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At the Table One Does Not Age: How Eating Like Italians Can Enhance Your Health and Happiness

In Italy there’s a charming phrase, “A tavola non s’invecchia”.  It means, “At the table one does not age.”

A phrase not only sweet, but hard to argue, as Italy has quite a few areas where people tend to live a long time.  Could it be because they spend so much time gathered around a table enjoying each other’s company and wholesome food?  Likely, yes!

My favorite place in the world is Sardinia, Italy’s second largest island.  Sardinia’s Ogliastra region is one of the world’s five areas designated by author Dan Buettner as “Blue Zones” where people tend to live remarkably long lives.

Studies of these areas have shown that only 20-30 percent of their longevity is due to genetics, while the rest is thanks to a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle.  Factors like a diet and frequent exercise were listed, as were plenty of laughter, a strong social network, faith, and a purpose. 

When my husband and I returned from our first trip to Sardinia, we were completely enchanted, by its people as much as its beauty.  So much so that when we returned, I found myself researching the people of Sardinia.  They were all incredibly kind, the sort of kindness that comes from an internal joy, spilling over into everything else. 

The best example was on our very delayed arrival on the island.  We were due to arrive before lunch time, but soon we were praying to make it to the hotel before the restaurant closed at 11:00PM.  No sleep in 30 some-odd hours. 

Our droopy eyelids kept us from noticing the, “road closed” sign and we came to a grinding halt inches before a high cliff.  The driver of the car we had almost run off the road was waiting for us and now we were praying to escape death twice that night.  As we crept up to the car, we rolled down our window prepared for the worst.  “Are you ok?  Are you lost? Did you not see the sign?  I waited because I was so worried!  Where are you trying to go?  I will help you.”  We were shocked for a second and then remembered these people.  Such kindness. 

When we arrived at the restaurant, to our surprise, it was not closed.  They were saving us a table beneath the grape vines.  A band was playing on the beach.  Smiling faces and a basket of pane carasau welcomed us home.

Sure enough, doing a bit of research I found that Sardinians are known for their hospitality.  How wonderful, I thought, as we discovered that ourselves without expectations.  The cuisine on the island is unlike anywhere else, and its culture is as vibrant as the color of the water in the Golfo di Orosei.

All over Italy, the culture and lifestyle are different from ours.  I think that is the real cupid’s arrow to our hearts when we visit.  There are many beautiful places in the world, but Italy is special on levels we feel in our hearts as much as we can see with our eyes, maybe more. 

Italians have a long history of living off their land.  Whatever God and nature provide, that is what they eat, and it works quite well for them.  They eat with the season first and foremost.  Tradition is a close second.  One learns from cooking with Nonna, rather than reading her recipe book.  The love in her hands is an inherited ingredient, as are her favorite songs she sings in the kitchen. 

Cooking in Italy is an experience, and so is dining.  When my husband and I went on our first trip together to Italy, we found ourselves at a charming café in Trastevere, on the other side of the river from most of Rome’s famous highlights.  We sat for a moment feeling rushed from the countless things we wanted to see, and then caught ourselves remembering that experience matters more. 

We waited for our Cacio e Pepe longer than we ever would in the states, but we waited beneath trellised vines of jasmine, a heavenly scent.  We relaxed.  We talked.  We laughed.  We decided to buy a jasmine plant as soon as we got home.  Lunch took us two splendid hours.  Every second was priceless.

I have learned to warn friends and clients going to Italy that meals there take a long time.  A waiter would never rush you; it is the epitome of rudeness to do so in Italy.  So, don’t cram in a special meal an hour before your tour.  Wait until after and bask in the glory of the beauty and flavors around you, both cultural and culinary.

In the most authentic kitchens where these long lives are led, only the best ingredients are prepared.  Pastas are made from non-modified wheat.  Olive oils are extra virgin and made of Italian olives, likely grown on their very own hillside.  Produce is whatever is in season and ripe in the garden or market.  Quality is always key. 

Ingredients are celebrated, and many of them have their own special festivals.  Artichoke festival anyone? 

With such a focus on quality ingredients, it is no surprise that Italians also place a heavy emphasis on quality of life.  Aperitivo is a time to enjoy friendship, and a meal is a time to enjoy family.  Not to eat in thirty minutes and rush off, but to be lingered over.  The evening passeggiata, (stroll) takes precedence over a hit TV show.

It was with this concept in mind that the family who began Mia Emilia launched their company.  The best ideas always come from passion.  When I spoke with them initially, they told me how wonderful their first experience was in Italy many years before. 

We laughed and reminisced and agreed that the closest thing to a flight to Italy is biting into an al dente strand of artisanal pasta, made in Italy.  Those flavors and experiences that take you back in an instant.

They told me that they came home and realized how difficult those authentic, quality products are to find here, and how wonderful it would be to offer the best of Italy here in the States. 

While many olive oils we so often find sound or even say, “Italian”, look a little deeper and you often find that only some, if any, of the olives used to make it are actually from Italy.  Most balsamic vinegars on grocery shelves pale in comparison to those you taste drizzled over sharp cheeses in Emilia Romagna.  Lemon flavoring tries to capture what real Sorrento lemons actually do, the feel and flavor of the Amalfi Coast.

Mia Emilia has selected only the best from all over Italy.  They have gotten to know each product they offer and each family who makes them, so that you can be assured these products are the kind that will transport you to the land they came from.

Spicy Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil sends us right back to the Tuscan hills.  Lemon EVOO takes us on a drive, spell bound as we watch the sea glittering in the sunlight many yards below.  

Great Italian products allow us to create new memories, as we lovingly remember our special ones.  They allow us to spend time together in the kitchen, having fun with cooking instead of dreading it. 

Last night my husband and I returned from a family trip ten hours’ drive away.  We were exhausted and our backs hurt.  What do we want for dinner?  Food.  Our options were a can of condensed soup or Mia Emilia’s Spelt Pasta with a red sauce.  A bit more work, though not much. 

We just looked at each other for a minute.  I don’t even think either of us officially decided but he grabbed the tomatoes and pasta and I grabbed the pots.

You see, a couple of weeks ago we found a song by our favorite singer from our beloved Sardinia.  We had never before heard the song in the background of the documentary we were watching, but we recognized the passionate voice of Andrea Parodi.  It took us the better part of an hour to find the song and over an hour to translate it between Sardinian, Italian, and English.  What we found struck a nerve in me not many songs have.

Etta Abba Chelu is the song.  It’s a bit of a rain dance, asking the sky to give water because the people are thirsty.  Sardinia deals with both drought and flooding and has endured quite a lot of poverty.  The song is very much about life.  Good times when life gives plentifully, and hard times when we thirst.

The lines that hit me translate as follows: “We should be like horses, tired but happy to run.”

How many times in life are we just tired?  Do we want to give up?  Are we tempted to give in to the easy, rather than running for a life that matters? 

As we enjoyed our Spelt pasta, which took no longer to make than a can of soup would have to warm, I caught myself humming that song and had to smile.  Tired, but happy to run.