Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From Ferraris to Food

One of the greatest friends of my life lives in Italy, and now you have a chance to get to know his way of life -- through his small town's way of eating.

Sheila here. Rayme Marcozzi and I have known each other since third grade. In high school, we were in the marching band, chorus, show choir, and the plays together, and in college, we both majored in the broadcasting field.

Rayme moved to Italy 16 years ago after he met his wife, Claudia (another great story for another day). Rayme lost his job in TV a couple of years back, and not long after that, Claudia lost her job in the clothing industry.

Rayme says, "For the last 10 years, we would always kick around the idea to sell specialty food products from Modena, but we were always too busy with work. When we lost our jobs, we thought that this was a good time to take the plunge and see if we could do it."

This is where their story really begins. Rayme and Claudia have started an artisan food business, called Fine Tastes of Modena (pronounced MO'-duh-nuh).
Rayme says, "if you like food, Italy is the place, especially Modena."

I've never been there, so I asked my friend to describe Modena: "A middle size city and like most northern Italian towns, its streets are wider and not winding like in southern Italian towns. It may not be as famous as Florence or Venice, but it does have many art museums, and it once had canals. Modena was once swamp land and they made canals in the city to dry it out. There are several streets that have the word canal in their name, like Corso Canalgrande and Strada Canaletto. Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena, and his birthplace is being turned into a museum, which should be opened this year. " It's also the hometown of opera great Luciano Pavarotti.

Modena is also famous for Balsamic Vinegar. In fact, if it's not made there, it's not the real deal, according to the Italians. I showed Rayme's website to local food expert Rita Heikenfeld, and here's what she said: "You need to check it out to see not only what they have to offer, really quality vinegars, etc., but clear and understandable definitions of the different kinds of Balsamic vinegar. There's so much misleading info out there that if you're going to buy it, you should buy the best."

Living in Modena has provided Rayme with a real education about food. "There are many things and combinations of food here that I would have never thought of eating. Food that my parents would have eaten in the depression or that farmers from their generation would have eaten, like various parts of the pig. Prosciutto is famous and known worldwide, but when was the last time you've eaten chitlins? They eat it here!

I would have never imagined that losing my job would help me to eat better. We eat more fresh food and less pre-made, frozen food. We eat pasta every day for lunch such as pasta with tuna, pasta with porro (leeks), pasta with peas, ham and heavy cream, pasta with lentils, pumpkin risotto, and tortellini. We love pasta and the recipes are endless. We love tigelle, a simple dish. It's a disk of bread. You eat it hot, slice it in half and put whatever you want in it, salami, cheese even Nutella. My favorite is how the people here eat it. With pesto Modenese (a mixture of lard, pancetta, rosemary and garlic) and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano."

Gotta tell ya, writing this blog has made me hungry! But back to the reason I'm writing it. I am hoping to turn some people on to my friends' business. Here's how great Rayme and Claudia are. When you place an order online, they don't make it final until they personally email you back with the shipping costs. "We noticed that to certain countries, one shipper is more economical than others. So based on the orders and their destination, we try to find which courier would give the most economical shipping price and best service."

Rayme's discovered a lot of other businesses make money on shipping, i.e. they might add 10% to the real shipping cost. "We don't. There is shipping and handling, what it costs to ship the order plus the cost of the packaging... period. Also, we want to have a more direct relationship with our customers. So if the customer has questions, we want to answer them. If the customer has an account with a courier that is cheaper, no problem!"

My friend Giovanna Trimpe, the author of Holy Chow, told me she's been looking for a long time for a way to get foods from Italy, where she spent part of her childhood, but she didn't know which company to trust. Now she has one. She's already signed up for the Marcozzis' newsletter, and she can't wait to try the online store.

Right now, Rayme & Claudia can only ship a couple of their products to the U.S. because of FDA rules, but they may ask more of their suppliers to register with the FDA in the future. Pedroni's Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and BG Villa Bisini Gambetti's Jams with Aceto Balsamico are available to us now, and I plan to try them soon.

I wish you could meet Rayme. He's one of the funniest guys I know, and he's pretty brave too. The first time he went to Italy to find his Italian family, he didn't know a soul, and he didn't know the language. And how many guys do you know who up and move to another country for a girl? If you met Claudia, you would know why he did. I'm hoping Rayme's new venture will end with (another) sweet reward.

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