Not long ago I had the good fortune to be at a cocktail party where bountiful platters of just about every kind of cheese, charcuterie, cracker and condiment one could ever possibly imagine were on offer. When I questioned my hostess about her impressive spread, she gamely shared her perfect party secret: Vallebona.
Since then, I’ve come to rely on this e-shop for everything from rare prosciuttos to unique hampers full of Italian specialities, all courtesy of artisanal producers from Sardinia and the surrounding islands. Its beautiful images – paired with mouth-watering text – introduce the consumer to all kinds of delectable treats that are perfect for both entertaining and home cooking.
Vallebona is a generations-old family food purveyor that has been operating in the UK for the past 10 years. With an emphasis on rare charcuterie, including venison prosciutto (£8.45), it has built a loyal foodie following, and counts such noted restaurants as Bocca di Lupo and The River Café among its clientele. One major bonus: many of the ambient products – flat breads, truffle honey, jam (second picture) – can be shipped globally, and make great, original gifts for anyone who loves a little taste of Italy.
There is no wrong way to shop the Vallebona website, but if you live in the UK, then Cheese and Charcuterie are great places to start. Deliciously presented meat platters (from £55) feature combinations of bresaola and lightly smoked manzo. Big wild boar salami (£3.90) is ideal for antipasti, and when paired with Sardinian thistles (cousin of the artichoke, marinated in olive oil, vinegar and herbs; £6.75) on top of Vallebona’s signature Music Paper Bread (£8.07), you have a robust meal. Cheeses (first picture) run the gamut from cow’s-milk varieties (runny Taleggio, £3.76) to goat’s milk (Caprino Netro hand-wrapped in saffron, £13.45) to Sardinian sheep’s-milk specialities (Crema di Pecorino, £6.73).
On to the From the Sea section, where you’ll find an amazing array of smoked and cured-fish products: bottarga (£13.83) – a salted, pressed and air-dried mullet roe that makes any pasta dish sing; excellent canned red tuna (£22) from Caloforte, made from ethically sourced blue-fin varieties and marinated in olive oil; and anchovy fillets (£5.70) and swordfish carpaccio (£7.49) that are perfect accompaniments to any al-fresco meal. Kudos to the site’s planners for including those serving suggestions and pairings, right down to the addition of spicy rocket salads and drizzles of lemon juice.
The Store Cupboard area is full of pantry staples with a Sardinian twist. From crisp breads (£18 for a selection basket) and Grissino Classico (£4.62), to black and green wild olives (£4.80), to Pantelleria capers in sea salt (£3.44), it’s replete with basics that can make a meal come alive in minutes. Colourful pastas in a variety of shapes and flavours (try the spicy Spaghetti al Peperoncino, £3.27) are not to be missed.
A robust Wines area features a selection of reds, whites and grappas, all produced by smaller Italian vineyards. Each arrives packaged with an informative tasting sheet that details the production process, as well as lists of foods that pair well with it.
The highlight of Vallebona, however, is the Gifts section, where smaller gift bags feature such pairings as goat cheese and fig marmalade (£12) and come complete with a lovely recipe card. Larger gift baskets work well for holidays and special occasions and include everything from Extraordinary Oils (£34.90) to the Vintage Vallebona (£70), a cornucopia of delights including lamb prosciutto, green olives and a fine bottle of Chianti Leonardo to wash it all down.
Passionate cook or dedicated eater (or both), this website offers a delightful, shopable crash course in Sardinian delicacies and the stories behind the families that have produced them for generations.