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Fine Italian ceramics are nothing new. Dating back to the Middle Ages and beginning to flourish in the 1400s, the ceramic centers of Italy have been producing incredibly detailed ceramics for literally hundreds of years. I recently came across a little book discussing Italian and other European ceramics throughout history – Mailolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi – and wanted to share some of its beautiful images with you. Just look at the inside of this “loving cup” from circa 1500 Faenza, used to celebrate engagements or as a gift for a beloved:

fine Italian ceramic loving cup

The detailed likeness is strikingly similar to work by Tuscia d’Arte, such as this Italian canister.

Italian canister

Another timeless piece is this plate of a solider from circa 1630:

Italian soldier plate

He looks so jaunty, reminding me of this contemporary Italian ceramic plate with a drummer at its center.

Italian ceramic plate

One of the amazing things about hand painted Italian pottery is that patterns and techniques have been passed down through generations. Artists today hand paint using the same process as those centuries ago, following traditional patterns as well as Italian utensil holderadding some contemporary touches. Historically important areas for Italian ceramics have stayed pretty constant throughout the years, many of them in the center of Italy. One is Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence in Tuscany. It’s where I get the fine Italian ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection. In a few months I plan to travel to Italy to visit both Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni as well as some potential new artists; I can’t wait!

Other famous centers are Deruta, Siena, and Vietri, examples of which are easy to find at Biordi Art Imports, also here in San Francisco. Biordi has a huge selection of typical Italian patterns that go back to the Renaissance; their walls are stuffed with dinnerware, decorative pieces, and exquisite tiles. If you find yourself in North Beach and want to see some Italian ceramics in San Francisco, check Biordi out.

No matter where hand painted Italian pottery comes from, I love how it connects to the artists that create it. Fine Italian ceramics are usually hand signed, a fitting recognition of all the time it takes to paint as well as form these pieces of art. Italian canisters, Italian utensil holders, or dinnerware pieces, these are all ceramics rich in history and tradition that make it easy to bring Italy to your home.Italian hand painting

What are your favorite fine Italian ceramics? Any recommendations for places in Italy I should visit this coming summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

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spaghetti al sugo
Spaghetti with a hearty tomato sauce, fettuccini alfredo, delicate handmade raviolis, gnocchi in sage butter… how can you resist the temptation of pasta? Ubiquitous in Italy, pasta comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors which makes it possible to never have the same meal twice.

With pasta so popular, it’s no surprise that Tuscia d’Arte’s spaghetti canister is a consistent top seller. Functional and decorative, keeping this stylish spaghetti canister fully stocked means you have a quick and simple dinner always on hand (ideal for those days you don’t want to think about cooking). This spaghetti canister also holds its own as a decorative element on a kitchen counter, or pairs beautifully with other canisters holding your essential dry goods.

As the holiday season approaches I’ve started thinking about creative gifts for my “hard to buy for” friends. Since so many people love pasta, it’s the perfect starting point for a useful and delicious gift, no matter the reason.

Here are my top five gifts for pasta lovers:

1. Pasta. While the boxed stuff is good for everyday, why not indulge your favorite pasta lover with handmade, fresh noodles? I love the pasta from Lucca Ravioli here in San Francisco. Their ravioli has incredible seasonal flavors like pumpkin or turkey and is always tasty. You can also find dried artisanal pastas at specialty markets if fresh isn’t easily available in your area.

2. Spaghetti canister. Fill it with quality spaghetti or fettuccini for a practical gift. The Tuscan Fruit spaghetti canister is perfect for anyone who loves Italian ceramics, Tuscan style, or just appreciates the fusion of art and food in their kitchen.

3. Pasta machine. Since fresh pasta is so delicious, why not make your own? From the manual to state of the art electric versions, pasta machines roll out dough to the perfect noodle thickness. Use cutters to make noodles or take the sheets to create ravioli and tortellini with your favorite flavor combinations.

4. Pasta bowls. The best part about pasta is eating it. A pasta serving bowl (I love the yellow and turquoise one pictured above) makes for the perfect presentation. Or try a set of individual pasta bowls that are large enough for a hearty portion of noodles and sauce. I like mixing and matching for more personality at the table.

5. Kitchen accessories. Pasta needs the right accouterments from a solid colander to spoon rest for your sauce spoon and pasta claw. A large pepper or cheese grinder, salt and pepper shakers, or a spice rack ensures perfect pasta seasoning. A wine bottle holder keeps a favorite bottle handy to compliment any pasta feast.

Now I’m hungry for some pasta myself. What’s your favorite pasta dish? Post a comment to let us know!

 

Spaghetti image courtesy of Dèsirèe Tonus.

Pasta maker image courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

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Writing about tabletop trends last week, I got to thinking about pieces that have transformative powers. While some Italian ceramic lovers fill their table with entire sets of dinnerware, I have found that a few smart accents can make a striking effect. For instance, a small, but colorful Italian pitcher, used to serve wine or display a floral arrangement, gives the table instant Italian style.

If subtlety is your goal, it’s smart to chose Italian ceramic pieces that are both beautiful and useful. Some of my favorites are the Venetian Fruit Butter Dish and the Limoni Salt and Pepper Shakers. These are two Italian pieces that never get old and always make me happy. They may be small, but they definitely have the power to transform your table and your mood.

An Italian butter dish is the perfect mix of function and charm. Keeping butter at room temperature makes it ready to spread — perfect for breakfast toast or dinner breads. I also like using an Italian butter dish as a way to bring soft cheeses to the perfect consistency before a party. The cover means I’m not tempted to taste before my guests arrive!

Of course, no Tuscan villa is complete without the right spices — And no Italian meal is complete without salt and pepper, which brings the best out of meat, pasta dishes, and vegetables. Italian salt and pepper shakers keep the essentials handy at the table or in the kitchen. I love the dish that the Limoni salt and pepper shakers come with too – it’s an easy way to keep the pair together when it comes time to pass them. These Italian salt and pepper shakers are so cheerful and bright that they can make any table feel like it’s in the Tuscan hills.

There are many other Italian accents with the power to introduce a subtle Tuscan feel to your kitchen or dining room: spoon rests, wine bottle holders, and cream and sugar sets. Practical decorations such as spaghetti canisters add charm to your countertop while keeping ingredients in easy reach. And I love the solidity of an Italian utensil holder, large enough to hold an ever-increasing collection of spoons, whisks, and ladles.

Another great thing about small Italian ceramic accents? They make great gifts! Italian butter dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and other kitchen accessories are a perfect house warming, birthday, engagement or anniversary gift. Whether for an Italian ceramic lover, a chef extraordinaire, or a general collector of beauty, these pieces add the perfect touch of Italy to any table.

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Maybe it’s because I’m not human before my first (or perhaps second) cup of coffee, but roosters fascinate me. They’re so excited to be awake so early. And they don’t even drink coffee! It’s no surprise then that Roosters are a popular motif for kitchen décor, bringing warmth and cheer first thing in the morning and all day long.

Roosters have a range of meanings, from the unofficial symbol of France to one of the 12 parts of the Chinese zodiac, symbolizing honesty and fortitude. In many cultures they have been associated (unsurprisingly) with the sun. So how to get some crowing cocks into your own décor? Perhaps with a hand painted rooster bowl or pitcher? Or something small and unique like salt and pepper shakers?

A rooster cookie jar is a fun way to hold baked goods and bring a sculptural element to your kitchen counter. Of course, why limit yourself to one rooster canister? Extend the theme with a rooster mug, sugar bowl, even dessert plates. Individually hand-painted, the roosters on these pieces have their own personality and add instant charm to your kitchen counter and breakfast table.

A rooster pitcher is an Italian tradition, often given as a housewarming present to protect against trespassers and danger. According to legend, an assassination attempt on Guiliano Medici was foiled when roosters announced the attack. To celebrate, Medici had hundreds of rooster pitchers created by local potters. Good for milk, juice, wine or flowers, these are great gifts for the person who seemingly has everything.

Of course, not all roosters need to be big accent pieces. Rooster salt and pepper shakers bring these fowl to your table in a variety of vibrant colors. Another item I think it’s hard to have too many of, salt and pepper shakers can change with the seasons and always make a thoughtful small gift.

There’s also no rule saying rooster décor should come in shades of yellow and red. Gorky’s blue hand painted rooster bowl is a twist on these typical color choices, large enough for a salad or other serving purpose. Other hand painted rooster bowls like those from Ceramiche Bartoloni use color inside and out to make a striking statement at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

No matter how you choose to incorporate roosters into your kitchen or dining room, they’re sure to be a hit with both family and guests alike! And best of all, you can be sure they won’t wake anyone up by crowing at some early morning hour.

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Another May weekend, another bridal shower. This time of year it seems every weekend involves a shower, bachelorette party, or wedding celebration. Which means (for those of us not getting married), it’s the season of gift giving.

I’m not complaining — I love parties and I actually love giving gifts too. And I know someday it will be my turn and I’ll be able to register for all the juicers and waffle makers I’ve lusted over for years. But what I enjoy about giving gifts is the thought and creativity involved and more often these days, I feel uninspired when I look at a couple’s wedding registry. A metal cookie sheet or plastic cutting board does nothing to get my creative juices flowing. But that’s because I want my gift to be memorable. I want the couple to think of me when they use and enjoy it. Is that selfish? Maybe. But I’m the one giving the gift after all.

So what options do those of us creative (and yes, maybe selfish) gift givers have? For one thing, you can take an otherwise basic (read: boring) gift and make it personal.  The couple wants a fancy omelet pan? Compliment that with a fun breakfast cookbook and write a personal inscription inside the front cover.

Of course, since I started my company and now have hand-painted Italian, French, and Mexican ceramics at my disposal, most of my gifts are ceramic gifts. If the recipient isn’t registered with Emilia Ceramics, I spend some time looking at their registry lists at other stores. Once I have an idea of their color palette, I can assess what they might be missing or which of my pieces would accent the ones’ they’ve requested. Often I end up with one of the pieces shown below: A classic Italian pitcher for serving drinks or displaying flowers, an oval dish with matching dip bowls for appetizers, or a cake plate that makes a stunning statement even without a cake on top.

For cooks, I often give a spaghetti canister, utensil holder, or spoon rest. And wine lovers get a wine bottle holder with a special bottle from my favorite wine store, Brix26.

In my mind, these ceramic gifts accomplish all things a wedding (or shower, or engagement) present should. They are: (1) Special – which is fitting as a gift for friends that you presumably consider to be special too. (2) Creative/Original – there’s zero chance the couple will receive two identical gifts and be forced to return or re-gift your thoughtful present. (3) Memorable – when cooking spaghetti or serving appetizers from your gift there’s a good chance they will think of you and remember your thoughtfulness. (4) Meaningful – there’s an even better chance they will keep your gift forever as a reminder of their wedding and their happiness as a newly married couple. Which, all selfishness aside, is really the most important thing.

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