Italian Food & Wine Festival - Buon Appetito!

With Italian cuisine gaining prominence world over, how could America be left behind? We visit the Italian Food & Wine Festival, recently held in Chicago, to take stock of the situation

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: November 9, 2014

With Italian cuisine gaining prominence world over, how could America be left behind? We visit the Italian Food & Wine festival, recently held in Chicago, to take stock of the situation.
Who doesn’t love the soul satisfaction that Italian food gives - whether it’s a simple pasta with red sauce or a more complex veal scaloppini with saffron cream sauce. Pair it with a luscious red wine and a fine dine meal is served. Anywhere in the world, Italian cuisine is well-accepted and desired. And Mr Paolo Marchi, founder of Identita Golose - an Italian congress dedicated to signature cuisine and pastry making - couldn’t agree more.
When we asked him if he thought Italian cuisine was gaining increasing popularity in America, he said, “Like all cuisines, Italian cooking was brought by our emigrants, nothing studied or managerial. Besides, It is sincere, tasty and at a good price. Now one needs to make people understand that there’s also a new and creative cuisine, that in Italy we don’t only eat traditional dishes. I must say that we’re on the right track.”
Identita Golose hosts events world over to spread the Italian message. Already having an outpost in New York, this fall they came to Chicago for the first time. “It’s the most intelligent choice you can make when you decide to go beyond New York. Manhattan is the door to the United States, but why should one stop on the doorstep? The moment has come to cross it and understand what’s beyond. This is what we did in Chicago,” Mr Marchi said.
Hosted in Eataly, the three day Italian Food & Wine Festival in Chicago was a successful event for Identita Golose, with the tickets getting sold out less than a week after they went for sale! One of the events during the festival was the Merano Wine Festival, where quite a few superior Italian wines provided tasting, paired with some delicious bites prepared by Eataly.
As we furnished our plates with some delectable variety of focaccias, grilled vegetables with anchovies dip, bean salad and Grana Padano cheese (one of the most exquisite I have had till now!), our wine glasses were filled with the grape juice as we moved from one table to another. “The Merano Wine Festival has become a significant premium Italian wine festival in Italy. Our partners at Baracchi have their wines featured in the festival, which means that they were featured at the events in New York and Chicago too. I thought the event was very well managed and the attendance was great. People who attended were genuinely interested in Italian wine and discovering new wineries,” said Mr Peter Baedeker, CEO of Curious Cork Imports. 
Italian wines are seeing continued growth in the American market, and both, Mr Baedeker and Ms Christine Hammond, Brand Manager USA, Tasca d’Almerita, give credence to this statement. “Italian wines are really strong in America. A lot of people travel to Italy and build a relationship with Italian cuisine and wines, and therefore enjoy them,” said Ms Hammond. Mr Baedeker gives a business view and says, “Imports of bottled table wines from Italy have flattened out a little this year, but we see continued headspace for growth in the market for Italian wines in America. We see this as a function of per capita wine consumption continuing to increase in the U.S while consumers continue to mature in flavor and taste profile preferences with their wines. Finally, improvements in supply make heretofore obscure Italian wine regions more recognizable by the U.S. consumer.”
The Gomberg Fredrickson’s 2012 Annual Wine Industry Review states that Italian wines enjoy the largest import volumes in USA, accounting for 23 per cent of all imports. And according to more recent reports, Italy enjoys this status till today. 
“Anyone who understands craft beer understands good Italian wine too,” says Ms Hammond. And when it comes to Italian cuisine, though very well integrated in America, Mr Marchi thinks there is still scope for more: “I don’t see many American housewives preparing lasagne or risotto with marrow. If, on the contrary, we think of products or of having lunch or dinner out, the matter is different and the attention for our wine and food culture is significant. If in New York or Chicago people speak about traditional balsamic vinegar, many people want to know what it is and why it is very different from balsamic vinegar.”
On a whim, we asked the passionate Mr Marchi what what one food/ingredient/wine would he advice a novice to Italian food and wine to start with to get in love with this cuisine? “Risotto, possibly with mushrooms because there’s the nature in the dish and there’s the poetry of preparing it; real buffalo milk mozzarella, nothing to do with the plastic invading the world; and Sforzato Valtellinese because it would be too easy to say Barolo or Brunello,” he said. 
As I was leaving Eataly - which by the way is opening stores in Los Angeles, New York and Sao Paulo - I noticed a beautiful book explaining Italian cuisine right from A. Remembering Mr Marchi’s words and going through the book slow and steady, I am on a path to discovering this hearty cuisine…

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