How to Help Italy Now: Buy Authentic Italian Ingredients & Wine


Italy is now the country second-hardest hit by COVID-19, right behind China. For now, it is on lockdown and even travel within the country is discouraged. That led us to inquire with the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas (IACC Texas) whether there would soon be a shortage of imported Italian ingredients, such as real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, pastas, cured meats like prosciutto, amari (Italian liqueurs) and prized wines such as Barolo, Barbera, Sangiovese and Amarone della Valpolicella.

(Thankfully, so far Italian wine has not been subjected to the same 25-percent tariffs applied to certain German, French and Spanish wines, nor has a previously threatened 100-percent imported wine tariff been implemented yet.)

Italian wines for barbecue
Italian Lambrusco that Houston Chronicle BBQ columnist Chris Reid and U.S. importer Brian Larky recommended to go alongside Texas barbecue at a Taste of Italy panel in 2018. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

On the contrary, IACC Texas deputy director Maurizio Gamberucci says despite the travel ban, shipments to and from Italy are continuing. That’s good news for Italian restaurants and home cooks who depend on ingredients from that country.

“So far there are no restrictions on merchandise shipments from and to Italy,” wrote Gamberucci in an email. “On the contrary, Italian producers are eager to sell their goods overseas, since they are experiencing a significant contraction of sales in Italy and partially Europe.”

Mozzarella in Carrozza at ROMA
Mozzarella in Carrozza at ROMA, a decadent fried sandwich made with imported Italian cheese. Photo by Phaedra Cook

What would it be like in the United States without Italian products? For one, it would greatly harm Italian restaurants that use authentic, imported ingredients. “It would affect us immensely!” said owner Shanon Scott of ROMA, an independent Italian restaurant in Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood.  “Our wines are all Italian, and almost every product that we use — besides produce and some proteins — is imported from Italy.” While right now there’s not a supply shortage, Scott is concerned that if the coronavirus crisis continues, there could be. “Most of the wine and ingredients are already stateside, but if this continues we will see a spike in prices,” he said. “As a restauranteur, I will have to absorb the price.”

Matt Vernon, who owns Lasagna House III in north Houston, also relies heavily on Italian ingredients. “We use Euro Mid, a European importer for most of our cheese and specialty items. More than half of our wine list is Italian and our coffee distributor imports weekly from Padua. If there were a shortage, it would definitely make a negative impact on a lot of restaurants!” he said.

Money makes the world go ’round, so those who want to help Italy during a difficult time can do so by continuing to buy its products and support its producers.

By the way: no, it’s not at all likely to get coronavirus from packages sent from other countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.”

So, go ahead: enjoy that Italian wine, that dish of cheese-laden carbonara and a charcuterie tray loaded with whisper-thin prosciutto and spicy soppressata. When you do, you’re doing something nice for Italy — and your taste buds.

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