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Italian fare and talent

Mixologist Paolo Viola

Mixologist Paolo Viola

Showcasing the latest trends and products, the Bellavita Expo is the largest business-to-business exposition of Italian food and beverages outside of Italy. Iggy Fenech heads to the one in London.

As I take a seat at the cocktail centre, the smell of freshly baked pizza wafts in my direction. Behind me, business owners chat and gesticulate away in Italian, and it becomes clear that many of them have known each other for many years. Upstairs, meanwhile, the clinking of hundreds of bottles of wine, prosecco, olive oil, sauces and more heralds the start of the tasting sessions that are about to begin.

This is the Bellavita Expo, a trade show that takes place all across the world, with stops in Amsterdam, Moscow, Bangkok, Mexico City, Warsaw, Chicago, Toronto and London. And it’s become so big over the past few years that, last year alone, over 1,000 Italian companies from across the globe took part.

“I am always on the lookout for the best Italian brands and products,” says Grace Paterno Shaw, the founder of LuxItalian, a recently-formed holiday-planning company based in London, which organises luxury tours based on food, culture and history to the Italian peninsula and its satellite islands

“Bellavita is a great way to try some of the best Italian food and beverage brands and to further understand the philosophy of these said brands. We like to work with local, sustainable companies that produce high-quality products so that, when we send our clients to restaurants, bars or vineyards, for example, we know they will get to experience the very best produce Italy has to offer.”

From wines made from grapes grown in vineyards located on the Etna to beluga caviar hailing from the mainland and which is, according to Bloomberg, taking a piece of the market in Russia, there is very little you cannot find here. Through my five-hour tour of the hundreds of stands set up at the Business Design Centre close to Angel Tube Station, I get to try hundreds of items, including fresh pasta, organic chocolate spreads, fig jam, amaros and gorgonzola.

“Italy is a versatile country from the alps in the north to the sand dunes in the south,” Grace continues. “We have a great variation of microclimates and terrain and this helps to produce unique products that are some of the best in the world. The way Italians use and craft the products also adds a special touch because every region in Italy has its own methods of cultivating, cooking and producing, which results in high-quality products that are recognisable internationally.”

Hourly seminars and presentations explain the leaps taken by artisanal producers

One thing that truly stands out is the design. Beautiful tins that look more like enamelled Victorian jewels protect a small handful of precious caviar; olive oil is housed in glass bottles that wouldn’t go amiss in contemporary art museums; and flour is encased in paper bags that look like they’re straight out of a painting of rustic life.

But the Expo isn’t just about showcasing the best products: hourly seminars and presentations explain the leaps taken by artisanal producers and entrepreneurs in the various fields represented here. One which is particularly interesting is Bellavita 2018’s resident mixologist Paolo Viola’s masterclass on the latest cocktail trends.

As the manager of the trendy Terrazza Calabritto, which has bars in Milan and Naples, Paolo travels all across Europe doing these masterclasses to share his latest ideas.

“Cocktails are becoming the protagonists at mealtime,” he tells me. “Whereas before people paired wine and beer with their food, today they are more adventurous with what they drink. This has allowed the sector to grow but it also means that we have to continually reinvent ourselves… The skill of a barman, however, is in enhancing the few raw ingredients he or she puts together, and that is very true nowadays when the trend is to reinvent the classic cocktails.”

During his masterclass, Paolo creates some truly delicious examples – can’t resist trying them out – but they are quite ‘out there’. Among these is one that uses a technique called ‘fat washing’, which sees him mix whisky and melted chocolate together and leaving it to set for 24 hours at room temperature. It is then frozen leading the two ingredients to separate, before the chocolate removed, leaving the whisky infused with nuances of cocoa beans.

“This job is my life,” he continues as he tops a drink made by soaking rice in Italian gin, and garnishing it with a salted cracker, basil leaves and halved cherry tomatoes. “And, I’m now working on a project that involves Sicily, myself and cocktails, which I hope will reach Malta, too!”

As an outsider spending time at such a business-to-business event, I can’t help but feel overjoyed at everything we can expect on restaurants’ tables and in our tummies in the months to come… And with so many Italian businesses now open in Malta, it may not be that bad an idea to have our own Bellavita Expo here on the island.

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