June 17, 2017


Calitri Italy


Twelve years ago we made the trek to Calitri traveling by train and bus to reach this town. A day and a half was not nearly long enough to really explore and we vowed to return and so we did. We flew to Bari, picked up a car and set off.  As we left Puglia and traveled into Campania the landscape changed from fields with vines and olive trees to rolling green hills dotted with windmills. After exiting the autostrada the roads narrowed and farm houses popped up here and there. Occasionally a car would drive by, but for the most part we were the only ones on the road. Eventually we started seeing signs for Calitri and I can’t begin to describe my excitement.

into town

It began 110 ten years ago when my great grandparents put their son Lazzaro on a ship leaving Naples heading to New York. You have to wonder how hard their life must have been to send their children thousands of miles away in hope of a better life. Four years later my grandmother’s parents did the same thing. These two young people both came from the small hilltop town of Calitri, but did not meet until some years after their arrival in the New York. I don’t have all the details, but I can only imagine it went something like ” there’s a girl from your town that you should meet” and then they were married.

through town

The drive into town was easy and we spotted sites that were familiar from our last visit. Finding the meeting point for our rental agent was a little more difficult than we expected, but finally we pulled into the piazza and there she was. I immediately recognized Emma as she had been on an episode of House Hunters International. We unpacked the car and started hauling our bags through the narrow lanes of the borgo. It wasn’t really that far, but by the time we rounded the corner and saw those last uneven steps to the apartment I was ready to hand my suitcase over to J.

last steps

Turns out our neighbors were the couple that we saw on the House Hunters episode and we enjoyed spending time with them and getting the lowdown on living in Calitri. They had relocated from Colorado and were warmly welcomed by the locals. Our apartment, owned by another American couple, was roomy and had a fully equipped kitchen.

la casa

The best part however was the surprise we had when we opened the shutters on the bedroom window and saw the view-green hills as far as the eye could see with Monte Vulture (an extinct volcano) off in the distance. What we were gazing at was the border of Campania and Basilicata. I have to tell you that in our week there I never tired of staring out the window and seeing this landscape.


out the bedroom

more country

The town is actually divided into two areas. After a devastating earthquake in this region in 1980 many of Calitri’s residents moved from the old borgo into new housing that was built. It seems that many thought it would be easier to relocate rather than repair their damaged homes. When we visited twelve years ago there were not many people living in the older section of town, but a lot has changed since then. There’s been quite a bit of redevelopment, both by locals and foreigners who have discovered the charm  of spending time in this quiet town.

new 2

new section

More to come on our week in this magical place.

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018get in touch for details






June 10, 2017


Di Pietro-Melito Irpino


With the help of Katie Parla’s website and Carla Capalbo’s book The Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania we decided to travel to the town of Melito Irpino, located a little over an hour away from Calitri for lunch at Di Pietro. Little did we know when we programmed the information into the gps that we asked for the “slow route” which was a lot slower than we had anticipated. Up and down through hill and dale, we traveled for well over an hour on roads that look liked someone’s rural driveway until we finally saw a sign for Di Pietro.


We arrived in town too early for lunch and so we strolled around and as soon as the restaurant opened we made our way to the dining room. We were warmly greeted by Enzo, the owner, who led us to our table. Being that we were on the early side of lunch we were the only diners in the room and Enzo took us under his wing.


We were asked if we wanted antipasto and of course I replied yes and so began the meal.

First we were served warm focaccia and a few minutes later came the salumi and cheese. Next came a warm slice of pizza reminiscent of my grandmother’s-topped  with tomato sauce and dried oregano. A plate of sautéed baby artichokes followed and they disappeared shortly thereafter.


Enzo then served us bruschetta topped with fresh tomatoes and slices of vegetable tarts-one made with artichokes and the other with ricotta and fresh herbs. I could have eaten a big slice of each of these and been happy to call it a day.  I have to try and recreate these now that I’m at home.


We never did see menu and I’m not sure they even have one but I felt confident putting our faith in Enzo. Of course the next course was pasta-handmade cavatell (traditional in this area) for me and ricotta filled ravioli for J.   This is what pasta is supposed to taste like-a little bit chewy and lightly dressed with a tomato sauce. The ravioli held the creamiest ricotta and were melt in your mouth tender.



As much as I wanted to order a second(typically your meat or fish course), I just couldn’t eat another bite. Even though we declined dessert we were served a platter of biscotti and meringues. Enzo sat with us a bit longer and when we said we had to head out and asked for the check he insisted that we wait while his daughter prepared croccante for us.  I’ve had this crispy nut confection before, but never as delicate and tasty as this one. She brought it to the table shaped in a little dome and proceeded to crack it into pieces and we devoured the entire plate!


As we approached the front of the room to pay our bill Enzo’s daughters joined us to say good bye and present us with a tin of their local olive oil and a bag full of the almond croccante. After three hours it was time to head home and I can say with certainly that next time we visit Calitri we will make the drive to Di Pietro. By the way-we found a much quicker route home!


If you find yourself in the Irpinia area of Campania you must plan on dining at Di Pietro. You will have a meal you’ll dream about later and Enzo will make you feel like an old friend.

Di Pietro

Corso Italia, 8 Melito Irpino

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018

Get in touch at with questions or to reserve a spot for a week of food, fun and friendship

June 4, 2017


Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018


Dates: April 28 to May 5

Total Price Per Person: $3200
 Due to the unpredictability of the value of the US dollar versus the Euro, this price is subject to change. Your price will be the one quoted at the time of your deposit.

Deposit: $975 is due within seven days of making your reservation. Balance is due 90 days prior to the first day of the trip.


The Details:
We will be staying in a beautiful, large apartment in a recently restored 15th century building located in the heart of the historical center of Lucca. It’s just a short walk to the ancient walls surrounding the centro storico-the perfect place for a walk or bike ride with a bird’s eye view of the town. Our week will focus on food and wine of Lucca and the surrounding area. No trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to Florence, so we will spend a day there exploring, tasting and shopping!


What’s Included:
Cooking class with participation with local Lucchese chef
Day trip to Florence with a guided tour of the Mercato Centrale food market and specialty food shops in the neighborhood, time for shopping
Day trip to the countryside of the Garfagnana to visit a farm where we’ll observe pecorino and ricotta being made, we’ll be treated to lunch there and stop at the lovely town of Barga on our way back to Lucca
Day trip to Montecarlo to visit a winery with tasting and lunch
Visit to Lucca’s Palazzo Pfanner
Gelato tastings
All transportation for day trips out of town
Seven nights’ accommodations
All breakfasts
5 lunches and 6 dinners
Wine with meals
Water, coffee, wine and snacks stocked in the apartment

le sorellele smama

More details to come about other activities in the area. Itinerary subject to change with regard to weather.

making cheesecheese4cheese3

Cancellation Fees:

Deposit is non-refundable
January 26- February 26: $900.
February 27-March 27: $1800.
After March 27: no refund available

It is strongly advised that you purchase trip cancellation insurance as cancellation fees apply regardless of reason for cancellation. Check out information at

What’s Not Included:
Airfare, transfers from airport to and from Lucca, travel insurance, phone calls, laundry services, alcoholic beverages other than host ordered. Schedule subject to change.


Contact me at with questions or to make a reservation.

*For years my husband and I traveled independently through Italy. After losing him I wondered if I would ever be able to go again. Panini Girl made that possible. Her depth of knowledge and love of Italy shine through in the trips she planned for us. Traveling with her was relaxing and enjoyable while still being an interesting and exciting adventure. This trip taught me there are many types of experiences to be had and enjoyed in life with others. I look forward to my next travel with Panini Girl. Valerie D.

*The Panini Girl experience is an all encompassing look at the gastronomic landscape of Tuscany. With it’s old world charm and small town feel, Lucca is the ideal home base for the week’s activities. This was my first trip to Italy and I look forward to returning soon to discover more with Panini Girl. Abbie M.

*This was a trip of a lifetime for me! Being a novice traveler I felt safe and comfortable and really enjoyed the itinerary. It was great to have someone facilitate the details. I enjoyed everything about this trip-the food we ate, the wine, the scenery and the beautiful country of Italy. Thank you Panini Girl! Gail S.

*My trip to Lucca in with Panini Girl far exceeded my expectations, which were already quite high. Our apartment was beautiful, spacious, centrally located and the kitchen was the perfect place for the hands-on cooking lessons. The trips were perfectly planned and varied. We took a food tour of Florence and hit every culinary highlight from aged balsamics to gelato and ended with a tasting in a beautiful wine cellar. Our trip to a nearby open market provided fabulous food for our dinner one night. We visited a centuries old sheep farm and watched as owners made pecorino and fresh ricotta and prepared homemade pasta for our fabulous farmer’s lunch feast. Somehow we still found time to shop for souvenirs and relax with personal down time from our planned activities. I really look forward to another trip with Panini Girl. Patti O.

*If you have ever imagined your dream vacation would take you to Tuscany, let Panini Girl be your guide! I had the great pleasure of joining Janie and her group, now all wonderful friends, in beautiful Lucca, Italy this past spring. Our accommodations were spacious and lovely, only steps away from all that Lucca has to offer. The week was filled with memorable experiences, and it goes without saying, amazing food and wine. The interactive cooking class with a local chef was unforgettable! The day trip to Florence was also a highlight, with a private food tour of the great Market, and yes, incredible shopping. My favorite day was spent high in the mountains with a farm family, making pecorino cheese and enjoying a feast that they prepared for us. The people of Lucca are so warm and gracious.
Whatever your pleasure may be, you will find it on this trip of a lifetime! Bonnie D.

*Our food tour to Lucca with Panini Girl was the best!! She took care of every detail! I thought we’d be on the run, but it was busy while relaxing at the same time.
Our apartment felt like a villa-plenty of room with a great kitchen to eat, drink and prepare delicious food!!
The location was central, where charming shops and markets abound.
Janie had a perfect itinerary-plenty of local interesting tours that felt intimate as well as some sight seeing and a trip to nearby museum which rounded out the plan.
Our day trip to Florence was perfect-lots of food and wine tastings ending with plenty of time to shop!
Every detail was covered from tips on travel to phones-and secret-best places to buy food and stroll.
All of the other tours and guides that Panini Girl organized were very knowledgeable and fun!!!!!
We saw and felt we knew Lucca and it’s local flavors and flare by the time we departed. Our driver was terrific-helping us navigate an otherwise confusing area.
My trip to Lucca was wonderful!
I highly recommend traveling with Panini Girl to anyone who wants to stay in the authentic, incredibly beautiful, friendly city of Lucca, in Italy. Laurie D.

*Janie has put together a trip to Italy that you will never forget! She is very organized and calm and even speaks italian. Janie has researched and made many contacts who will augment your wonderful week with local food, wine, tours and friendships. I loved my week in Tuscany with The Panini Girl.
Susan H.

June 1, 2017


Forme D’Arte-Lucca

new shop

I have a tradition of strolling down Via San Paulino on my very first day in Lucca. Two of my favorite shops are located here-Caniparoli Cioccolateria-the chocolate shop I simply adore and Officina delle Pelle-a lovely family owned shop selling leather goods made right in town. There’s no doubt that I will make a purchase at the chocolate shop and eventually l find something at the leather store that I can’t live without. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a new shop selling cheese directly across from Caniparoli!


I’m a huge fan of cheese and can’t pass by a cheese shop without stopping in for a taste or two. I’m especially fond of pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese. You can read about the Panini Girl group’s experience with making pecorino here.  Forme d’Arte (which has locations in other Tuscan towns) is a recently opened shop selling mostly pecorino, although it does carry a selection other cheeses made from the milk of goats and cows and a variety of salumi.

counter shop

The shop is nicely designed and the cheese is well displayed, but what really caught my eye were the jarred toppings that compliment the cheese. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of these products, but I did make a purchase-a spicy topping made with peppers called Confettura di Peperoncino and another-Mostardina with apples, pears and mustard. I can’t wait to open them up and serve with the pecorino I brought home. Yes, you can bring hard cheeses which have been vacuum sealed back into the US, but don’t even think about any meat products!


I have to admit that I didn’t purchase any cheese here. I am loyal to La Cacioteca which is located on the northern end of Via Fillungo and has been in business for many years.

There’s another new shop in town that was located just a few steps from our apartment on Via Santa Croce just past Piazza Santa Maria Forisportum. This is a panetteria selling mostly focaccia and a few other breads and some biscotti. The shop is tiny and one Sunday when I went there was a crowd of about 15 waiting to get in. I don’t even know its name as they didn’t have a sign up yet, but the photo below is of the shop. They will also make a sandwich for you with mortadella or prosciutto on their focaccia. I tried the classic focaccia, one topped with tomatoes and another with thinly sliced potato. All I can say is that I wish I had a piece now!


Forme d’Arte

Via San Paolino, 27 Lucca

La Cacioteca

Via Fillungo, 242 Lucca




May 27, 2017


La Tavernaccia Da Bruno


As much as I hope to make the most of my time when I’m in Italy, I really shy away from planning where we’re going to have each and every meal. As you probably have discovered yourself some of the best experiences are those that you just stumble upon.

That being said I wasn’t going to take any chances with our Sunday lunch in Rome. Sunday pranzo (lunch) is a big cultural tradition in Italy. It’s time for families and friends to join together in a restaurant and spend the greater part of the afternoon eating and socializing. On our very first visit to Italy we were in the countryside outside of Arezzo, and were turned away from what looked like a very popular spot for not having reserved a table. Lesson learned.

dining room

Thanks to Katie Parla whose blog and career I’ve been following for some time, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend Sunday lunch-La Tavernaccia da Bruno, located in Trastevere. When I mentioned to the charming host at our inn that we would be dining in Trastevere he frowned, intimating that there were a lot of “touristy” restaurants there. I assured him that we were confident in our selection. Thankfully  we gave our ourselves plenty of time to get there as there’s a huge mercato in the neighborhood on Sunday and our taxi couldn’t get anywhere near the restaurant.


We started our meal with burratina, a small round of smoked burrata cheese served with sun dried tomatoes. I had to pace myself and not devour the entire basket freshly baked bread that was on the table. I saved the bread experience for the bruschetta.


The menu offered half a dozen pastas and about twice as many entrees. Having already read about the trattoria’s specialties I steered J. to the suckling pig cooked in the wood fired oven and served with roasted potatoes, just like grandma used to make. Thankfully J. shared both with me and I was almost sorry that I hadn’t ordered this dish.


While Thursday in Rome is know for gnocchi, Sunday’s specialty is lasagna. Now you may be thinking that I could order lasagna anywhere and that may be true, but La Tavernaccia’s dish was exactly what lasagna should be-melt in your mouth noodles, layered with ragu and the creamiest béchamel. The crispy edge of the noodles added just the right counterpoint to this luscious baked pasta. It’s no wonder this dish sells out early.


Be sure to make a reservation. The trattoria was full within a half hour of opening and it was mostly locals.

La Tavernaccia da Bruno

Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63 Roma



May 25, 2017


Da Michele-Roma


Some time ago I read about Da Michele-Naple’s famous pizzeria-opening a location in  Rome. I figured that eventually we would actually visit Naples and make our way to Da Michele, but seeing that it was here in Rome we decided that we should seek it out. It turns out that the pizzeria is located two blocks from where we are staying.


It’s in a funny location inside of a children’s museum. We arrived sort of on the early side (8pm) and the place was already filling up. I didn’t really check out the starters, but for pizza there’s really only two choices-margherita and marinara. While we were waiting for our order to arrive the neighboring table got theirs and I was fairly surprised to see how large the pizzas were. They were hanging over the plate! I’m still getting used to the Italian concept of ordering your “own” pizza rather than sharing.

Like the Italians, we dove in with knife and fork. The sauce and the cheese were quite tasty and the crust is good and chewy.  If you can’t make it to Naples this is your chance to try its famous pizza.

Da Michele

Explora Museum
Via Flaminia, 80/82,
00196 Roma


May 23, 2017


Eating Rome Food Tour


Although I’ve spent time in Rome on various trips I’ve never made it to the Testaccio area of the city. A few years back when we were here I looked into taking a food tour, but the schedule didn’t work out for us. This time I planned ahead and booked a tour before arriving in the city.


Eating Italy runs various food tours in the city and this one was exactly what I had hoped it would be. We began with a stop at a bakery-Panificio Passi– where we tried two types of pizza (tomato sauce/no cheese and one with potato). Next stop was the famed Volpetti, a store packed with all sorts of gourmet delights-meat, cheese, prepared foods and here we sampled prosciutto, salami, cheese and balsamics.




We moved on to what was possibly my favorite of the day- Guerinni Pane e Pizza. As you can see in the photo there’s a variety of sliced meats and cheese and other toppings. The workers are constantly bringing out long loaves of pizza bianca which they slice to make panini. You simply go up to the counter and tell them everything you want on your panino, they assemble it, weigh it and you pay.

for panini

Take a look at the man with the a huge smile on his face. He had just gotten his panino and wasn’t shy about letting us know how excited he was to be eating here. I have a feeling he was a regular. We were lucky to try a porchetta and sun dried tomato on pizza bianca. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the men behind the counter assemble the panini.


Next on our itinerary was the Mercato Testaccio which moved to this new location a few years ago. We made a few stops here for tastes, but unfortunately did not have time to tour the entire building. J. and I plan on returning for a more thorough look around.



What we did see was amazing-piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, vendors selling cheese, pasta, breads, panini, desserts and more. We were treated to bruschetta, fresh mozzarella and my favorite-the suppli (fried rice ball stuffed with sauce, meat and cheese).




This is also where Rome’s pyramid is located.  We were surprised to find out that it predates the Colosseum.


Just when I thought I couldn’t eat one more thing we found our way to the well known restaurant Flavio al Velavevodetto. This eatery had been on my list for this trip so I was happy to see that it was included in the tour.


I didn’t get around to photos until we were just about done and as you can see the cacio  pepe was a hit with the entire group. This was my first time for this dish and it’s amazing that it’s simply cheese and pepper dressing the pasta. Maybe I should give this one a go once I get home.


We also tried amatriciana and carbonara which was devoured before I tried to take a photo.  They are all Roman classics and J. and I both agreed that the cacio pepe was our favorite.


Last but not least was gelato at Giolitti-which has been around 103 years! They have another location near the Pantheon, but the experience here in Testaccio was much more enjoyable as we were the only patrons in the shop. They will however gently try to dissuade you if they think your selections don’t really go well together!


Grazie Chiara for sharing your love of Testaccio and its food with us.

Eating Italy