With the launch of our new portfolio of Food & Wine Tours, we’ve had the opportunity to take a deep dive into the culinary customs and traditions of each region. A long-time traveler favorite, Italy offers as many culinary delights as sightseeing highlights.
Authentic cuisine in Italy varies wildly based on history and local products. Just as Italian people tend to identify with their home region first and foremost (they are most prone to describing themselves as Sicilian or Tuscan), the phrase “Italian food” can mean many things depending on whom you ask.
The flavors of Northern Italy seem a world away from the rest of the country due to culinary influence from neighboring France and the once-great Hapsburg Empire. The green hills and valleys allow ample grazing grounds for cattle and, as a result, many fine cheeses.
Wines to try
Nebbiolo grapes from the Piedmont region make powerful red Barolo wines that pair well with rich and meaty dishes. Notable whites from the area include pinot grigio and sparkly prosecco.
Frico – This cheese crisp was created in the Friuli region but is popular all over Italy thanks to its versatility—chefs mold the salty snack into everything from inventive garnishes to rustic little baskets.
Risotto al nero di sepia – Cuttlefish is a favorite in northeastern Italy, especially when served with creamy risotto and a sauce of its own ink.
Tiramisu – The exact origins of this decadent dessert are disputed, but the first tiramisu was said to have been created somewhere in northern Italy.
From rough-hewn pasta in heavy sauces to wood-grilled steaks, the medieval villages and sweeping countryside of central Italy are known for their simple, honest flavors. Basil, rosemary and sage are all prominent in local dishes, as well as soffritto, a lightly browned mixture of celery, onions, carrots, leeks and other aromatics similar to a French mirepoix.
Wines to try
Vernaccia and Vermentino are both popular whites, while Chianti is the big-name red of the region.
Ribollita – With a name that means “reboiled,” this hearty pottage is typically made with day-old bread, cannellini beans and any combination of carrots, cabbage, onion and Tuscan kale.
Pici – This thick, hand-rolled pasta is perfect when paired with the region’s succulent sauces. The shape originates in Siena, though it may be also referred to as “pinci” elsewhere in the country.
Crostini di fegatini – Central Italian cuisine favors appetizer-sized bites, and these chicken liver-topped toasts are popular among local cooks.
Bistecca alla fiorentina – No trip to the Chianti region is complete without a thick steak grilled over a wood-fired flame—the area is famous for its enormous Chiana cattle.
Eating in Southern Italy is truly a Mediterranean experience. Long summers bring bountiful tomato harvest—and the red sauces, pizzas and salads that most diners associate with Italian cooking.
Wines to try
The Nero d’Avola grape is perhaps the most important in all of Sicily—you’ll see why when you sample the rounded, full-bodied red wines it produces.
Tartufo – A Calabrese ice cream treat, these frosty morsels are typically served in a shell of chocolate or nuts.
Pane di Matera – This treasured bread is made with locally milled grains and ancient techniques in its namesake province.
Mozzarella di bufala – A favorite among mozzarella lovers, this soft cheese is made from the milk of water buffalo.