Five Italian Foodie Favorites (That Aren't Pasta)


I ate so well in Italy this month! I thoughtfully curated my meals as much as my touring and experienced exceptional cuisine at the hotel properties I visited. My favorites were dinner at Four Seasons Firenze on their garden patio and also dinner in Florence at Mimesi in the newly opened Dimora Palanca, where the chef is looking to earn a Michelin star. Based on his dinner tasting menu bursting with flavorful surprises, he's well on his way! The entire country of Italy is a food paradise, and here are some beloved regional specialties....

Excerpt of 9/18/2018 Virtuoso Traveler article by Victorica Veilleux below can be found HERE.

It’s no news flash that Italy has delicious food, but discovering the sheer scope of area specialties that go beyond familiar staples such as Parmesan, olive oil, and Chianti is like finding precious keepsakes in your grandmother’s attic. Each of Italy’s 21 regions showcases singular flavors and menus that have historically stayed within their own borders. To best understand those finds, you must go straight to the source, where a producer’s or purveyor’s passion is visceral, and their knowledge infuses every bite.

In this renowned epicurean destination, lesser-known culinary traditions reveal true local flavor. From the top of Italy’s boot down to its heel, the following regional tasting menu features five of your next favorite culinary treasures – along with interactive ways to experience them.

Piedmont — Cioccolato

If there was a chocolate Olympics, you might bet on Switzerland or Belgium, but, in a tasty surprise for travelers, Italy can lay claim to the gold. The host of the 2006 Winter Olympics arguably became the birthplace of European chocolate in 1678, when its ruling Savoy family issued the continent’s very first chocolate license. Also invented here: bicerin, a hot beverage of chocolate, espresso, and cream so iconic that the government granted it status as a traditional Piedmontese product. And, in the nineteenth century, Turin broke the mold – or rather, made the first one – transforming the melted elixir into a solid. Legend has it that not even Napoleon’s early nineteenth-century trade embargo cutting off cacao imports could thwart Turin’s devotion to confectionery innovation: The Piedmontese responded by creating gianduja (think Nutella), a chocolate paste that incorporated the region’s plentiful hazelnuts in order to stretch the limited cacao supply. Today, Turin’s streets are still lined with confectioneries displaying everything from gold-wrapped gianduiotto to triple-layered cremino pralines in various flavors and liquor-imbued, mountain-shaped alpino. Tour artisan chocolate shops and factories that roast cacao beans and produce chocolate on-site, or visit the city in November for its annual chocolate festival, CioccolaTò.

Emilia-Romagna — Culatello di Zibello

Encompassing the cuisine capitals of Bologna, Modena, and Parma, the Emilia-Romagna region is considered Italy’s food belt – and will likely require you to let yours out a notch or two. No product is more synonymous with the region than prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham), but the cured specialty new to many curious carnivores is culatello di Zibello. Often overlooked by travelers, prosciutto’s smaller, more delicate sibling tastes slightly brinier and sweet, with an aroma redolent of cellars humidified by the Po River’s rolling fogs, where the ham is aged. Just outside culatello’s namesake town of Zibello, be sure to visit Antica Corte Pallavicina, a restored fifteenth-century castle whose working farm is devoted to preserving the region’s only native-bred black pig, the nera di Parma, from which the ham comes. An on-site museum details the history and production process of this heirloom salume, which the estate serves in both its Michelin-starred restaurant and its more casual eatery.

Tuscany — Sorbetto

When you’re traveling to Tuscany, gelato inevitably comes up in conversation. Few people, however, realize the significance of this sweet’s predecessor, sorbetto, to the region. Though historians debate whether the ice, fruit, and sugar concoction – which existed centuries before dairy was added to the mix – originated from Rome, the Far East, or Persia, it’s well documented that Italian aristocrats, such as Tuscany’s Medici family, served up sorbetto-imbued drinks to flaunt their status, the snow having been carted from the mountains pre-refrigeration. Caterina de’ Medici is said to have popularized the treat when she brought Ruggieri, winner of a contest for “the most singular dish that has ever been seen,” with her to France to share his simple sorbetto – and impress the French court with Italy’s culinary superiority. Fortunately, sorbetto is no longer reserved solely for the upper crust. Sorbetto plays an integral role in Italian meals, where it’s served as a palate cleanser between courses.

Le Marche — Verdicchio

If you haven’t heard of Le Marche, a region of voluptuous hills lying between the snowy spine of the Apennine Mountains to the west and more than 100 miles of Adriatic coastline to the east, you’re not alone: This is one of Italy’s least touristed areas. Here, aptly, a diminutive, little-known white-wine grape, verdicchio, reigns supreme. To understand the subtleties of this native varietal, stroll through the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC (wine appellation), a string of fortified villages that drape around the medieval epicenter of Jesi, punctuated by ancient towers and impressive abbeys. A tasting with local vintners reveals a crisp, dry, mineral wine, with citrus and almond notes, that distinctively reflects its diverse microclimates. The grape’s high acidity lends itself to sparkling versions as well. Though verdicchio is not on most travelers’ wine racks, as more visitors head to the region for its beautiful beaches, they’ll fortuitously stumble across what wine critics are increasingly calling out as Italy’s best white.

Puglia — Burrata

Puglia has long appealed to travelers seeking out Italy’s rural wonders. Its whitewashed towns and secluded beaches skirted by citrus and olive groves are classically Mediterranean; on its urban side, Lecce’s baroque architecture mirrors Florence’s flair for the dramatic. But Puglia’s most lauded cheese, burrata, differs from its better-known cousins across the country in a way that reveals the region’s soul. Having endured centuries of invasion – and its resulting impoverishment – by Greeks, Normans, Spanish, and Germans who sought to rule this geographically strategic post, resourceful and scrappy locals were forced to make the most of what limited ingredients they had. The resulting cuisine, cucina povera (literally, “poor kitchen,” or food of the poor) utilized humble seasonal ingredients – and absolutely nothing was wasted. Simple dishes such as lampascioni, pickled wildflower bulbs, and orecchiette con le cime di rapa, pasta with turnip tops grown in home gardens, became Puglia’s signature. Burrata originated as a way to use leftover scraps of buffalo mozzarella, which cheesemakers stuff, along with cream, into a pouch of more mozzarella that has been stretched very thin and then shaped into a ball. Rustic, however, doesn’t mean untasty.

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