It doesn’t take much to make travel ‘special’. It is special in its very essence. As the world gets smaller and human beings explore the world only to come home to themselves, it is perhaps a personal touch we crave. After all, we’ve seen the entire world several times over on social media.
When Susanne told me about Pietrantica, a boutique store for typical Ligurian goods, I was sure all my souvenir shopping was going to be from there. It had all the essential elements – niche, local and truly Italian.
I immediately warmed to the store when Vittorino, the owner, greeted me in typical Italian fashion. A hug and a kiss on both cheeks. Sussane introduced me and told him I was there to teach at the retreat along with her. Vittorino was warm and friendly and invited me to look around his interesting store with an expansive sweep of his arm. I looked at the shelves. There was wine, liqueurs, olive oil, pesto, soaps and other skin care items. There were entire racks of cooking tools made of olive wood. Also sweets, coffee and even mushrooms!
The story goes that Vittorino lived and worked in an oil mill in Imperia, a small coastal town on the Italian Riviera. When the owner of the mill wanted to shut it down he decided to buy it and run it on his own. Eventually he decided to shut shop and sell olive oil instead. Customers started trickling in and as the trickle slowly increased, so did the requests for more products. Soon they were stocking all manners of products ranging from skincare to amaretto.
“Our pestos are quite famous,” says Chiara, Vittorino’s daughter. “We have unique flavors. Also, we are the second largest wine sellers here.” I eyed the shelves upon shelves of vintage. “We have wine from Italy (specially Ligurian wine) and champagne from France. We stock everything from the most expensive to the cheapest wine.”
Tell me a little more about the varieties of liquor you stock, I prodded. “Well we actually started with selling oil and skin care products. Then came the wine (upon customer requests) and finally the Grappa.” I decided to sample some of their famous grappa and I could feel the 44% alcohol content. But, I have to add, it was delicious. “We’re the most famous retailers for grappa,” Chiara added.
The store stocks a range of liqueurs. Originally lemoncello is from Capri, but it was first produced in Naples. Orancelle is made of oranges.
Chiara pointed out the handmade soaps. Some made locally and some coming in from France. “Piermont is where most of our soaps are made,” she says.
“What about all these chopping boards and ladles,” I asked running my hands over the smooth wood.
“All these are made of olive wood. The olives in this region are called tajasca olives and are endemic to Imperia. Stuff made out of this wood is really strong and lasts for years.”
A little tip from Chiara: rub a little olive oil on your wooden implements and watch the shine come back. In fact, any marks and ridges will also fade.
Over the years Pietrantica’s fame has spread far and wide. What started out as a store catering to the small town of Docedo and the larger province of Imperia now takes part in international food fairs. Their products have gone to the US, Dubai, France and Germany.
“You can’t imagine starting a store like this now,” Chiara tells me. “There are so many rules and regulations now.” However, the family of four works together to provide the best they possibly can. Every single item is tasted before being sold, and must conform to the family’s strict standards. When it comes to the cosmetic products, the first rule they follow is to keep the number of ingredients as low as possible.
Although Chiara started veterinarian studies, she decided not to finish. The call of the family business was too attractive. Much like her father, she is happy to work at Pietrantica. “I love it when people come into the store. I get to talk to so many different people,” says Chiara. “Sometimes you end up building long lasting relationships. Dolcedo has people from different parts of the world.” The store follows periods of manic production and periods of lull. “When you need to fulfill massive customer orders you end up working a lot and that is the most stressful part of our job here.”
Inspired by the fact that the best grappa is sold at Pietrantica, I decided to pick up a bottle of blueberry flavored grappa. Along with that some lavender shower gel and a few soaps to remind me of beautiful Liguria with every fragrant whiff. A weakness for wooden kitchen tools saw me picking up a few olive holders as well.
If you are lucky enough to take a little jaunt to this beautiful small town remember that during the winters they are open only for 3-4 hours. Summers they open at sharp 9 am and go all the way up to 8 pm, with no lunch break.
I for my part, look forward to going back as my shower gel is almost over and I find a need for a new chopping board….