While it’s convenient to hit the big box stores, or simply purchase online, it’s worth it to support local and family-run businesses that offer transparency and ethics with their quality products and craftsmanship.
Some of the best small businesses are family-owned food and drink producers, like farmers, cheesemakers, and confectioners. Over the years we have interviewed many of them for the Our Italians series. Independent artisans and vendors offer a true sense of place thanks to their goods, crafted with love and attention. That should count for something, especially when shopping for thoughtful holiday gifts.
To help you get ahead on your holiday shopping, we’ve put together a list of our favorite small food and drink businesses in Italy. From wine to canned tomato, and some home/kitchen objects, here are some of the best small Italian businesses to shop for gifts.
Funky Tomato is a tomato canning company that opposes illegal employment and labor bosses, and hires migrants, united in the fight against exploitation. Funky Tomato fights for the dignity of work and people, against speculation and in favor of a more ethical and empowered local economy.
Great gift ideas can also be found on the Geneticamente Diverso portal that features handicrafts made all over Italy and entirely by volunteers with disabilities. We particularly like their aprons and mugs.
When we walk by Lela Casa our credit card tugs from our pockets, pushing us inside the door. This small Rome shop sells fabulous home and kitchen objects of simple and timeless design, that make excellent gift ideas.
Walking into Libreria Cesaretti in Rome is like taking a trip back in time. Opened more than a century ago, and located in the same shop in the heart of the historic center of Rome, the store sells antique vintage books, rare volumes and collectors’ first editions. The owners are lovely, kind and friendly.
Located just across the street from the bookstore is another gem. For sweet gifts of candy and chocolate, and to fill the Befana stocking, there is no other place like Moriondo e Gariglio. Rome’s oldest chocolatier was founded around 1850 to serve the House of Savoy. Signora Piera Minelli and her son Attilio Proietti continue the family tradition by handcrafting 80 or so varieties of pralines and as many gelatine, candies and a few specialty jams in the back of the shop every day.
Latteria Studio helps two young Nigerian men trying to make a new life in Italy, through practical work experience and earning some extra money in a dignified and valuable way. The tiny social enterprise Marmellate Solidali produces homemade jams and marmalades. Join the client list and put a jar under the tree!
Panettone Christmas cake is a holiday must. The one made by Antico Forno Roscioli is none like you’ve had before. Forget the commercially sold kind, this sweet leavened bread has won numerous competitions (including in its birthplace, Milan), and every year Pierluigi Roscioli comes up with new interesting versions, so stay tuned!
One of Italy’s most exciting small food businesses is Biolà. The farm in the Rome countryside sells its own organic raw milk––plus cheeses, meats, gelato, yogurt and honey––thanks to a fleet of mobile trucks. All you need to do is check the timetable/stops around town… and bring a bottle!
More good quality raw milk cheese can be sourced (and gift wrapped) from Abruzzo’s most famous shepherd, Gregorio Rotolo. You can visit his shop in the picturesque village of Scanno, or go directly to his Bio Agriturismo Valle Scannese, stay for lunch and even stop for the night in one of the charming b&b rooms.
Nunzio Marcelli and his children own La Porta dei Parchi, a small organic farm in Anversa degli Abruzzi, which produces cheese, wool and other products. You can support their business by buying their products for gifts, and by adopting a sheep!
Manuel Lombardi and his family are the only existing producers of the oldest cheese in the world. It’s called Conciato Romano, it ages 12 months in charming little amphorae and it packs quite a flavor punch. Buy it at select delis in Rome and Milan, or even better, visit the Le Campestre farm in Castel di Sasso, near Caserta, where guests are welcomed like family.
Sergio Pitzalis and his family moved to the countryside near Lake Bracciano (Rome) from their native Sardinia in 1985, purchased a small flock of sheep, and started an organic cheese farm called L’Isola del Formaggio. Here they produce Caciofiore della Campagna Romana––aka Caciofiore di Columella>––a sensational sheep’s milk cheese whose recipe dates back 2,000 years. You can buy it directly at the farm or on weekends at the Circo Massimo Farmer’s Market.
Serena Di Nucci is the 11th generation (not a typo!) of the Di Nucci dynasty of cheese makers in Molise. The entire family works at Caseificio Di Nucci in Agnone, making dairy products that then age in the family’s stone caves. Shop online or visit their creamery and museum for an immersive experience.
At Cibo Agricolo Libero, Conciato di Rebibbia cheese is made by the female inmates at the Rebibbia correctional facility in Rome. Few people know that within the women’s part of the penitentiary there is a large part of organically farmed land where a small flock of sheep plus rabbits, chickens and turkeys are raised. From 2015 there is also a small creamery employing 18 inmates. The fact that these women learn a trade, avoid the alienation of detention and hope for a better future, makes the cheese taste even better. Support this unique project by buying their cheese at ProLoco DOL in Rome, or setting up a CSA box with pick-up at the restaurant.
Filippo Drago is known as “the man of the ancient grains”, his love and commitment bring us some of Sicily’s most prized organic flours and other naturally stone-milled products. His small enterprise is called Molini del Ponte. Heritage grains are milled into flours with millstones dating back to the end of the 19th century. Check the website to find the perfect gift for the cooks and bakers in your life!
Casa Ceccatelli is a family-run butcher shop located in Greve-in-Chianti. Power couple Paolo and Daniela Fagotti have created a treasure trove of all things delicious in their all-Tuscan family business. Assorted rubs and spice mixtures, wine and sauces all make excellent stocking fillers.
Our favorite wine shop in Rome is Les Vignerons, the owner, Antonio Marino, is a highly trained wine expert who boasts the city’s best selection of quality natural wine and beer, and who will be happy to answer questions.
Remaining in the realm of wine, we’d like to suggest supporting a handful of small wine producers in Sicily whom we are very fond of. The bottles produced by these small independent wineries are perfect holiday gifts for wine lovers!
Tuscan native Bruno Ferrara Sardo fell in love with the mineral-rich soils of Mt Etna and now makes a sensational red from local nerello mascalese grapes.
Giuseppe and Valeria Scirto are the young, passionate and tireless hearts behind Vini Scirto, another one of our beloved Sicilian wine labels.
Wine producer Massimiliano Calabretta of Calabretta Vini is one more favorite on Etna.
Another idea for your wine-loving friends and family is a gift card. Ask us about our vineyard tours and tastings at the foot of Europe’s largest active volcano; or on the Amalfi Coast; outside of Rome or in the rolling hills of Tuscany…
Spesa dal Contadino is a terrific resource for consumers who wish to find Italian farms and small food producers that sell directly in their area, zeroing the supply chain.
We could not overlook mentioning one of our favorite Italian products, amaro! In particular, we’d like to shed light on a small, artisan liqueur production based in Sicily, Paesano Authentic, which produces a fantastic artichoke amaro, and a delectable pomegranate liqueur.
This year we’re getting our holiday shopping done while supporting small Italian businesses. We encourage you to do the same!
Disclaimer: This is not a paid advertisement. Views expressed are exclusively our own.
Photo credits: various product websites • Jay Cavallaro • @casamiaitalyfoodandwine • @eleonorabaldwin • @jasminestar