By Christi Milligan It was a simple meal of tortelli mugellani prepared for their American friends that led Florence-based Roberto Fabrizi and Fosco Ferri to start their import/export business, what they call an “art collection ...
[caption id="attachment_17583" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Greenville resident and merchant Kathy Savage has shopped at Janssen's Market for 45 years. She opted for two bottles of the Tuscany-based "Olio Extravergine D'Oliva" by Frantoio La Corte. Roberto Fabrizi ( left ) and Fosco Ferri ( right ) did the convincing//Photos by Ron Dubick.[/caption]
It was a simple meal of tortelli mugellani prepared for their American friends that led Florence-based Roberto Fabrizi and Fosco Ferri to start their import/export business, what they call an "art collection of Italian food and wine."
"The way that they appreciated this simple and ultra-tasty recipe left us thinking that giving this kind of pleasure to people for work would be a wonderful job," said Ferri. "Not opening a restaurant in Firenze, where we live, but bringing products to Americans."
In 2013, Ferri and Fabrizi established MITALY with dual offices in Florence and Wilmington to bring their specialty products like wine, cheese, truffles and olive oils to the American markets.
But in a departure from their competitors, they're counting on American interest in artisanal history to be the muscle of their marketing efforts.
"It seems to us that people of Delaware are always traveling," said Ferri. "We find Delawareans all the time. We know of DuPont before we know Delaware. These are people who travel and are curious, like to hear, and to eat, stories and histories."
To prep, Fabrizi and Ferri combed their own Italian countryside for a year to study the artisans of specialty products, and to learn their stories and methods.
The Gran Mugello cheese, for example, is a cow cheese made only from the milk of a particular cow breeder outside of Florence, according to Ferri. The cheese is aged one to two years in the cave of an 11th century tower, then massaged weekly with extra virgin olive oil to stave the humidity and lock in the juiciness of the milk.
In 2014, Ferri and Fabrizi invited area restaurateurs and specialty store owners to Italy to connect them to their producers, introduce their collection, and get their advice.
Restaurateur Xavier Teixido was one of them. He uses MITALY's cheeses, olive oils and pastas in his restaurants like Harry's Savoy Grill.
[caption id="attachment_17582" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Fabrizi and Ferri insist that labeling should reflect the artisan who made it, rather than their MITALY brand.[/caption]
"What I really like about them is they have a real passion and education about the products they're representing," said Teixido."They're real purists and true foodies."
According to Teixado, the regional market is ripe for MITALY products, led by millennials, who are interested in their narrative and purity.
But restaurant owners aren't in the market for 50 pounds of product, according to Teixado. That's why they need the wholesale market to purchase bulk quantities so restaurateurs can buy the smaller, usable quantities, he said.
Paula Janssen of Janssen's Market, a gourmet and grocery story in Greenville, invited Ferri and Fabrizi to set up an olive oil tasting inside the store last month.
"Olive oil is as varietal as wine and in Italy, they treat it the same way as vintners do," said Janssen. "For example, there are two different producers from Puglia and their olive oil is very different:the Muraglia is strong and fruity, while the Peranzana is made in the Provencale style and is more nuanced and balanced in flavor."
They've also teamed up with Ugo Petrillo, owner of Philadelphia and Miami-based Tuscan Treasures Tours (TTT). Petrillo shares their mission to uncover the unique history of Italy and ties his tours of some of Italy's lesser-known destinations with histories of its landscape and artisans.
"Ugo is a great person capable of developing strategic relationships that facilitate our work," said Ferri. "Mitaly and TTT have the same customers. His travelers are our best clients, our clients are his best traveler."
"We are proud to present the story of the producer," said Fabrizi. "Our organization is like a foreign office for the producers."