On a mission to bring the authentic food and flavours of Italy to Cornwall, one delicious cannoli at a time!
Words by Lucy Studley
Back in 2020, Italian-born Valentina Langley was busy working away at her day job in Cornwall and looking after two young children alongside her husband, Tom. Devoted parents who were also climbing the career ladder, they rarely had time to look up from day-to-day life and consider their hopes and dreams, aside from the possibility of a trip back to Campania to visit Valentina’s family someday.
Then Covid-19 arrived, and everything changed. Valentina lost her job almost immediately as a result of the pandemic – a stressful experience for any couple but particularly one with young children to consider. After the initial shock, Valentina picked herself up, dusted herself off, and began to consider the road ahead. The complete break with normality caused her to rethink what she wanted to do and chase a dream she had always quietly cultivated – to import great produce direct from small family producers in Italy and show people a different side of Italian cuisine.
With her roots in the Campania region not far from Naples, Valentina has a deep love and knowledge of southern Italian food culture. Growing up, she would watch avidly as both her grandmother and father performed miracles in the kitchen. Campania and the southern provinces were historically poor regions, where ingredients were typically made to go a long way. It’s a style often called ‘cucina povera’ and quite different to the pizza and pasta most of us associate with Italian food today.
“Because people didn’t have much, they came up with creative ways of extracting maximum flavour,” explains Valentina. “They used grain, beans, rice and pulses as staples, grew and foraged for seasonal fruit and vegetables, and salted, dried and cured meat and fish to make it last longer. The cured meats we know and love today were born out of this need to preserve, in order to spread the sustenance from precious meat.”
Valentina loves living in Cornwall and says the food culture here is one of the things that first captivated her. “The quality of produce in this part of the UK is amazing, and the passion and dedication of artisan food producers is so similar to the Italian way,” she explains. “I felt at home straight away.” Nevertheless, she missed the food and culture of her homeland and the global pandemic greatly intensified that. As she recalls: “Going through difficult times, with all that worry and being cut-off from family and friends back in Italy… Let’s just say I had a bit of a craving for home comforts, and for cannoli!”
So, jobless and with a feeling of nostalgia for her country of birth, Valentina took the plunge and set up a business importing artisan cheeses, cured meats and other delicacies from a network of small suppliers across Italy. Beginning with a stall at Truro Farmers Market, she sold these products along with an irresistible array of Italian street food. Every week at the Lemon Quay market, which thrived during the pandemic, regulars would make a beeline for the ‘La Pineta Italian Deli’ stall to see what fresh delights lay in wait. The selection would vary but typically featured arancini (traditionally made from leftover risotto – a great way of eking out another meal the next day), panzanotti (deep-fried pizza typically made in Naples – the cooking technique was a cheaper alternative to oven cooking) and cannoli (sweet, fried pastries which originate from Sicily).
Right | Stewart Girvan
The endeavour was a true family enterprise from the beginning, with husband Tom involved in every aspect and the couple’s two children often joining them at Saturday markets. Within a year the business became so successful that Tom was able to give up his day job and join the operation full-time. A hamper and picnic service launched, and such was demand that the business required a new home to spread its wings. So, in May 2022, La Pineta Italian Deli opened on Little Castle Street within Truro’s burgeoning independent quarter, where small boutiques and cafés offer an alternative city centre shopping experience.
Valentina and Tom’s trattoria has fast become a neighbourhood hub for Italian food and culture. Pop in for coffee and you’ll find Italian radio playing in the background, and yesterday’s La Repubblica on hand. Fresh Italian breads are baked every day, plus pastries and the famous sweet Sicilian cannoli in an array of tempting flavours. Homemade pasta and sauces are available, and on any one day the street food options might include fried fish cones, arancini, focaccia panini and proper Italian pizza. Most guests can’t resist leaving with a portion of Valentina’s tiramisu – the stuff of local legend – destined to be enjoyed later that evening.
Right | Stewart Girvan
There’s a deli counter packed with the finest Italian produce, including olives, charcuterie and cheeses, while hard-to-source ingredients fill the shelves alongside recipe cards and hints to inspire keen cooks. The hamper service continues, with people popping by to hand-pick a few items and leaving the rest to Valentina and Tom’s discerning tastes. Carefully sourced Italian wines showcase the many regions and styles of Italian viticulture, and there’s a plan to host tasting evenings and other events further down the line. Valentina says: “In Italy the local trattoria is the beating heart of neighbourhood life – we’re on a mission to recreate that here in Truro. This is a family business so everyone can expect a warm welcome, whether they’re stopping for a coffee, picking up a picnic hamper, or grabbing something to heat up for dinner that night.” Meanwhile, the market stall where it all started continues, with the La Pineta Street Food Stall appearing alongside the other Truro Farmers Market traders on Lemon Quay every Wednesday and Saturday. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the market,” says Valentina. “There’s a great atmosphere every week, and a real sense of community. That connection with customers – whether at the market stall or the deli – is really important to the whole concept. We’re passionate about the food and the products we’re selling, and we love sharing knowledge and ideas. I thrive on seeing the excitement as people visit the stall or deli and discover what we have for them to try!”
For Valentina, Tom and their children, it’s been an incredible journey. Daunting and exhausting at times, they’ve emerged from the pandemic with a flourishing business based around their passion for Italian food and culture. And, despite the long hours, with all those canolli on hand they’ve certainly created a little piece of ‘la dolce vita’ right here in Cornwall.