Nov 30, 2018

What to pack for winter in Italy

While most people travel to Italy in the warmer months, savvy travelers are more likely to take advantage of the sales available during winter. I'm a big supporter of traveling to Italy in the off-season. The only issue with this is packing – bulky winter clothing takes up lots more room than sandals and T-shirts.

I am a carry-on-luggage-only kind of gal, so my travel attire must fit in my packing cubes and cabin size trolley. I have become somewhat of an expert on cabin-size packing and often help friends and family with tips on how and what to bring in their luggage when they travel. Today I’ll be sharing my advice for packing for winter trips to Italy.

You know me and my love for lists. When I travel, I work with a checklist that I keep in my luggage. The list helps me plan out outfits as well as keep track of items throughout the journey.

what to pack for winter in italy

One master packing list that will work for every Italy traveler is utopia: there are too many variables to take into consideration. What region of Italy? If traveling in the Alps, whether skiing or not, you’ll need specific snow wear. If traveling to Sicily––even during winter––you may regret not having brought your bathing suit and sunscreen. Whether you'll be visiting Italy couchsurfing or ticking off all the country's 3-Michelin star restaurants will obviously affect what you'll be packing in the suitcase.

What this is, essentially, is a set of suggestions based on the few key pieces I've found useful on my trips, and that frequent Italy travelers should never come to the Bel Paese without.

what to pack for winter in italy

The first thing to consider when packing for Italy is the winter season's climate.

Winter in Italy is mostly chilly and wet. So what you want to pack should first of all keep you warm and dry. Since cold-weather clothing is far bulkier, if you have the budget for it this may be the time to splurge on travel clothing in high-tech fabrics that keep you warm without volume, and that dry quickly. I say that because in addition to traveling light, I am also an advocate of doing laundry during travel, including hand-washing items and drying them in the apartment/hotel where I’m staying. This reduces space in your bag (I hate the fact of having a section of my luggage occupied by soiled garments as travel days progress); cuts down on weight and shortens that dreadful back-home-from-travel laundry routine. For this reason, I always pack a clothesline with pegs; and when I arrive at my destination, I make it a point to purchase liquid laundry detergent for washing shirts, or a block of Marseille soap for my unmentionables.

So with no further ado, let's get started on your Italy winter packing essentials list:

what to pack for winter in italy

Warm, waterproof coat

A coat that's both warm and water-resistant is a staple of Italian winter travel. I worked 15 years in the film industry, shooting in all weather conditions, so I am partial to Gore-tex, but having a shell jacket that will shrug off the rain as you walk from monument to museum is equally effective. Something with a hood is helpful, too. That said I would avoid a big bulky down parka: learn instead to layer with thermals, long-sleeve shirts and sweaters and have that waterproof lightweight (yet warm) jacket be your water/wind breaker. Mostly, bring a coat you love and feel confident in. Patagonia, The North Face, Dubarry and Columbia are all reliable, durable brands.

what to pack for winter in italy

Waterproof shoes

How annoying are wet socks? Imagine walking around the Roman Forum all day with wet feet? Don't let a little precipitation dampen your Italy travel plans, though. Unless you're traveling to Venice during high-tide season, I wouldn't go as far as packing rubber rain boots, but do consider investing in a reliable pair of shoes that will protect your feet from water when you're sightseeing on a wet day. I would avoid white sneakers, and rather pack only one pair of shoes that's both functional (comfortable for walking around in) and nice enough to wear to a restaurant. Properly Scotchgard-treated Blundstone ankle boots are what I wear when leading walking tours on rainy days. Feet stay warm and dry for hours. Caterpillar hiking boots are also very reliable, but chunkier. 

what to pack for winter in italy


Denim is bulky and takes forever to dry––two things that count against jeans when traveling in wet weather––but I always bring one pair of blue jeans because they’re also sturdy and fashionable. Stretchy legging-type jeans that can be tucked into boots are also a great idea. One thing I do recommend is wearing them on the plane (that way they won't take up too much room in your luggage) and bringing another pair of non-denim pants to wear while your jeans have a chance to dry out if they get soaked. These can be tech material cargo pants, a fun pair of dungarees, or Chinos. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Wrinkle reisistant

I'm not a fan of the roll-up packing method because it leaves my clothes too wrinkled. Brooks Brothers, Land's End, Nordstrom's, Talbots and Foxcroft sell button-down shirts and blouses that don't need ironing and which work well with layering. 

Cardigans vs. bulky sweaters

I highly recommend bringing long sleeve tops and cardigans rather than thick sweaters, because these take up too much space and are not good for layering. Bringing 3-4 is sufficient for a week. I also recommend bringing one thinner fleece that can be worn on its own for warmer days and double as an additional layer under your coat on colder days. 


High quality thermal underwear (long johns) base layer wear is a smart winter travel move. I pack 2-3 doubles and wash them on rotation. They dry super quickly, so you always have a warm, clean pair every day. 


Pack one set of long-sleeved comfy pyjamas. If nightgowns are more your thing, consider flannel, not fleece, which tends to cause static with often centralized the heating.

what to pack for winter in italy


Umbrella – a small, lightweight but sturdy collapsible umbrella with a protective sleeve and a loop attached to the handle is the best purchase you can make for Italy winter travel.

Handbag – The bigger my bag, the more I tend to fill it. But the Longchamp Le Pliage lightweight hold-everything purse fits everything in its roomy interior and has long handles for comfortably wearing it over your shoulder. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Scarf – I'm a scarf-lover. No matter the season, I tend to bring a pashmina-style shawl with me whenever I travel. It's perfect on planes now that every airline charges for blankets, and in the winter it doubles as a scarf to keep me warm. This is where I throw thrift to the wind and go for good quality cashmere, which is warmer and softer than anything else.

Hat – My nonna's mantra was, "If your head's warm, you'll never be cold." As soon as temperatures drop, my collection of beanies and berets gets put to good use. I prefer models that cover my ears. Again, choose non-itchy wool and avoid angora which is pretty but sheds, ending up caught in your eyelashes.

Gloves – While I encourage you to look up from your phone and take in the beauty of Italy through your eyes, phone-dependant travelers may want to invest in a pair of texting gloves that allow your fingers to still work on a touch screen.

Socks – Don't be cheap: pack a dozen pairs of warm, comfortable, snug-fitting merino wool socks. Avoid cotton (which makes your feet sweat)! 

what to pack for winter in italy

Undergarments – I normally pack 7-8 panties and 1-2 bras per week. It's good to have extras!

Noise canceling headphones – Don't underestimate the power of a good pair of headphones for air travel. Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones are comfortable and lightweight, packing 40 hours of battery life, ideal for long-haul travel, but they do come with a detachable headphone jack so I also use them for in-flight entertainment.

Adapter, power bank & lightening cable – Travel power adapters are essential for your trip, be sure to purchase ones that work in Italy for Type F power sockets. I like to sleep with my phone on my bedside, so a long cable to charge my phone is essential at rentals and hotels that don't have conveniently-placed wall sockets. To never run out of battery juice while on the go, be sure to pack (and remember to charge up) a portable power bank.

Will you be traveling to Italy this winter? Want to join me on a tasting tour in Rome?
Readers of this blog get a 10% discount on a 3-hour food tour in Rome.
When booking, use the #AOPwintertravel code, valid until February 28, 2019.

Disclaimer: I do not receive a commission on any of the items listed and linked, they are products I normally use, and that I think can be helpful to you.

Nov 16, 2018

My 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome

"There is a reciprocal relationship between cheese and its customer: every cheese waits for its client, poses in a way to attract it, with attitude and haughty grain, or on the contrary dissolving into surrendering abandon" 
In his novel Palomar, Italo Calvino describes the subtle relationship (and slight exhilaration) of finding oneself in front of an overflowing cheese counter in a Parisian cheese shop.

That same embarrassment of riches is how I feel when, disoriented, I make my way to the front of the shop and peer in the overflowing cheese display. Not only am I tugged in several directions––torn between a soft-ripened bloomy rind robiola and a voluptuous and nutty Alpine toma––I am also reminded with every bite, that cheese is the result of dedication, hard work, passion and love.

Behind each cheese there are in fact OGM-free cereals, rolling pastures, fragrant meadows, green grass and transhumance, and also sets of sturdy (and often heat-chapped) hands, obstinance and secrets handed down over the centuries, superstition, patience, tradition, prayer and for many, livelihood.

Rome has its fair share of cheese shops. The ones listed below are some of the usual places where I normally am found, lost in contemplation, tasting slices carved from old classics, or discovering new incredible products.

I like to linger and chat with the cheesemonger, ask about where the cheese was made, who the people behind each wheel are, what wine pairs well with the cheese, what bread pairs well with the cheese... The conversation often goes on for hours. I know you understand.

Here are my 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome.

Conciato di Rebibbia at ProLoco Dol

ProLoco DOL
In the Centocelle suburb, Vincenzo Mancino and his "family" of loyal Lazio food purveyors operate in the number one location for regional culinary specialties. Cheese occupies large portion of the offer, with stars like rare Caciofiore whose curds are made with soaked thistle, soft Cacio Magno, or the herb-rubbed Conciato produced by the female inmates of the Rebibbia prison. There's also a wide selection of cave-aged pecorinos, caciocavallo and buffalo cheese produced in the nearby Pontina marshland. Cured meats and cheeses can be enjoyed seated along with house pizza in teglia and a handful of succulent entrees. Reservations recommended. especially on the weekend.

Alpine cheeses at La Tradizione

La Tradizione
Owned by Roberto and Stefano and a passionate team of cheese lovers, the shop boasts one of Rome's widest cheese selections. The display case (and the caveau downstairs) conceal a vast assortment of cured meats and more than 400 kinds of cheese from Italy and abroad. Barrel-matured and cave-aged Caciocavallo, ricotta Seirass, plus Cheddar and Stilton. There's a special display reserved for only for blues, gorgonzolas and roqueforts. Shelves of goat milk cheeses, caciocavallo, taleggio, Sicilian ragusano, and the unique Conciato Romano of the Le Campestre farm that's aged with herbs, spices and wine in special terracotta anforae. All the extravagant shopping here is paper-wrapped with a ribbon and handed over with a smile.

Bloomy goat cheeses at Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
Beppe Giovale comes from a family of cheesemakers who produce, age and cure cheeses made with the milk of their own goats, cows and sheep. The spacious shop located in the Jewish Quarter sells mostly Piemonte and French raw milk regional cheeses sourced exclusively from free-range, pasteur-raised cattle farms. The cheeses can be both purchased or enjoyed at one of the tables in the back, along with a glass of wine, whole-grain breads, terrines, extra virgin olive oil, edible flowers, nuts, pomegranate berries and fruit jellies. Reservations recommended at peak aperitivo time (6-8pm).

The blue cheese display at La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti

La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti
At stall number 26 of Mercato Latino in Piazza Epiro, Francesco and Donatella carve wedges out of toothsome wheels, handing them with a smile to awe-struck customers. Conversation is followed by a glass of wine and more cheese. This is totally normal here, transactions come later. The stall sells only artisanal products sourced at small creameries and family-run dairy farms, and not usually found at farmer's markets. The goal is removing from our daily food shopping cart items commonly available in big chain grocery stores, providing instead valid, high quality alternatives, sold at totally democratic prices. The market is open Mon-Sat, 6:30am-3:00pm.

The glorious stinkers sold at Salumeria Roscioli

Salumeria Roscioli
Bread and cheese go hand in hand. It's no surprise then that Rome's leading baker should naturally expand its offer to include bread-loving foods like prime cured meats and stellar cheese. The manic selection of quality products is in the hands of brothers Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli. Gracing displays are soft discs of robiola, bloomed and washed rind cheeses, moldy blues like rare White Stilton Gold, made in only 6 creameries and containing actual flecks of gold. There's more: think rare Bitto, elastic pecorinos, or Caciocavallo Podolico made in Puglia between May and June with the milk of an endangered cow breed. Reservations mandatory.

Signor Roberto and Signora Anna at Antica Caciara Trasteverina

Antica Caciara Trasteverina
The smile on Signor Roberto and his wife Anna's face lights up with every customer that walks in the door of this historical Trastevere cheese shop. This is where Romans come for authentic Pecorino Romano DOP (made by Fulvi with Lazio milk) and sheep ricotta sourced at sustainable creameries. Other delights include oven-baked ricotta, formaggio di fossa (cheese matured in sealed 6-ft deep tufa stone pits), toma del Piemonte, variably aged regional cheeses, plus Norcia cured meats like guanciale, corallina, coglioni di mulo and other goofy-named local salumi.

Antipasto situation at Salsamenteria

Roberto Mangione runs a small deli (salsamenteria, in old Italian) and you'd be content just purchasing silken slices of prosciutto San Daniele or a precious sliver of gooey Gorgonzola, but you'd be missing out on Rome's best kept secret. After the sun goes down, Roberto pours the bubbly and serves fine cheeses and top cured meats with impromptu seating on foldable chairs and tables opposite the display cases. I come for the refined culinary delights like beer-flavored Ottavio cheese produced at Fattorie Fiandino, or Alpine Beaufort. All paired with Roberto's elegant selection of Champagne (200+ labels), Italian and French wines, craft beers and liqueurs. Given venue size, call ahead to let Roberto know you'll be stopping by.

All the French cheeses at Va Sano

Va Sano
After moving to Rome from their native Paris, David and Laurène travel back to France regularly to source their high quality French products. Think creamy Camembert Fermier, or delightful Comté aged 24 or 36 months, wines from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Languedoc and the Southwestern wine regions, plus spectacular Champagnes. In addition to the gorgeous cheese and wine selection, accoutrements include foie gras and macarons, croissants, pain au chocolat, pain d'épice and gourmet jams. Wine and cheese tastings are held weekly.

The window display at Casa dei Latticini in Rome

Casa dei Latticini
Family-run since 1898 – not a typo – Antonio Micocci's treasure trove of all things moldy, funky and crumbly continues the family tradition: providing the elegant Sallustiano neighborhood residents with top-notch cheese and dairy. Shelves are chock-full with 500 different types of Italian cheese and some French highlights. The selection of toma piemontese wheels is staggering, and the delicious mozzarella di bufala is delivered twice a day from Paestum (Barlotti, Vannulo, etc). The staff always has a small selection of tastings out on the counter for walk-in clients and devoted aficionados.

Roberto Liberati in his historical butcher shop in Rome

Bottega Liberati
Take the orange A metro line and get off at Giulio Agricola. The 1960s historically acclaimed Liberati butcher shop is now in the hands of Roberto. Sold in addition prime Maremmana, Piemontese, Chianina, Charolais and Bue Grasso di Carrù beef cuts are select herbs, bottled sauces, jarred legumes and bronze-extruded pastas. Romans also flock here for Liberati's phenomenal cheese selection. Prime quality products hail from high altitude pastures and grass fed cattle. I can't last too long without goat's milk robiola Le Ramate, Cau & Spada cheeses, and his sublime burrata. Bottega Liberati is furthermore the only place south of the Alps where I can find the delightful Eggemoa cheeses.


Nov 7, 2018

Vellutata recipes

With the first chill of November, heaters are turned on in Italian apratment buildings, and soups are brewed all over the boot-shaped peninsula. My favorite kind of soup is vellutata.

Vellutata is one of those perfect Italian words.

noun, fem. 

Gastronomic term – Vegetable puree combined with heavy cream, starchy legumes or egg yolks rendering a creamy, and––as the name implies––velvety consistency.

Growing up, my son––who loyal readers of this blog know as Mr E––loved vegetables. He's always been daring and tried all the food I presented him, regardless what color it was. His kindergarten, and then later grade school peers, did not eat anything green.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

Then at around 6, he started pushing away the bowl of minestrone. My industrious mother, who may have pulled this trick with me too at some point in my growing up, started pureeing soups with an immersion blender and serving them to him as velouté. That silly exotic word (with an actual completely different meaning) has remained in our family lexicon. We actually normally refer to vellutata as velouté.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The most popular velouté in our household is one made with zucca (pumpkin) given the abundance of it in markets and on autumn tables. But this creamy soup can be made year round with a wide range of other seasonal crops. During summer, vellutata is a bounty of zucchini, peas, asparagus, peppers, etc. Now I'm going crazy with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, carrots, squash, leafy greens and apples, even. It's the trickiest way of serving children a whole lot of vegetables, shielded behind a voluptuous texture and a mysterious name.

I like to mix my vellutata soups up with other kinds of vegetables and spices, topping them with croutons, toasted nuts and seeds, sautéed mushroom, fried onions or crispy pancetta. 

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The beauty of this dish is that it can virtually be made with what's available in the fridge that day. Take vellutata di patate e porri, for example: this creamy leek and potato soup is made soft and creamy by adding a boiled potato to gently simmering leeks. The potato gives the mixture a rich, velvety texture. More thickening helpers for your vellutata can be chickpeas, lentils, a spoonful of flour, egg yolks, aquafaba, beans, ricotta, cooked chestnuts... you name it.

If I can, I'll avoid using heavy cream as the liquid element in my vellutata. A trick is swapping it with coconut milk, bone broth, yogurt or sour cream.

zucca mantovana for vellutata soup

The first vellutata of the season I made this year was with roasted zucca mantovana, which is a sensational candy-sweet pumpkin. I pureed it with turmeric, coconut milk and canned chickpeas for thickness. It was to die for. 

After a particularly rainy rugby training last week, my son and I came home under a torriential downpour craving something warm and comforting. I blended together steamed cauliflower, a can of cannellini beans, a pinch of curry and used vegetable broth I had made in advance and froze in an ice cube tray. I topped our steaming bowls with toasted almonds and we ate on the sofa under a pile of fleece blankets while binge-watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.

I recently received wonderful porcini mushrooms from my neighbor's campagna. I immediately made vellutata di porcini, or velouté rather. I made it gluten-free so my little sister could have some too in case she decided to stop in for dinner after work.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

300 g wild porcini mushrooms
1 white onion, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh sage
500 ml (17 fl oz) vegetable broth
50 g (1/4 cup) rice flour
400 ml (13 fl oz) whole milk, chilled

Clean the mushrooms by scraping the stems and leaing the caps on, then shave them using a mandoline. Save a couple for garnish.

Sauté the chopped onion with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add a sprig of sage and the shaved porcini. 

When just lightly wilted, add all the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and gently simmer over moderate heat for about 6 minutes. 

In the meantime, work on the thickener: in a plate and using a wire whisk, mix the rice flour with the cold milk, then pour the obtained mixture into the mushroom soup. 

Cook covered for about 15 minutes, remove the sage sprig and pour in a blender to puree until creamy. Add more broth if it's too thick.

Heat the soup briefly, then serve garnished with raw porcini slices and one last turn of the peppermill.

Buon appetito!

Nov 1, 2018

Abruzzo featured on AmexEssentials Weekend Guide

When American Express Essentials magazine approached me to write about a lesser known place in Italy, capturing the spirit of the region with tips that would appeal to a wide range of interests, I happily suggested featuring Abruzzo, a place I hold very dear in my heart.

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I've mentioned Abruzzo in many posts on this blog. 
I shared a photo essay on my first (of many) weekend escape to Abruzzo

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I shared an account of the chilling night of the earthquake

I added a 2009 diary from set entry; 

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I have gone on and on, waxing poetic and how to make arrosticini

I shared my discovery of vino cotto, cooked wine must.

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

Abruzzo is where I discovered that size does not matter. Where I celebrate all my birthdays. The place where my son and I unplug and spend long moments hypnotized by the crackling fireplace, enjoying the silence and restoring importance to the little things. Abruzzo is the place where I have met some of my dearest friends. 

It's a special place, and I was happy to "give back" and show gratitude for all that it has given me, by mentioning some of my favorite things about it in a widely read magazine.

The link to the article is here: Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy

I hope you enjoy reading it.

American Express Essentials Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy