They came, they tasted, they raved. To celebrate its first year online over here, many fans and customers of www.esperya.com had willingly forked out £30 for a glass of Prosecco, unlimited wine and a chance to help themselves to the manifold goodies that this website supplies direct from Italy. Esperya was founded in Italy by Antonio Tombolini, who also calls himself chief taster, and lovingly endorses all the oils, wine, honey, pasta, rice, charcuterie, cheeses and preserves it supplies. It's so well respected in Italy that artisan producers approach him. Many Italians, the most exacting food shoppers, swear by it.
There's a picture and background story to every product listed, so you can learn the story behind, for example, finocchiona from the rare and ancient Cinta Senese breed of Tuscan pig, made by Macelleria Falorni, and available for £7.72 for 400g. Over in London Tombolini was carving with outstanding aplomb, and one hand behind his back, a whole Parma ham. There was also a Eudoro porchetta, an indigenous Umbrian pig boned and stuffed with wild fennel for £5.30 per 300g. Anything you order from the UK is delivered within 24 hours for a charge of around £9.50, regardless of weight.
When you're buying Prosecco di Valdobbaidene at £4.91 a bottle, it's mad not to add on some of the rare meats, or a mozzarella di bufala campana, the best ever tasted, according to some. As is the Sicilian U Trappitu olive oil. Just one little cavil, according to one customer. Any way we can buy anything less than a whole Parma ham? You now can. As of August, having perfected airtight packaging, Esperya supplies Parma and other salume sliced by hand to order in Italy, and with you the following day.
* Online shopping's the answer for those who can't easily find the unusual and excellent on their doorstep. Supermarkets continually boast about their new ethnic ranges and specialist products – though often it's impossible to find what you're looking for. Then they turn out to be as authentic as a Hawaiian pizza. But Sainsbury's new regional Italian range is finding its way into every aisle, and so far, the samples have provided a really convincing impression of having come straight from the gastronomic hot spots of Italy.
The gorgonzola is good, ravioli filled with pumpkin and with ricotta and sage ditto, and even a couple of regional ready meals – liver with balsamic vinegar and olive oil mash, and beef stracotta – were some of the best I've ever eaten on a sofa in front of The Sopranos. Other attractions: spinach pesto from Emilia-Romagna, one of the six regions from which produce has been sourced, walnut and gorgonzola tortelloni, and lemon amaretti from Sicily.
* Disappointment in the barnyard begs for a clearer definition of what qualifies as a farm shop. The culprit: Radcliffe's Farm Shop on the Isle of Wight. It's all very well to sell sacks of its own potatoes and cauliflowers, but what about everything else? No sign of any apples from anywhere in England, let alone locally, although the local Somerfield was selling Discovery. There were grapes and bananas and oranges which I wouldn't expect to be grown nearby. But Dutch strawberries and tasteless tomatoes?
Is this what we expect from a farm shop? I rang the Farm Retailers Association. They have 350 members, which is a fraction of the 3,000 estimated shops on farms in this country. An elite 50 farms have accreditation to prove they're everything they should be, but anyone can call themselves a farm shop. Actually, planning permission isn't needed to sell produce grown in the farmer's own fields. If a building has to be converted and/or the farm wants to add other people's food to its stock, planning permission must be obtained. As a rule planning permission will be granted on condition that 45 per cent of the produce comes from the holding, 45 per cent is grown locally and 10 per cent may be brought in from anywhere else in the world.
The FRA is committed to raising the standard – look out for their members' certificates, or the horseshoe-shaped Best in Farm Shopping sign that the accredited retailers display.Reuse content