Big things out of little kitchen

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This article was published 05/06/2015 (2733 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A mother and daughter duo are making waves in the Canadian specialty food industry from a little kitchen in Birds Hill.

Piccola Cucina (meaning, roughly, “little kitchen” in Italian) make gourmet Italian treats that are dairy and gluten free. The brainchild of Anita Romolo and her daughter Pina, Piccola Cucina was recently included in Food in Canada magazine’s “Top 10 food and beverage companies to watch” for 2015.

“We always made amaretti, which is a traditional Italian macaroon,” Pina Romolo explained in her mother Anita’s kitchen in West St. Paul, adding that macaroons are made from ground almonds. “Many families make it, and it’s often served at Italian weddings.”

June 3, 2015 - Piccola Cucina's Tina (left) and Anita Romolo are proud that their company has been named in Food in Canada Magazine's "Top 10 food and beverage companies to watch" for 2015. (SHELDON BIRNIE/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS/THE HERALD)

In 2009, the Romolo’s started selling biscotti and amaretti right around the time that interest in gluten-free products was surging.

“My mom said, ‘You know, these are gluten-free. We should focus on the macaroon,’” Romolo said.

Starting with a chocolate amaretti, then quickly adding pistachio almond, lemon/lavender, coconut and maple walnut (“sort of an homage to our Canadian roots”), interest in their gluten- and dairy-free goodies continued to grow.

“I guess we just got excited about it,” Romolo said.

The Romolos began selling their amaretti at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. Then specialty health food stores like Organza and Vita Health began stocking their product. It wasn’t long before they stumbled on another innovation that would raise the bar even further: tasty, almond based gluten-free pie crust.

“The pie shells came to be because, when you scale up with recipes, sometimes you don’t get the recipe exactly right,” Romolo explained. “My mom would use those macaroons for Sunday dinners or whatnot. She’d grind them up and use them for the base of pies or cheesecakes. I said, ‘I think we’ve got something here with our almond pie shells.’”

Starting with a sweet shell, the Romolos added a savoury variation after customers requested one.

“We enlisted the help of the Food Development Centre (in Portage La Prairie) to help us create an unsweetened, vegan pie shell,” Romolo said. “That was about a year and a half ago.”

Six months ago, they developed new packaging, giving a revamped look to the Piccola Cucina brand.

June 3, 2015 - Local gluten free Italian specialty product Piccola Cucina has been named in Food in Canada Magazine's "Top 10 food and beverage companies to watch" for 2015. (SHELDON BIRNIE/CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS/THE HERALD)

Romolo admits that while the shells might not be for everyone, she believes they are a unique and compelling product.

“It’s different from a traditional pastry pie shell, it doesn’t get mushy, which is nice if you’re doing quiches or meat pies,” she said. “Almonds are great at taking on flavour.”

Plans are in the works for Piccola Cucina to expand beyond the Perimeter, and perhaps even into the U.S. But while those plans develop, the Romolo’s will be continuing to fill orders, and sell their products at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market every Saturday through the summer.

“People are looking for ways to connect,” Romolo said, “And we like to be able to give them that experience through our food that we so lovingly make.”

For more information on, or to order, Piccola Cucina products, visit www.piccolacucina.ca

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Twitter: @heraldWPG

Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community Journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at sheldon.birnie@canstarnews.com Call him at 204-697-7112

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