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Rome: Five Star Food Tour

Rome: Five Star Food Tour
Elizabeth Minchilli, an American expat living in Italy the last 40 years, takes Amy Guttman on one of her exclusive food tours around Rome.
 
The 84-year old, shrinking senore hunches over as she sets our frothy cappucini down on the Formica table.  She was born in the back of this latteria, or milk store, and took over the family business many years ago.  It is small, and empty, save for the refrigerated milk and Coke bottles, and a few pastries behind a glass counter.
 
Elizabeth Minchilli, an American expat living in Italy the last 40 years, has brought me to Latteria di Vicolo del Gallo, named for its street address, to begin one of her exclusive food tours around Rome.  The latteria, she explains, is one of a dying breed; rare because it’s an old fashioned coffee bar, resistant to restoration.
 
Instead, it’s like a step back into the 40s or 50s in a place you’d least expect it.  Located just off the Campo de’ Fiori, this is some of Rome’s most expensive real estate.  The Latteria may be at the heart of a tourist attraction, but few know about this treasure.  And that’s where Elizabeth comes in.  She knows quite a few of these places, not just in Rome, but also Florence and Venice.  Minchilli has authored three restaurant apps, but food is a second career for her.  Architecture and design were her original areas of expertise, having written books about recreating rustic Italian style, and as a writer for Architectural Digest, the New York Times and others.  But about four years ago, she got tired of writing about furniture, and switched the focus of her blog to food.   Soon, Minchilli’s readers wanted her to show them the places she wrote about, and that’s how her small (only 1-4 people maximum), bespoke tours began.
 
Tours
Rome: Five Star Food Tour
can be tailored specifically to client requests but today Minchilli takes me on a walk round Campo de’ Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto.  We walk through the market , noticing the stark contrast of exotic produce, like blue potatoes from Peru, or the first wild asparagus just in from Umbria, both selling at a stall where, if you have to ask the price, you definitely can’t afford it.  I learn it is bad form to patronise more than one vendor (unless they sell different things).   Minchilli fills me in on the history of the area, explaining that years ago after the war, many residents fled to the calm of the suburbs for more greenery and more space, but those who remained now hold some of the city’s priciest property.  They’re the ones buying the Peruvian blue potatoes.
 
We step into Forno de Campo de’ Fiori, a bakery known for its pizza bianca which is like focaccia,  drizzled in olive oil and salt.  The key, Minchilli says, is to eat it fresh; within the first 45 minutes out of the oven.    
There’s a quick stop at I Formaggi di Gianni e Paola, to buy mozzarella di buffalo and burrata for a tasting over cocktails at Caffe Peru.  I learn that wines don’t mix as well with mozzarella as cocktails do and that all hard cheese is called “formaggio,” while soft cheeses simply go by their names, like mozzarella, ricotta, or stracchino.  When children take the tour, Minchilli replaces the cocktails with craft beer and soda, offering kids a natural fizzy pop tasting.
 
Norcineria Viola is busy as people pile in to try plates of pork in various forms.  The fennel sausage is delightful and we eat it with unsalted bread to balance the salty meat.  A cold, red, farmhouse wine goes down too easily given that it is not even lunchtime.
 
We’re making our way to the neighbouring Jewish Ghetto, where, just on the border sits Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi.  It’s the main event for me; the wine and cheese tasting.   Beppe began life as Rome’s first ever wine bar.  It originally opened as a wine shop, and evolved because most stores closed during the day for lunch.  Beppe’s owner saw a market for serving food, and asked his wife to prepare simple, “non-cook,” dishes to offer.  The idea took off and has been replicated all over the city. Over time, Beppe has turned into more of a boutique wine shop, stocking vintages that go well with cheese, mostly from the north.  I try a Nebbiolo that could keep me here all day.  The concept here is simple: fantastic, affordable wines, champagnes and cheese to purchase, with table service for both, and one hot dish a day, as well as fondue.
 
We head off for a “proper” lunch at Da Gigetto.  Here, we eat deep fried artichokes, a Jewish Roman dish one shouldn’t try at home.  Like most fried food, it just doesn’t work as well without a serious deep fryer.  
We finish with gelato at Alberto Pica, where the ingredients are fresh and natural.  Gelato di riso, a signature flavour with a creamy base and real grains of white rice is slightly strange and delicious all at the same time.
A day with Elizabeth begins at 10.30am and finishes at 3pm, with 10 stops and I can guarantee you won’t be hungry for dinner.
 
 
 
 
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29 July 2013
By: Amy Guttman
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