Ilaria Baldan came to the West Coast from her native Venice three years ago, the cherry blossoms in full bloom being just one Vancouver element that made her fall for the place. Although the executive director of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada–West (ICCC) loves the city’s natural beauty and its fit-and-healthy focus, what she finds herself missing is her home country’s aperitivo culture.
Unlike North American happy hour, it’s not about finding cheap cocktails; rather, unwinding after a long day with food, drink, and friends is an integral part of Italians’ lifestyle.
“In Italy, it’s really something very important to meet up with your friends after work and have some small tastings of food and a little bit of wine and talk about your day,” Baldan says in a phone call from her office. “What I miss from Italy most is the social environment. I miss the social part, the cultural life. Being with family and friends, the aperitivo culture, is something I would like to bring to Vancouver.”
Imagine Grant Street just east of Commercial Drive transformed into a bustling piazza: a tasting zone will have premium Italian wines and aperitivi to sample, as well as authentic Italian food products, some flown in for the celebration. Guests will get to try up to 12 items for a single ticket price ($20).
Hosted by the ICCC, the Authentic Italian Table puts the emphasis on authentic, shining a light on items that have helped make the nation’s cuisine one of the most popular around the globe.
These are foods that are recognized by the European Union as PDO (protected designation of origin) or PGI (protected geographical information). PDO (or DOP, denominazione origine protetta, in Italy) requires that agrifoodstuffs be produced in a geographically defined area by local farmers and artisans in rigorous compliance with a specific method derived from a traditional recipe or process. This mark, which is found on the label or the product itself, takes into account characteristics of the product’s territory and the craftsmanship and technique in making it, resulting in an item that’s considered inimitable anywhere else.
Each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP has information pressed into it about the factory, the cheese maker, and even which cow the milk came from. Similar to Champagne in that only sparkling wines produced in that area of France can use the prestigious title, products with the DOP and PGI (or IGP, indicazione geografica protetta) marks lay claim to being the real thing. Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella Bologna, pancetta di Calabria, aceto balsamico di Modena, mozzarella di bufala Campana, San Marzano tomatoes, and certain olive oils… The list goes on.
The Authentic Italian Table is part of a larger global project called True Italian Taste. Spearheaded by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, it’s designed to enlighten people on the background of many ingredients and how they’re made, to give the foods more context.
“If you educate people and they understand the process and the story and the history behind certain products, it’s fascinating,” Baldan says. “Italians would say food is always a process for us, from the making of the product to the act of eating. And you can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t eat it with your family or enjoy it with your friends with a good paired glass of wine, it’s not the same. The atmosphere and the story and the history behind it all go together.”
Vendors participating in the Authentic Italian Table include Sciué Italian Bakery Caffè, which will be serving panini with porchetta, and De Benedetto Import Foods, with bruschetta, olives, pickled vegetables, and taralli, a breadstick-style snack from southern Italy. Catalia Import will dish up tortellini, while Valoroso Foods will have a spread of prosciutto di Parma DOP, mortadella IGP, and several Italian cheeses. Long-standing Burnaby Italian deli and meat market Cioffi’s will be there with prosciutto di Norcia IGP, balsamic vinegar IGP, and an assortment of Italian cheeses.
A chef from BiBo Pizzeria con Cucina will be making fresh, hand-made pasta with tomato sauce, and then there will be chocolate—lots and lots of Ferrero chocolate.
To drink: premium red and white wine, Campari, espresso, Cedrata Tassoni soda (a nonalcoholic beverage made from the citron fruit), and more.
As an Italian proverb says, A tavola non si invecchia: “At the table, one does not age.”
Italian Day takes place on Commercial Drive on Sunday (June 10). Tickets for the Authentic Italian Table can be purchased in advance at ICCBC website.