I was surprised when I read the sticker “produce of Italy” on the kiwi fruit I’d popped into my bag at the local supermarket. It was so unexpected . . . like encountering Andrea Bocelli at the dry cleaner. The context seemed all wrong.
The kiwi got me to thinking about fresh food imports from Italy. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered any before, with possible exception of blood oranges. The familiar foodstuffs from Italy that I know and buy (and consider essential for “genuine” tastes) are cured, dried, or preserved in some way: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, canned San Marzano tomatoes, salted capers from Pantelleria, dried pasta from Abruzzo.
Yet, here was this fresh Italian kiwi, now in my kitchen. Not a typically “Italian” ingredient but, then, neither was citrus fruit when it came to Rome from southern China during the time of Emperor Augustus.
Kiwi probably also comes from China but didn’t make an impact on Western cooking until it was cultivated in New Zealand in the early 20th century. During the 1970s in France, kiwi became the darling of nouvelle cuisine, probably in large part to its startling green color. It’s been a constant in U.S. supermarkets since then.
I actually have seen kiwi growing in Italy. In June of 2002, while visiting an olive grower in Tuscia, a historic Etruscan area that comprises southern Tuscany and northern Latium, I noticed a verdant field of plants that I didn’t recognize. “Kiwi,” my host explained. “Wow,” I thought, “I didn’t expect that answer.”
A visit to the Italian Trade Commission Web site produced a link to a consortium Kiwi Latina (IGP). Latina is a province south of Rome. I doubted my kiwi could have been cultivated in March in central Italy unless in a greenhouse. On Italian Google, I searched the other name on the sticker “Star” in conjunction with “kiwi” but all I got for my effort was a link to famous movie directors from New Zealand.
Guess I won’t know where my Italian kiwi came from and I’m still uncertain whether it’s a good thing that it came so far. The 3-ounce kiwi cost 50 cents. If the kiwi were an 125-pound person flying one-way from Rome to New York, its air fare would be $334.
Have you seen any fresh foods from Italy in your supermarket? Tell us about them.