A Tour Of Boston's North End With Bertolli

On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I made my way by T and by foot to the North End. I love the North End -- what's not to love about a place that is chock-full of Italian food? -- but I don't get over there nearly enough. I'm even less likely to go now that Lechmere is temporarily closed, but when Lauren and Carly from Bertolli invited me to tour the North End with them and experience Italian food through the eyes of Bertolli, it was the perfect excuse to finally get myself down there.

The theme of the tour was showing how Bertolli serves Italy. Each of the stops along the tour exemplified Bertolli's passion for food and fresh ingredients.

Caffe Vittoria

We started at Caffe Vittoria, where we gathered for cappuccino, cannoli, and biscotti. Caffe Vittoria is the oldest Italian cafe in Boston.

The chocolate-dipped cannoli were my favorite of all the treats we sampled at Caffe Vittoria.

We each ordered a coffee drink to enjoy with our sweets. I went for an iced macchiato with caramel syrup. Caffe Vittoria uses Lavazza coffee, a traditional Italian brand, and it makes some strong, full-flavored drinks. We all got to take home a bag of freshly ground coffee, courtesy of Bertolli.

Even though we already had a gelato stop planned for later on the tour, owner Armando offered to send us out some samples after declaring that Caffe Vittoria is known for its gelato. And after one bite, we could all see why. The gelato was so creamy.

Once we could tear ourselves away from all the sweet treats at the cafe, we gathered outside for a group picture and then made our way over to Salumeria Italiana.

Salumeria Italiana

Salumeria Italiana is a little shop that carries some of the finest foods from Italy and all of the Mediterranean. It originally opened more than 40 years ago because an Italian mother wanted to be able to feed her baby foods from her homeland.

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

Here we got to try an array of Italian meats, cheeses, olive oils, and what quickly became my favorite balsamic vinegar. Chef Raymond Gillespie, former executive chef of Mamma Maria's, led us through the tastings.

Salumeria Italiana, North End, Boston

First we sampled the meats: prosciutto de Parma, speck, and porchetta. The prosciutto is produced and aged in Emilia-Romagna (which is one of the regions we'll be visiting on our honeymoon to Italy!), and Salumeria Italiana offers a 14-month and a 24-month version. Speck is a smoked prosciutto produced in the northern part of Italy. And porchetta is an herb-laced meat often used in panini in Rome. I loved the prosciutto and speck.

Then we tried the cheeses: moliterno al tartufo, carozzi capriziola, piave vecchio. The moliterno al tartufo  is a sheep's milk cheese infused with black truffles, and if you like black truffles, I highly recommend it. It was incredible. The carozzi capriziola is a flavorful blue-veined cheese. And the piave is one of my favorite cheeses, so I was excited to see it on the sampling platter.

From there we moved on to olive oils. It's amazing how different the oils can taste. Salumeria Italiana has 25 different kinds! After the olive oils, we each got to try a little of the Rubio aged balsamic vinegar. It is made for Salumeria Italiana by a producer in Modena, Italy. The balsamic was so rich and sweet. Chef Gillespie recommended that we drizzle it on fish or steak after grilling or cooking them. And luckily for all us, our take-home gift from Bertolli at this stop was a bottle of the Rubio balsamic vinegar (and a wedge of cheese).

Gigi Gelateria

We had our sweet and then our salty, so clearly it was time for sweet again. The next stop on the trip was Gigi Gelateria, one of Frank DePasquale's many restaurants in the North End.

Gigi Gelateria, North End, Boston

The gelateria actually started as a deli about 20 years ago but changed to a gelateria 5 years ago. Gelato moves faster than deli meats, so it ended up being a much better business. Gigi Gelateria features more than 30 flavors. I somehow restrained myself and only tried two: tiramisu and gianduja torrino (chocolate hazelnut vanilla). I thought the flavors were interesting, but I actually preferred the texture of Caffe Vittoria's gelato.

DePasquale Pasta Shoppe

Moving right along, we headed to another of Frank DePasquale's North End spots: DePasquale Pasta Shoppe. It seemed like the right time for another group photo.

DePasquale Pasta Shoppe, North End, Boston

When we got inside, we found ourselves in a small shop with a case running the length of it holding assorted freshly made pastas. The varieties seemed endless! And in addition to pasta were all sorts of accompaniments like sauces, cheese, and freshly baked Italian breads.

And behind the pastas sat Zoya, who makes all of the pastas, not only for the shop but also for Frank DePasquale's restaurants. It was amazing to watch her work. I run for the bottle of Advil after making just one batch of fresh pasta. I can't believe she does this all day long!

Here we each got to pick out a pasta to bring home, and I chose a container of red bell pepper gnocchi.

And though you probably wouldn't think we'd be able to eat more after snacking all day, we left the pasta shoppe and headed to Lucca for dinner.


Lucca was an appropriate choice for a last stop because it was back in 1865 that Francesco Bertolli opened a small store in Lucca, Italy, where he sold regional foods such as wine, cheeses, olives, and olive oil. Bertolli (the brand) has since expanded to include a range of pasta sauces and frozen meals that pay homage to authentic Italian cuisine. Bertolli uses real Italian ingredients and recipes inspired by different regions in Italy. Throughout the tour, we learned how pairing fresh Italian ingredients with Bertolli prepared sauces and frozen meals can create a well-rounded Italian dining experience.

Lucca, North End, Boston

Our amazing tour guides from Bertolli worked with Lucca to plan an extra special dinner for us. We started off with warm, fresh bread and whipped butter and a basil-flavored spread, which we all thought might be some sort of pea puree. At any rate, it was a delicious alternative to butter.

Then we were presented with gorgeous individual antipasto plates. I enjoyed the calamari and cured meats, and I really wanted to like the pickled veggies, but they had a little too much kick for me. With the antipasto, I had a glass of the Michele Chiarlo (Piedmont) 2008 Barbera D'Asti.

For our entree, we did a side-by-side tasting of two pasta dishes. The first was a black pepper tagliatelle with shucked Maine lobster, North Country smoked bacon, chanterelle mushrooms, sweet corn, and scallions. The second a house-made caramelized onion and goat cheese ravioli with fava beans, escarole, blistered cherry tomatoes, and basil, and finished with aged goat cheese. Both dishes were tasty, and it's hard to say which I liked better because they were so different. With the entrees, I tried another red wine: the Marchese di Gresy (Piedmont) 2009 Dolcetto D'Alba.

For dessert, we decided to order a bunch and share. The warm, flourless chocolate cake was my favorite!

I also enjoyed the vanilla bean panna cotta in a blood orange compote.

I was too full to try the tiramisu, but it looked good.

And I snagged a tiny bite of the almond cake.

This was such a fun tour and a great reason to get myself down to the North End. There are so many places on the tour I want to visit again and again.

Thank you so much to Lauren and Carly for taking us on this amazing tour and teaching us about Bertolli, Italy, and Italian foods.

Have you ever been to Italy? If so, where? (I'm in honeymoon planning mode!)