I do love going to Carluccio’s events. Well for a start, how can you resist an invitation that comes in a pretty box full of Gianduiotti chocolates – a divine mix of chocolate and hazelnuts.
Then, when you arrive, there’s always wonderful food to eat – like at the sharing plates launch in April and their Christmas party last July to launch their new products for the festive season. For me as a blogger, it’s exciting to be invited to these events but especially because I really do like Carluccio’s a lot. I eat at various branches of their caffès often – especially my local Richmond branch – and regularly buy products in the deli attached to the caffè: polenta, orecchiette, trofie, olives, baci di dama. Ah yes, I have a strong addiction to wonderful baci di dama, gorgeous little hazelnut biscuits with a chocolate hazelnut filling. At today’s party, they had large jars to sell at Christmas as well as their usual smaller sized packs.
I always have some of these in my home. They also tie in with Carluccio’s special theme for this coming Christmas and that’s to celebrate the producers of their products, who come from all over Italy. The baci di dama – ladies’ kisses – come with a delightful story. Made in the Piemonte hills just below the Alps, a family business has been making them for Carluccio’s for years. They are put together by hand, two biscuits sandwiched together with the chocolate hazelnut filling, one by one, kiss by kiss.
I was given a little booklet to write notes which also follows the Carluccio Christmas story throughout the year. Preparation of the products starts well in advance of Christmas itself (much like the press party!): ‘Our producers never leave anything to the night before Christmas. Their preparations begin in spring, in summer and – for some – all year round.’ The party was held in the St Christopher’s Place branch just behind Oxford Street. This year I wasn’t taken by surprise to turn up and see a snowy backdrop to the party. And, of course, there were all the best of Carluccio’s products for when Christmas comes.
For years, my family have held to a tradition of eating panettone on Christmas morning, served with good coffee (or tea for my daughter!), while we open our presents to each other. I’ve bought Carluccio’s panettone for years as it’s a particularly excellent one, deliciously rich and moist. Now I learn from my booklet that the bakers in Piemonte start making these special Christmas breads in September, but ‘the natural yeast they use goes much further back in time … It’s been alive for over 100 years and is cared for by the yeast master’; its care is vital to making the panettone – and ‘without panettone there’d be no Christmas’ (certainly not in our house!). I was reminded of the post I wrote last Christmas about Italian Christmas breads (click here) as Carluccio’s have other sweet bread delights; pandoro, pandolce from Genoa and panforte from Siena.
You could do a whole Carluccio’s Christmas. The table in the centre was laid for Christmas beautifully.
There are lovely Christmas crackers:
Little edible stocking gifts and chocolate Christmas trees:
Carluccio’s always have some great gift sets but their Christmas hampers for this year come in beautiful boxes (like the invitation but much bigger) following the producer theme with pictures of the area the contents come from.
This Lui e Lei (his and hers) set comes from Emilia-Romagna and contains olive oil that come from the olive trees of Signor and Signora Lo Conte; the balsamic vinegar comes from nearby Modena.
There were plenty of wonderful things to taste, including these Fichi Ricoperti – Calabrian figs dried in the fields, baked, then stuffed (by hand) with orange peel and walnuts. Then they’re baked for a second time, covered in chocolate, and put in special baskets that are woven by hand by Aldo Mammoliti in a small Calabrian village. And lucky me, one of these boxes came home with me in my goody bag.
Should you be thinking that I must have had a sugar overload trying all these sweet delights, then Carluccio’s never fail to look after their guests well. I was immediately offered a drink on arrival and even though it was only mid-afternoon, it’s never too early for a glass of chilled prosecco. Not when it’s a party and you’re in Italian mode. Then, once I’d looked round, I went to enjoy a plate of delicious savoury dishes.
A friendly guy put together a plate of food for me. There were lovely cold meats; sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts (a Sicilian speciality) and the most gorgeous, moist and tender lamb chops, cooked to pink perfection.
There’d been other lovely things: a pasta with tomato sauce, a seafood salad and in the centre a whole Gorgonzola from which a gloriously oozing piece was spooned on to my plate. It was a delicious plate of food and for a little while I found a seat outside amongst the Christmas trees and fake snow to sit and enjoy this with my prosecco. Back inside more people were arriving.
The invitation invited people to come between 8am – 8pm, so you could enjoy breakfast in the morning, lunch, aperitivo early evening and some supper, all depending on what time you arrived. I wasn’t able to get there until about 4pm so sadly missed the great man – Signor Antonio Carluccio – himself who turned up at lunchtime. However, it was a great event full of nice friendly people and gorgeous food. As a blogger – and not doing this as a job – I have the privilege of accepting only invitations to places I really like and know I’ll enjoy. And really, they don’t come much better than Carluccio’s! Come Christmas, you too will be able to find these things in your local Carluccio’s Caffè and remember to look for the lovely photos of where the products come from on boxes, and read about the local producers. It’s always fun and interesting to know more about where good food comes from.