God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Safeway--You Can't Compare!

There exists a myth that the American supermarket has no equal--particularly in Italia. Maybe the charm and convenience of the nearby green grocer, pasticceria, macelleria, gastronomia and other small shops accounts for this misconception--or maybe it's because the super store is a relatively new presence here.

Whatever the reason, it has arrived and offers an incredible shopping experience--unlike any in California--which surely is the supermarket capital of the U.S. One caveat to this is that these mega stores exist only in large metroplitan areas and require distance driving from villages and towns--which accounts for hundreds and maybe thousands of COOP or Conad groceries throughout the country. These stores range from very small to large enough to meet daily needs, making drives to the big stores unnecessary if one is satisfied with limited products and options.

When we want to do a big shopping for staples and basic supplies such as paper goods, cleaning products, packaged foods and whatever else we would buy at the small COOP in Greve, we head to Firenze which has 3 of these elephantine stores--COOP, Esselunga and Panorama. Yesterday was the first time we went to the Panorama and it dwarfs the other two already huge stores.

We still do shop at the traditional family run shops for most of our produce and meat needs as:
  1. I abhor the demise of "mom and pop" stores here and in the U.S.
  2. The products are wonderful fresh and the service is as personal as you could possible want.
  3. These shops in someways symbolize what Italy was and is--a land that is its people.
I had thought to make this a picture essay--but, taking pictures in a grocery store appears to be a cause for concern as I was told rather impolitely--language definitely was not an issue--to put the camera away. Without hesitation I complied as I was concerned that my Sun Disc would be confiscated and destroyed right on the spot if I didn't. Perhaps I was a spy from Esselunga? A terrorist? Or maybe, it is that they protect the privacy of employees and thought I was taking people pictures.

So--the photo essay has only a few pictures which don't begin to show the magnitude of the stores or the beauty and extent of the different displays. They really are works of art. Each speciality section--bakery/pastry, cheese, delicatessen meats, fish--takes up a huge amount of floor space. Tomatoes alone have a display as big as most entire produce sections at the stores I shop at in the US--well, almost anyway. I suspect that each variety has its own purpose but I am not fluent in the fine points of Italian produce.

These are some of the tomato options--not all by far.

Then there are apples--and apples--and apples

And potatoes

And other good stuff!

There are more varieties of cheese than I knew existed and I wish I knew how to use more of them than I do. I think you need to be born in a land of cheese to understand all there are and the vast number of permutations. For instance, pecorino, which is part of the Tuscan soul, comes in innumerable tastes and types and aging. We bought some at the wine fair in Impruneta a while go that was aged in hay for a long period. It was absolutely, totally delicious -particularly when used with fig and spicy mostardi. With our love for hot foods, we really like the pecorina piccante--Casey is always asking for it when we bring out the cheese.

Strangely--with all this, it is impossible to get chedder cheese in Italy--for American and British ex-pats this is a frequent lament. How can we have tacos or our favorite scalloped potatos without chedder or queso fresco? At this point we still have some that we brought with us, but soon it will be gone--alas.

This is a small portion of the deli and cheese section at Panorama.

One corner of a vast display of fresh, fresh fish

I would love to have shown you more--maybe next time we go I can try again.
The fresh, out of the forno, bakery area assaults the senses--a true delight to behold--as is the section with freshly prepared foods that makes one think how easy it would be to not prepare dinner--just bring the meal home with us. Gourmet dining from the grocery store!

And--how could I forget the meat counterS--yes, with an S. Not just one counter but whole rows of them with a zillion different cuts and kinds. In fact, I plan to do an entry sometime on the meats of Italy--in one word, superb! I will sorely miss them when we return as the quality and freshness here in Italy is totally different than the long-haul meat in the states--even at my favorite meat market, Iowa Meat Farms--let alone the packaged stuff in most supermarkets.

Along with these speciality areas, stores have such things as three long, long double isles of cookies, crackers, and other packaged bakery type things, aisles of pasta (of course, this is Italy), and whatever else you expect to find in a supermarket. And, then, of course, there are the mundane things such as toilet paper, soaps, etc., etc., etc.. And the unexpected--computers, office supplies, full comestic sections, housewares, toys--and there must be more...

So we bought a lot of stuff, all of course, things we need, including the toy for Casey whom we just found out scored 600 out of 600 on the math portion of the California achievement test he took last May. It seemed like something that should receive some form of recognition and what better way than a B-Damon game set?

Papa having fun.
The consolation for us yesterday as we left with a bank account €199 lighter was the incredibly, sinfully good gelato right outside the registers. All other thoughts receded into the background of consciousness as we savored every last drip of sweet goodness. And--it will be true next time as well.

Tomorrow we are going on a little 6 day excursion to Montalcino for a colorful medieval sagra and then on to Orvieta and Pitigliano. You can share in it when we return. Ciao!


Valerie said...

Jane, don't lament the lack of cheddar! I've used Fontal (similar to Monterrey Jack) and Casciotta mista with good results in my chile dishes. If you want it a little sharper, grate some provolone piccante to mix in with it!

Mary Beth said...

How lovely. good work on Casey's test.

I am now in the process of planning our 10-day Italy adventure at the end of Nov.(No, not long enough, but the most we can manage.)

It'll be my first transatlantic trip w/my 3 darlings (ages 7, 7 and 10) and their babysitter (argentinian art student!) (my husband's in a show on broadway so we sadly are leaving him behind.)

our itinerary is Bologna, Venice, Ravenna. your pix and words are so inspiring. thanks

Jane said...

Valerie--thanks for the cheese info--you know I will use it!
Mary Beth--you are brave--3 kids with just you and the babysitter. What show is your husband in? Have a great time!We have taken Casey on many trips but 1 is a lot different than 3. My website tells and shows a lot about those trips.zvvzsije

Mary Beth said...

Hi Jane -

My husband's in the broadway play by George Bernard Shaw, "Heartbreak House." a very classy and successful production.

I just printed out your Ravenna restaurant suggestions. you have done a wonderful job at chronicling your adventures. I am happy just to be able to remember to bring the camera (let alone do something with the photos!)

we'll be staying for 5 nights in ravenna w/my cousin who lives there. she has 2 young daughters so i'm hoping our kids get to know and enjoy and talk to each other -- in English and Italian!

thanks for saying i'm brave. i am so psyched about the trip! adventures await!