The diversity of Italian food can be seen across the 20 regions of the country, each of which have their own recipes, flavours, ingredients, and products. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the regions we now call “Italy” came together to unite as a nation, which explains some of the vast differences in culinary identity. Soil types, landscape, and climate also play a part in what is eaten where and how it is prepared.
Location is very important to many Italian products and foods. Many are not considered “authentic” unless made in a certain region. For example, “Parnigiano Reggiano” must come from a province in Emilia-Romagna and “Modena Balsamic Vinegar” must be crafted in Modena.
Pasta recipes and styles are also unique all across the nation. There are so many different pasta shapes across Italy that it would be difficult—or impossible!—for any one person to eat them all.
The Piedmont region and Alba city have a lot of fresh seafood because they are so close to the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. These areas also have an abundance of pricey truffle mushrooms, white truffles in particular. The Southern areas also cook with a lot of bright tomato-based recipes and bright olive oil dishes. Northern regions specialize in creamy risotto and many other delicately flavoured meals. The central areas of Italy, like Tuscany, have some of the best beef because of the abundance of cattle farmed in the Chianina Valley. Prosciuttos (Northern Italy) and salamis (Southern Italy)—or other cured meats—are used in different meat pies in central and Sothern Italy. These pies are a feature in Easter meals.
Being in closeness to other countries has also effected Italy’s regional cuisines, whether by trade, natural geography, or military invasion. North African couscous makes an appearance in Sicily, as do many Arabic spices. Conquerors brought basil and tomatoes into the Italian borders. Goulash and sauerkraut became highly sought after in the Alpine regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol because of a history of occupation and invasion, as well.
Some products appear all across Italy, like salumi, handcrafted cheese, and wine. The taste and style changes between regions, though. As a top wine producer in the world, Italy has many red and white varieties. Tuscany’s Sangiovese varietal is arguably the most famous and is made from red grapes, which is why it was given a name was taken from “sanguis Jovis” (“blood of Jobe”). These same grapes are used to make Brunello and Chianti wines.
And, of course, there is Italian cheeses. Italian cheeses are often named for the region in which they originated, like the “grainy” cheese from the Padana (or Po) Valley that was named Grana Padano. Other cheeses include the mild and soft Buffallo Mozzarella found in Campania or the salty and hard Pecorino Romano from Sardinia.
Dessert is often eaten as a midday snack, rather that at the end of a meal. Sometimes coffee may be served with pastries, cookies, tarts, or cakes. Tiramisu, now popular all across the world, is made with espresso-soaked lady fingers and sweet mascarpone and Marsala. Some say that this caffeine-rich dessert was served by Northern Italian women to energize troops during World War I. Sweets may be served during a specific holiday, like the Christmas time dessert called panettone—a Milanese recipe that can take up to a week to make!
These are just a few examples of the different foods across Italy. With all of these different flavours and cuisine specialties, there is certainly something that will appeal to everyone.