Importers offer shopping online

The Sun


July 11, 2008

When you want more than just a meal, click away.
Mark Petix

For the dedicated cook and the intrepid gourmand, the Internet has opened a world of culinary possibilities.

Farm-raised abalone from Monterey Bay; the famed Iberico ham from Spain; Boudin sausage and live crawfish from Louisiana; and some of the finest olive oils from Italy - you can have it all shipped to your door.

It's a food revolution, said Martina Rossi-Kenworthy, co-operator of Gustiamo, an Italian specialty food importer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"If you want to cook something good, you really need the best ingredients," she said.

She says some of the best food is simple food. But simple doesn't mean easy.

Every ingredient counts. That's why the olive oil used in the classic oil, pepper and garlic pasta or drizzled over ripe, fresh tomatoes is so important.

That's where Gustiamo comes in, says Rossi-Kenworthy.

It offers extra virgin olive oil grown, pressed and bottled on small, often centuries-old estates in Sicily, Italy and Sardinia.

And like vintage wine, each is as unique as the place the olives are grown.

"It takes on the characteristics of the soil, water and climate," Rossi-Kenworthy said, "and it changes from one year to the next."

So why would someone pay $33 for a 16.9-ounce bottle of Disisa extra virgin oil when a jug at Costco sells for half the price?

Bulk oils are exactly that - mass produced and blended with oils from places including Turkey, Spain and Greece.

Rossi-Kenworthy says the olives for Disisa are grown in the hills near Monreale, a Norman town with a postcard view of Palermo, Sicily.

It is, she says, truly unique.

"I don't think you will find this quality here in or even outside the States," she said. "It's even hard for us to find."

As with Gustiamo's other products, which include salted capers from Pantelleria, tomatoes grown on Mount Vesuvius and Colatura, an ancient anchovy fish sauce from Cetera, there is a learning curve.

"It's very hard to convey the quality," Rossi-Kenworthy said, "and why it can be so exasperating, but I think once you taste it, you know."

That's how Don Harris felt when he first tasted Iberico ham 40 years ago.

The owner of La Tienda, a Spanish food importer based in Virginia, spent 10 years trying to get permission to bring Spain's most famous ham to America.

He's finally done it, adding the cured ham from the black-hoofed pig to its long list of products, from piquillo peppers to paella rice.

So why would someone pay $1,400 for a 15-pound ham?

Harris says he could explain how the prized pigs spend their final year in a forest bulking up on the acorns that give them a unique flavor.

Instead, he says just try it.

You'll know.

Here are some of the best food sites to get you started on your Internet journey: Oils, pastas, tomatoes, sea salts and other specialty products from Italy.

La Tienda: Ham, oil, peppers, cheese, rice, ceramics and cookware from Spain. High quality grass-fed pork, beef and lamb. Farm-raised abalone sold live in the shell. Boudin sausage, live crawfish and other Cajun specialty products.

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