Food & Wine
This description page about the Food & Wine of Italy, will guide you in planning your trip to Italy and will help you to find useful information about the Food & Wine of Italy.
There is no doubt - Italians are passionate about food! More important than for sustenance, the preparing, serving and sharing of food is to Italian cooks a social event, a daily celebration and time for the family to gather. Daily life centers on the tantalizing smells emanating from the kitchen where only the freshest ingredients are mixed, tossed and blended to create dishes of simple elegance and unmatchable flavor.
It is so Italian to spend hours at a table laden with a bounty of freshly prepared pasta, vegetables picked direct from the garden and savory roasted meats to share family news, engage in robust discussions, greet friends or to simply enjoy the generous portion of love that Italians put into the meals they prepare.
Despite Italy’s history of opulent castles and homes of splendor, the cuisine of Italy remains, as it always has been, uncomplicatedly basic, purely simple and devoted to the natural foods of each season. And with this goes the coveted recipes carefully guarded by families, the traditions and rituals that have survived the centuries. Nowhere are these cultural food traditions more obvious than in the foods served at the hundreds of celebrations honoring the saints – there would never be a St. Joseph feast without a vast variety of homemade breads, the harvest, the prosperity of a town……and even the cook! (Rassegna A Dei Cuochi in Abruzzo). From region to region, city to city, village to village, the favorite foods on the table, in the restaurants, cafes and open air markets are a reflection of what is locally available, the neighboring influences and the foods that grow best in Italy’s diversely different soil -- grapevines in sunny valleys, cattle grazing on hilltops, fish along the sea and mountains of fresh herbs.
Typical Products from the mountains of the north come the French-influenced dishes rich in cream and meat sauces. Risotto and polenta are favored over pasta, possibly as a more body-warming meal for the many skiers rushing down the mountain slopes. This is the region of the famed trifola d’Alba (white truffles), and popular cheeses like Gorgonzola and mascarpone. South of this region is Italy’s greatest seaport, Genoa, where predictably an abundance of seafood dishes prevail. It is here, too, that world-famous honey is produced and families keep secret their individual recipe for Pesto Genovese – a thick and rich basil sauce used in and on almost every dish from pasta to soup.
Culinary contributions like Minestrone alla Milanese and Risotto alla Milanese are attributed to Lombardy. Here, too, is where choice beef cattle and dairy herds produce fine meats and cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Bel Paese. It is also said that Polenta has been eaten here since the days of the Roman soldiers! In Veneto, there are simple, peasant-like foods - porridge-type soups like risi e bisi - made with fresh peas, rice, and parmesan cheese, and pasta e fagioli - a stew-like mix of tomatoes, pasta, and beans - along with a variety of seafood dishes reflecting Veneto’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea.
Miles of olive groves, rolling hills, ancient roads and time-worn farm houses are typical of Central Italy’s popular Tuscan countryside where a wealth of vegetables, mellow cheeses, olives and meats are produced. Beefsteak Florentine, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer, and rabbit, and thick and hearty soups make up a typical Tuscan meal. Pasta and vegetables with an accompaniment of mushrooms and truffles are often served. Stews, beans cooked with sage then tossed with olive oil are traditional dishes served along with their delicious breads baked without salt.
Umbria is known for its fields of wheat, black truffles that grow naturally, for dishes made of wild game, beef, and for their specialty dish – porchetta - a spit-roasted suckling pig prepared with herbs. In Rome discover abbacchio (a suckling lamb seasoned with fresh rosemary), spaghetti alla carbonara (a bacon, egg, and cheese-sauced pasta), saltimbocca (Marsala-braised thin slices of veal topped with ham), and suppli al telephone (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella), along with sophisticated dishes from all the regions.
In Campania, sample specialties like octopus, spaghetti made with a tomato-based fish sauce and dishes using buffalo milk mozzarella. Here find pasta alla puttanesca, a fiery tomato sauce flavored with garlic, capers, olives, anchovies and hot pepper. Abruzzo and Molise are known for their cured peppery meats, lamb, mutton, and pasta. Lamb, hearty soups, a wide variety of herbs and even chilies are seen on the dining tables of this region, which is known for its religious food festivals.
Focaccia may have originated in Genoa, but Apulia boasts a softer, thicker version made from potatoes. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where the climate changes from subtropical along its coast to a harsher, colder climate inland near Mount Etna, offer an interesting mix of naturally available foods like oranges and lemons, black or green Sicilian olives, wild game and unusual fish from the sea. Even the Germans have influenced Italian cuisine. In Trentino Alto Adige foods like the popular gnocchi (potato/flour dumplings), soups flavored with caraway seeds and strudel reflects the Austro-Hungarian traditions. Flavors of the Middle East add zest and spice to Italian cuisine in dishes spiked with paprika, poppy seeds, cinnamon, cumin, and horseradish. Homemade sausage is a specialty of this area along with goulash, beef stew with red wine, tomatoes, paprika and spices.
Desserts are simple and simply luscious – cream-filled cakes, pine nut biscotti, cannoli filled with sweetened ricotta cheese flecked with bits of chocolate, rich and buttery panettone - a Christmas classic studded with candied fruits, fresh pears poached in Vin Santo, and the favorite throughout Italy, semifreddo – a light, meringue-based ice cream that can be made in any flavor and then combined with fruits, nuts or pieces of chocolate.
Every region is a reflection of the natural amenities of its land, the accessibility to available foods and customs passed down by families from century to century. Italy is an epicurean delight and an adventure into simple foods inspired by time, creativity and imagination to produce the spectacular!
From robust reds to crisp, light whites and wines that sparkle, offering an enormous variety of types in every color, flavor and style conceivable, Italy is a producer of some of the world’s finest wines!
Since ancient times, even before the Etruscans, Italy’s warm, sun-filled and hilly landscape and the country’s mountain slopes naturally produced an almost unparalleled variety of grapes. Some say wine making in Italy began when prehistoric people inadvertently pressed wild grapes into juice that by “magic” fermented into wine – the accidental beginning of an industry that was to build an industry for Italy and put Italian wines on the world map of outstanding wines. From the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans and then the Romans, Italy has been marked as the Oenotria – the land of wine – promulgating a flourishing trade throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. It was the sophisticated Romans who raised winemaking to new levels, regarding its production as a science rather than magic. But it was the humble peasants who in their understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the earth and their own survival, lovingly worked the land, planted the vines and cared for the bounty, establishing the traditions of vineyards and winemaking that persist to this day.
Italy boasts an astonishing number of grape varieties, growing most of the world’s major red and white grapes. Native varieties like Sangiovese, Barbera and Trebbiano grow throughout the country; while others like Nebbiolo, Verdicchio and Lambrusco, for example, grow only in certain regions. Winemaking is a competitive occupation between the regions that aggressively compete against each other in the marketplace. For example, Piedmont (Piemonte) is Italy's number one wine region competing with Tuscany for the quintessential red wine. Tuscany is famed for its Chianti and other reds like Brunello di Montalcino, and for the popular “Super Tuscan” wines -- wines made from grape varieties or blends that aren’t traditional to Tuscany (Toscana).
Veneto produces the Veronese trio of Bordoline and Valpolicella (reds) and Soave (white), and is home to the prestigious VINITALY wine fair held every April in Verona. In the northwest corner of Emilia in an area known as the Val Padana, more than two-thirds of Emilia’s wines are grown, most of which made from Lambrusco. In the Apennine foothills of Emilia grow numerous grape varieties, but most wines are made in the semi sweet style preferred by Emilians.
Much of The Marches is occupied by the Apennine Mountains, but the rest is mainly hillsides, ideal for grapevines that produce reds like Rosso Cónero and Rosso Piceno. But no place is more ideal for producing wine than Puglia (Apulia).
The wine industry was already thriving in southern Italy’s Apulia in 2000 B.C. when Phoenician traders arrived. The area’s lack of mountains and sunny, dry climate is naturally agreeable to growing lush vineyards of sun-kissed grapes. Puglia is said to produce 100 to 130 million cases of wine annually!
Sicily and Sardegna also have amenable climates for growing grapes. Producing wine for 4,000 years and since the 8th century B.C. respectively, the hot climate of this area and longer growing season produces stronger, fruitier wines than the north. The famous wines from this area include the spirit-laced Marsala, Port, Sherry and Madeira, with Sicily specializing in sweet wines to accompany their memorable pastries and desserts.
From Umbria, where winemaking dates back to the Etruscans, comes the world-famous Orvieto, one of Italia’s most famous white wines. In Rome, there’s Frascati, a clean white wine served cold; from Naples there’s the favorite Lacryma Cristi (Christ's Tear), and from all over Italy – sparkling wines to celebrate!
Throughout Italy, visitors can taste and purchase the best of the region at local vineyards and wine cellars, or join in one of the many wine festivals that honor the ancient ritual of turning the lush vines laden with grapes into a tasting experience not to be forgotten!