There are only a few days left to shop for that special foodie in your life and we’re pretty sure La Befana won’t be doing it for you. Finding the right gifts for people who love to cook, and or eat, isn’t always easy if you eschew the latest cooking or wine gadget. For those with discerning palates, nothing but the best will do, and that’s where Carluccio’s in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia comes into play.
If you live in the D.C. area and have the pleasure of dining in Carluccio’s restaurant, then you know they never skimp on quality, offer superb service, and are dedicated to authentic Italian cuisine. While dining in is a consummate pleasure, a visit to gourmet shop at Christmastime is a magical trip to Italy.
Every shelf, counter, and window is filled with shiny glass jars filled with chocolate truffles, beautifully wrapped boxes tied with bright red ribbons, and eye-catching, graphic tins filled with handmade gianduja, meringues, and chocolate covered fruits. The smell of chocolate, nuts, and just-baked treats fill the air and it’s hard to decide where to look first.
What makes this shop different from any other Italian or gourmet emporium, are the unique Christmas goodies. The quality is phenomenal but more importantly, many of the imported Christmas treats in the shop are sold exclusively at Carluccio’s. You cannot buy them anywhere else in the U.S. and each one is made especially for Antonio Carluccio. From the handmade baskets to the Christmas tree ornaments, each food gift or treat is handmade by an artisan or artisanal producer back in Italy. While we would love to tell you about each one, we’ve chosen a few of our favorites to encourage you to visit and try a few before you choose what to give as gifts. And you can only buy these in the shop.
Albero Massimo ($14) and Albero Minimo ($5)
These bright, paper Christmas tree ornaments are filled with lovely foil-wrapped gianduja milk chocolate candies. Each paper tree can hang on your fir tree as an ornament, until someone finally succumbs to temptation and tears open the ornament for the chocolates inside. Large includes foil wrapped chocolate coins, Santas, and snowmen, while the smaller size includes just Santa and snowmen. These just scream Buon Natale!
Fichi Ricopeati ($24)
Produced in Calabria, Fichi Ricopeati are sun ripened dried figs stuffed with walnuts and honey that are then dipped in dark chocolate. Each basket case is handmade by an artisan in Calabria who is the last person in Italy making these intricate wooden baskets. The attention to detail is remarkable and for ease of presentation each basket arrives with 10 dipped figs gently wrapped in a glassine laced edge doily that can be used to serve the figs to guests.
Pane D’Oro ($40)
Verona may have been the setting for Romeo and Juliet, but at Christmas, Pane D’Oro, or cake of gold, is the star dessert for the Veronese—and all Italians. Baked in a mold and baked with flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, it’s also a hostess’ dream. It can easily be served solo with vanilla scented powdered sugar, but is also wonderful decorated with fresh or dried fruit; sliced and stacked for effect, paired with gelato; or dipped into a glass of Vin Santo. Shaped like an eight-sided star, each cake arrives bagged inside a pretty box accompanied by a small packet of vanilla scented powdered sugar. Kids of all ages traditionally fight over who gets to shake this sweet, yeast-risen cake with the sugar so it resembles a snow covered alpine summit at Christmastime when presented on a platter.
Panettone Tradizionale ($40)
It’s isn’t Christmas without Panettone, and the best in Italy come from Piemonte. Legend has it this brioche-style bread was a gift from a Milanese baker to his intended who won her heart with the rich bread. Italians serve this for breakfast with un caffèe, for a snack, with Vin Santa at dessert, or use the leftovers to make a heavenly bread pudding. Panettone is only made September to November December and this version is baked with raisins and dried candied orange peel with a hazelnut meringue glaze on top. The gentle perfume of orange literally fills the car as you drive home with your package. Chocolate lovers will want to try the chocolate version which comes studded with milk and dark chocolate nibs, also for $40.
Stelline di Cioccolato ($25)
Piemonte is famous for their chocolate and hazelnuts and for shear decadence gianduja chocolate is a devilish temptation that even the most disciplined or uninterested foodie can’t resist. The rich, roasted hazelnut combined with milk chocolate makes fans of dark chocolate converts. These gold foil stars are made by filling shiny milk chocolate molds with soft, silky smooth gianduja hazelnut chocolate paste. If you can tear yourself away from the jar, these stars should be generously shared with everyone on your list, whether they’ve been nice or naughty. They will thank you later.
Summer Whitford is the D.C. Editor at The Daily Meal and also writes about food, drink, and travel. Follow her on Twitter @FoodandWineDiva, on Instagram at thefoodandwinediva, and read more of her stories here.