Before becoming Wilmington residents, Lindsey Hallock and her husband Virgil Pop lived in his home country, Italy. And since moving here eight years ago, well, let’s just say it … “We noticed there is no good food and wine coming in to the Southeast,” she said. “You have to get everything from New York.”
Fortunately, they have careers in problem solving.
“His background is in warehouse automation and logistics, and food packaging. … I do a lot of regulatory work,” she said. “It’s kind of like a perfect marriage. He knows food and distribution and I have the regulatory skills to get us approved.”
Along with a partner in Italy who has been wanting to get into the U.S. market, they started the process about a year ago for a custom importing business, American Fulfillment Online. Their first shipment arrived in December. And now refrigerators full of Parmigiano Reggiano from Reggio Emilia and three selections of dry Lambrusco reside in a small warehouse near Wilmington’s port.
Hallock said the traditional trade route from Italy is well entrenched, and it can be difficult for new products to find their way to the United States.
“You still get a lot of mozzarellas, really nice things. But when corporations are involved, usually the nuance goes,” she said.
They do the things they’ve always done and don’t always know about niche products.
“I feel like Lambrusco is about to break wide open. … In my opinion, Lambrusco has been left out the conversation because it is still small produced, made in one area by mostly small, family sized producers.”
Plus, she said, many Americans have an outdated concept of the wine as heavy and sweet. The three they imported meet their own standards for great wine and include two reds and one Rosato, or rosé. She believes there’s room for more products and a growing market for shipment directly to the Southeast.
Along with the wine, their first shipment included lots and lots of one of the world’s most popular cheeses.
“It’s the Ferrari of cheeses, a luxury cheese and there’s a lot of imitation,” she said.
In this case, they’ve made sure to keep the original packaging in place.
“You can see the certification and lot numbers to track the pieces back to the dairy,” she said.
They have three sizes, the smallest of which is a kilo.
“An Italian would never cut less than one kilo. Anything less, you start to waste a lot of it,” she said.
Their family-sized kilos can usually be enjoyed for three months if stored properly and come with some of the rind, which can be used in soups and sauces. They also have ‘party-sized’ five kilo wedges and wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano — one of which is the subject of an online auction and another that is set aside for further aging.
While they don’t have a storefront, the couple is selling their cheese (and offering samples) at markets like Seaglass Monthly Market in Castle Hayne, and Satellite in Wilmington. Because it came directly from Italy, it’s not getting dried out in warehouses, Hallock said.
“That’s where people can taste the difference. It’s been a huge hit.”
Because of ABC regulations, they can’t sell the wines directly to consumers, but are working with other businesses. The Harp restaurant in Wilmington is one spot where the Lambruscos have been a popular addition to the wine list.
Going forward, they are offering custom importing services for businesses (some local pizza places, for example, have asked for olive oil) and they plan to add more products, perhaps Pecorino Romano and more wines from the Piedmont region.
Allison Ballard is the food and dining reporter at the StarNews. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.