an evolution. Large firms such as Lavazza, Illy and Danesi have dominated the American market for Italian coffee. New smaller firms have had a harder time getting a footing in this market but as the market grows, there may be room for everyone. At least that’s what these producers are hoping.

    Another firm that was showcasing its products at the Fancy Food show was Caffè Trombetta, a firm from Lazio that was founded in 1890. Trombetta is sold throughout Central and Southern Italy both in bars and restaurants as well as Supermarkets. Their representative pointed to the capsules and coffee pods that have become so ubiquitous as a revolution in coffee. Coffee is a mature market in terms of packaging but these delivery systems are innovative and bring quality coffee into your home and into the office.

    Paranà Caffè also from Roma agreed with the importance of the new pods and capsules as a growth area. Parana’ is also making an organic coffee line to meet consumer demands.

    Emilio Giannelli from Paranà said that what is missing currently is a coffee culture. “People drink coffee without really knowing anything about the product, such as how it is made or how to taste it. Coffee is like wine and needs to be studied and smelled and sipped for its organoleptic characteristics.”

    Paranà Caffe offers coffee tasting classes and is a firm supported of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters which offers classes and workshops to learn how to taste and assess coffee, create blends and learn about coffee roasting. 

    “People need guidelines in order to be able to divide good from bad coffee. They need to be able to differentiate between Arabica and Robusto,” Giannelli said. “We’re a family run company and have been for 50 years. We buy coffee beans from many countries and have now created a line of single country coffees as opposed to blending the beans. We offer coffees in capsules and pods as well.”

    Like the other two producers, Paranà also has a specific distribution, Central and Southern Italy (Lazio, Abruzzo, Tuscany and Molise). Some 50% of their production is exported to China, the EU, Australia and the United States.

    No article on coffee could be complete without mentioning coffee from Naples, a true Italian specialty. Naples has a long coffee tradition and representing that was Caffen Il Don Caffè Aroma di Napoli. Founded in 1955, Caffen has five lines of coffee products for bars and restaurants as well as consumers.

    “This is a family run firm. We buy are Robusto line beans from India and our Arabica line from South Africa. The Indian Robusto makes for a sweeter coffee, less bitter. It doesn’t taste like wood like some of the other ones do,” said Vincenzo Bianco, Export Manager for Caffen, as he made me an Espresso at the fair.

    ‘We’ve been selling our coffee here for eight years through Caffe Dante in the Village,” Bianco added. “ For the American market we make a somewhat sweeter coffee than that for Italy. The roasting is a little different.”

    Another group of coffee firms were also present at the show, even smaller producers just looking to get their feet wet. One such firm is Italvi from Latina.

    Italvi brought their O’CCaffe line. Italiavi is run by two cousins whose parents started an import company in Germany and have been very successful in that market. Under the name Vivenzio Import, the family has locked up the German supermarket distribution for Italian coffee and is the third largest supplier after Illy and Lavazza. Italivi, the new company, is looking to export to the US as well and came as part of a delegation from Latina.
     

    The cousins were aware that there is a lot of competition in this market and said that there realized that they needed to spruce up their packaging if they were going to sell to this market. They were thinking of looking at other markets in the US because New York is so crowded. They weren’t discouraged though and were pleased with the fair and their contacts.

    Another small producer at the fair was Mokasol from Brescia. They too came as part of a larger delegation and were just getting their feet wet in the US market, offering their organic, pods and more traditional blends.

    It seemed after many a coffee at the fair, that the reigning feeling was one of cautious optimism. What everyone is counting on is that the US continues to drink Italian coffees. This seems like an almost certainty. Of course there are homegrown roasters from Seattle and coffee companies from other nations but there is something about Italian coffee that is just unique. If the proliferation of coffee bars serving Italian coffee around the nation is any indication of the success of coffee, these coffee firms have little or nothing to worry about it seems.

  • Life & People

    Italian Wine Week Opens To Social Media Themes with Panel at Vino 2010

     Vino 2010 was a great success according to all participants with three days of interesting seminars, tastings and dinners. Some of the panels focused on a particular region such as Apulia or a grape variety such as Pinot Nero and Gaglioppo while others were devoted to marketing wine and the changing climate. One panel was dedicated to “Virtual Vino” or the world of Social Media (read Twitter, Facebook and other such sites) and marketing to Millennials.

     This program was dedicated to wine bloggers and aimed to engage online wine enthusiasts both nationally and internationally. There was a Virtual Vino Blogger Lounge which allowed participants to blog, tweet, and post comments. Vino 2010 also hired an official blogger to help to facilitate dialogue during the conference, James Rodewald, a former Drinks editor at Gourmet.

    Millennials have been described as anyone who is between 19 and 29 years of age today. This group of consumers no longer looks to the traditional media that other generations of wine consumers favor such as the Wine Spectator or the Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, etc. According to research presented by Steve Raye of Brand Action Team, they no longer even know who esteemed wine critic Robert Parker is but instead have their own heros such as Alder Yarrow of Vinography, a blogger who was also on the panel. Doug Cook, Director of search for Twitter, was also on hand and gave insight into how to improve your searches which he said are the fabric of the internet. Others on the panel spoke about their personal experiences as a blogger and a wine producers.

    While it is hard to measure influence, it is clear that something has changed in the world of wine and in the media. Everyone on the panel agreed that while one shouldn’t discount traditional media outlets, you now need to pay attention to a whole host of sources, bloggers, twitter, facebook, linkedin and others.

    The seminar, which was sponsored by the Camera di Commercio di Siena, was particularly innovative because people could write in questions at Twitter and get their questions read aloud during the panel/ Also, the whole panel was able to be watched via a live feed, quite advanced compared to the previous edition held in 2009.

    Here is the video link for the panel” http://vino2010.italianmade.com/blog/video-virtual-vino-seminar.

    The topic of Social Media and the importance of journalistic standards and sourcing of information is, of course, somewhat controversial. Many take umbrage with the idea that bloggers should be considered on the same level as traditional media journalists. This can be discussed at length without any definitive conclusions. What is the crucial takeaway is that bloggers are here to stay and they have become increasingly important in the world of wine.

    As Raye reminded us in his presentation, the issue is one of trust. The more you identify with and read someone’s experiences, the more Millennials seem to trust their judgment. The personal touch is what makes a difference to this segment of the population which is becoming ever more important as they buy more wine and as baby boomers fade away.

    There are some 75 to 80 million Millennials, many of whom are drinking wine. This is music to the ears of wine producers because everywhere else and certainly in the traditional wine drinking countries such as Italy, France and Spain, wine consumption per capita is plunging. The United States is now the largest market for wine and it is only expected to grow in the coming years.

    Surely the rules of engagement with the media are being redefined in this new age of connectivity. What the panel showed was that the wine world is taking this new reality seriously and is ready to embrace it wholeheartedly.

  • Facts & Stories

    Eugenio Balzan & Italian Immigration to Canada. A New Book by Corriere della Sera

    A new work  Corriere 1901 has been published by the Corriere della Sera foundation, edited by Renata Broggini, about a little explored chapter in Italian history, Italian emigration to Canada.

    Broggini is the biographer of Eugenio Balzan. The book  gathers a series of articles written by Eugenio Balzan when he was a young reporter. Balzan was sent to Canada to document the lives of the emigrants. While Canada had been depicted as a promised land, reality was much harsher as Balzan describes in his articles.

    Just as many immigrants today in Italy, Italians in the early years of the 20th century who immigrated to Canada lived 10 in a room, couldn’t find jobs and often had to beg to have a meager existence.
     

     Gian Antonio Stella in his preface to the book compares the Italian experience of yesteryear with that of today.  He notes that Balzan points out three issues were are common to emigrants of all colors, races and time periods: each have a dream, they find someone willing to take advantage of them as they search out their dream and the sadness of the end of the dream.

    These emigrants were largely all men between the ages of 18 and 40 looking for work. The conditions they found when they arrived were horrible, professionally and personally for these men. Often they were given misinformation about their working conditions. Worst of all, many Canadians were not at all pleased to have the Italians among them and considered them a disturbance. All of this sounds quite familiar and seems to be the same reaction that people all over the world have to immigrants living amongst them.

    Balzan’s articles are engaging and interesting descriptions of cruel times, much like photos of migrant works, they create a sense of the problems that affect people just like us.

    As I was reading this book, it suddenly occurred to me that this was perhaps exactly what happened to my own grandparents when they immigrated to Canada from Poland in the late 1920s. Quotas for Jews trying to get into the United States were full and in order to escape pogroms in Poland, Eastern European Jews had to go to Canada if they couldn’t get into the United States. I remember a few stories about how cold it was and how difficult for the family to relocate and make a new life in that foreign land. Apparently, many Italians fared no better. Many families around the world today are listening to the same stories from loved ones who are far away. 

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