Italian food has no shortage of champions here in the U.S. But in the past few decades, there has been a marked upswing in how well we understand Italy’s regional distinctions. Just like Louisiana cuisine is going to be very different from, say, New Mexico, Italy has a range of distinctive locales, each with their own specialties.
Enter Especially Puglia, brainchild of Michele Iadarola, a New Yorker who hails from Italy’s Puglia region. Puglia is the area that produces the highest amount of olive oil in Italy, yet its name recognition is pretty low among the average American. With Especially Puglia, Iadarola aimed to introduce consumers to his robust, food-producing birthright.
“I wanted to connect people with my roots,” he says. “The wonderful food and traditions of Puglia have barely been shown here.”
Especially Puglia is an interesting business model, with three basic items to be purchased. One option involves adopting an olive tree, wherein you select a particular grove, then receive a certificate of adoption and lots of extra-virgin oil from that grove. Another choice is buying a FarmShare box, a seasonally appropriate share of Puglia goodies like oil, pasta, jarred artichokes and tapenades. And if you really want to connect with the source, Especially Puglia now offers farmstays, an immersive way to meet area food producers and eat like royalty.
“We added the farmstays after enough customers told us they liked the products but really wanted to meet the people making them,” says Iadarola. “They said, ‘We have to come visit!”
Iadarola’s previous career was in commercial food distribution. Among other motives, he designed Especially Puglia to be an antithesis of our modern foodways. Like many involved in the new food movement, Iadarola wanted to simplify the channels between producer and customer. Eliminating middlemen was the name of the game; truly you can’t get much closer to your food’s source than a jaunt to lovely Puglia.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect bargain basement pricing with an operation like this. A FarmShare or olive tree adoption will each set you back $160, and the farmstay prices vary—but are not for the frugal-hearted. Iadarola knows these can seem like significant investments, but insists that the quality of his imports are unmatched.
“These are incredibly high-quality, artisan products,” he says. “If you were to buy them in the stores, prices would be even higher. Perhaps [Especially Puglia] is not for everybody, but I know it is worth it.”
Photos courtesy of Especially Puglia.