Italy - Culinary Travel Overview
Italy boasts one the world’s great cuisines and beckons foodies to come, taste, learn and enjoy in the midst of its rolling hills, enchanting villages and ancient, breathtaking cities. Europe’s boot kicks out into the Mediterranean and hillside medieval towns seem to tumble down to the sea. Terraced lemon groves and vineyards are poised above the cobalt blue water that gives up a bounty of fish and seafood. Beyond miles of sensational coastline, islands wait to be explored and savored. Italy’s 20 regions offer an expansive array of distinctly different cuisines shaped by geography, climate and a layered history. The sizes, shapes and names of the pastas alone, are fascinating. A hands-on pasta making lesson is often a highlight of culinary travel to Italy.
Tuscany, with its gorgeous travel-poster countryside, its art-rich capital of Florence, hilltowns, and its cities of Lucca and Siena, has drawn travelers for centuries. They come for the food which is understated: sharp sheep milk cheeses from artisanal dairies, succulent grilled meats, wild boar, robust grains like faro, risotto and classic stuffed pastas. And they come for the wine, the noble Sangiovese, the Brunello di Montalcino and the signature Tuscan wines Chianti and Chianti Classico. In neighboring Umbria pork is served in every variation. Umbrians embraced snout-to-tail eating long before it became a fashionable trend. The chocolate is so wonderful here there is a museum dedicated to it.
Emilia-Romagna is considered to be the geographic and gastronomic belly of Italy and its capital Bologna is deliciously enchanting with a vibrant market district and cobblestone streets lined with bustling cafes serving its signature pasta tagliatelle. Emilia-Romagna is home to Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar.
In northern Italy, Piedmont, noted for the revered white truffles and chocolate confections, vaunts a diverse landscape from sparkling lakes to snowcapped mountains. Its hillside vineyards produce the famous wines Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera They are noble partners to a rich cuisine that includes fresh pastas filled with delicately spiced forcemeat.
The culinarily curious are drawn to the heel of the boot, Puglia. In ancient times the Apulians were shepherds by trade and they prefer their lamb cooked simply with fragrant herbs, perhaps served with their favorite legume, fava beans. The ear-shaped orecchiette is their traditional pasta and in the port city of Taranto, sea urchins are savored raw.
The Campania region encompasses the breath-taking, glittering Amalfi Coast, Positano, the isle of Capri and its exuberant capital Naples, the birthplace of pizza. Chefs and home cooks alike work magic with octopus, squid and cuttlefish. Sun kissed vegetables and farm fresh cheeses like buffalo mozzarella are all on the menu with arguably Italy’s best pasta and red sauce galore.
Sicily is poised at the toe of the boot and the island’s cuisine is Italy’s most complex. Layered with produce, spices and methods introduced over centuries of occupying forces. Arabs, Greeks, the French and the Spanish all have left their influence. Couscous is an example of this scrumptious melting pot and exotic touches are married to its staples: fresh fish and seafood, vegetables, hearty pastas, citrus, olives and fragrant wild fennel. There is that wonderful sweet-sour mix in many dishes and memorable sweets and desserts - dolce. Those who know and love Sicilian food say it is grounded in home cooking and the preserving of traditional foodways.
Those seeking a unique culinary travel adventure can visit the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago just north of Sicily. Each of the seven islands has its own distinct personality from simple to 5 star glamorous buzz. Salina is celebrated for its capers and vines covering the island produce the sweet Malvasi wine. Granita (the semi- frozen treat originated in Sicily) comes flavored with locally grown figs, lemons, almonds and blood oranges.
Veneto - Venice
Specialties of Veneto and its romantic and mysterious capital Venice include soups and risottos studded with seafood, cured meats and aged cheeses. A wonderful experience is, come early evening, finding a wine bar close to the Grand Canal and enjoying cicchetti, the Venetian version of Tapas with a glass of rustic red Refosco or a crisp Soave.
Rome, the eternal city, is a gastronomic treasure with its own traditions, restaurants offering all of Italy’s regional cuisines and a vibrant street food scene. The ancient Jewish Ghetto is fascinating stop and a place to savor salty snacks like deep-fried rice balls. Thin-crust pizza is a must-taste at the famous market Campo de Fiori. Coffee is revered here and can be sampled at celebrated espresso shops and a beautiful evenings in Rome can end with a stroll and a cone of gelato.
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