A Shopping Tour of the Mediterranean

4 May 2010 By Victoria Allman

The yacht owners I work for are considerate enough to plan the yacht’s itinerary around my shopping list each summer. We start in Spain, where I pick up Marcona almonds and Bellota ham, and continue to France for Bresse chickens and foie gras. Next, we’re off to Italy for buffalo milk mozzarella and finally we finish the season in Greece, so I can purchase oregano and caper leaves. Come September, when we head back across the Atlantic, my pantry is stocked with all the tasty treats that I will miss for the next seven months, until we return to the Med, of course.

Yesterday, I opened my last jar of piquillo peppers. It was sad to see the Spanish labels disappear from the boats stores and it signaled that it’s time to go back to Europe to re-provision. If you’ll be summering in any or all of these Mediterranean destinations, be sure to pick up some of these must-have items to enjoy now or save for when you head back across the Atlantic.


Bellota Jamon is the ultimate in cured hams. This unique product is made from indigenous free-range Iberian pigs, which consume only acorns. The ham is marbled with golden fat and infused with the sweet flavor of the acorns. Sliced paper-thin from the leg, the rich nutty flavor will glide over your tongue.

Traditionally from the Basque Region, Piment d’Espelette is a variety of chili pepper. It’s sold dried and ground and adds a unique fruity tomato flavor to all dishes. The spice is more aromatically sweet than hot. Substitute it for pepper and sprinkle it over scrambled eggs for breakfast.


Bresse Chicken is a highly revered breed of chicken originating in the Rhone-Alpes region for their rich, gamey depth of flavor and tender meat. This delicious grain-fed bird can be distinguished by its golden-yellow flesh and high price tag at the market, but it’s worth every penny.

Poulet Roti, although not made from Bresse chickens, is rotisserie chicken in France, and is some of the best you will ever taste. They are seasoned with a combination of thyme, basil and fennel and cooked to produce a moist, flavorful meat and crisp, crackly skin. They’re perfect for tucking into a baguette for lunch.

Lentilles du Puy are tiny gray-green pulses from the mountain town of Puy that have an earthy, creamy texture and peppery taste. They also hold their shape when cooked and make for a great salad mixed with feta, diced roasted peppers and herbs.


San Marzano Tomatoes are variety of oblong meaty, red tomatoes that have less liquid than their round cousin, producing a strong tomato flavor. They are best eaten with just a touch of salt, but are also prized as the best canned tomatoes available, so stock up. In the dead of winter they are still full of summer sunshine and tomato flavor.

Oil-packed Tuna Bellies, called Vetnresca in Italy, are an expensive canned product that has an intense olive oil taste that is unbeatable, even by fresh tuna standards. The tuna are line-caught by fishermen, cooked in seawater and packed in olive oil within 24-hours to produce a velvety and buttery canned tuna.

Hazelnut Gelato never seems to make it until the next day. A soon as I buy it, it disappears from the freezer like water evaporating in the Gobi desert. This creamy, smooth delicacy comes from the rich sweet nuts of the Piedmont region that Ferrero Rocher made famous.


Caper leaves are specially desirable, but hard to find outside of Greece. They are pickled and jarred delicate leaves with intense flavor, great for use in salads and fish dishes.

Greek Oregano is the most flavorful of all dried oreganos. This seasoning is ubiquitous throughout Greek recipes for flavoring tomato sauces, meat and fish dishes and salads.


Peccorino Cheese is sheep’s milk cheese sold by the side of the road by the shepherds who tend the flocks. It ranges from soft and gooey when young to dry and hard when aged. Served it whole –the lid removed – with a spoon and juicy ripe pears. It is the perfect afternoon snack of subtle flavors on the aft deck.


The flavorful chestnut trees of Corsica add a thick, full-bodied quality to rich honey that is used as an accompaniment to the fruits, yogurts and dried breads of the island. It is strong and both sweet and bitter at the same time.


Majorcan Olive Oil: The olives for this high quality oil are picked under-ripe, directly from the tree, to guarantee the freshest taste. The flavor is green and herbaceous lending a sharp taste to vegetables when drizzled on top.