Italy is home to a truly exceptional wealth of cultural treasures, from important museums, ancient ruins, and medieval castles. In our minds however, there is no doubt that some of the country’s greatest pleasures are experienced through Italy’s sensational cuisine. As passionate foodies and Italian travel experts, we’re here to tell you that when it comes to eating in Italy, the hype is real; Italy is a gourmand’s delight for excellent reason. Indeed, Italy’s renowned food culture is not only a delicious culinary experience, but a rich, mouthwatering opportunity for cultural exploration. Whether you have an adventurous palate or prefer to stick to more familiar foods, Italy offers an unparalleled gastronomic experience, providing an edible window into what it means to be Italian.
Pizza fresh from the wood fired oven at Gardens and Villas Resort, Ischia.
Culture and Food
From the diversity of ingredients and food preparation methods found throughout the regions, all deeply influenced by their past and revealing their own individual gastronomic traditions. Italian cuisine is symbolic of a country that wasn’t unified until 1861. Previously, each region produced only its classic cuisine, relying solely on ingredients that could be harvested and cultivated locally. Today, regional products can be shipped all over Italy, but Italians still stay true to their locally produced ingredients, as they choose freshness and quality over a multiplicity of ingredients or the latest culinary trends.
The heart of Italian cooking today is still its simplicity; ingredients are used to complement rather than mask the taste of the fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and even cheeses. For instance, along the seaside, freshly caught fish is usually grilled and then served with a touch of olive oil, lemon, and freshly ground pepper. The succulent blood oranges from Sicily as prepared in insalata di arance (orange salad) need nothing more than a little fresh raw fennel, onions, rosemary, ground pepper, and oil and vinegar as accompaniments. Even pasta is intended to be served with sauces that enhance, not distract from, the pureness of its flavor.
When considering Italian cuisine as a whole, it is important to keep in mind the diversity of environments that thus beget a range of fare. From the mountainous terrain of the north to the blistering heat of the south, Italy’s regional climates and geographical conditions vary greatly, and thus so do the available products as well as the tastes of the people of each region. Consequently, recipes that originated in one particular region will have an entirely different style and flavor when prepared in another. Pasta certainly is typical of Italian cuisine, yet each region has its own unique shape and preparation, such as the trenette of the Ligurian coast, the tortellini of Emilia-Romagna, or the tagliatelle of Umbria.
Spaghetti al Vongole on the Ligurian coast
Many of the hotels and cafes will advertise American breakfast because colazione (Italian breakfast) is quite different. Colazione is light, and traditionally consists of cappuccino and a brioche (sweet pastry) or just simply an espresso and toast. Sliced meats and cheese are also common. While many hotels do feature extensive (and delicious) breakfast buffets with more American style egg dishes, travelers should not be surprised if colazione looks a little different than their typical breakfast.
Traditional colazione at Hotel Ciasa Salares, San Cassiano.
Customarily, pranzo (lunch) is the largest meal of the day. A traditional Italian meal is orchestrated like a great theatrical production, with a series of scenes presented in a succinct order: antipasto (starter), a primo piatto (pasta, rice, or soup), a secondo piatto (meat or fish) with contorno (vegetable or salad), then frutta (fresh fruit). Cena (dinner) is similar to lunch. Today there is a trend toward having a light lunch, with dinner as the main meal. Both meals may be finished with espresso and maybe a grappa, amaro, Vin Santo or limoncello (digestive liqueurs).
Italian desserts are completely delectable, yet the ingredients blend together so perfectly their parts are indistinguishable from the whole. A good example of this is panna cotta, the famous upside-down whipped cream pudding of Emilia-Romagna, which is made with only cream, vanilla bean, gelatin, and sugar as the backdrop to fresh raspberries, strawberries, or other seasonal fruits.
Panna cotta at Hotel Centurion Palace, Venice.
What to Expect During Your Travels
Our Mr. & Mrs. Italy team is dedicated to enabling the delicious and authentic exploration of Italy from an epicurean’s perspective. Rather than recommend individual restaurants (though we do have some favorites), our trips highlight properties we feel exemplify a delicious trend in travel: the luxury hotel as a culinary destination. These properties are more than just accommodations who serve great food, but immersive locales in which travelers can lose themselves in Italy’s culinary offerings, delighting in the mouthwatering fare from Michelin star chefs one day, to learning to prepare the very same dishes the next with that same chef. In addition to their restaurants, many of our properties also support onsite gardens, olive groves, and vineyards. A few are even located on or near working farms. As such, in many cases guests are able to buy these locally produced foodstuffs, as well as other regional delicacies, in addition to enjoying them at mealtimes. Whether tasting estate wines from the onsite vineyard, touring centuries old olive groves, or hunting for truffles with a local guide, Mr. & Mrs. Italy travelers can expect to find highly immersive, and of course delicious gastronomic experiences wherever they sleep.
Grand Hotel Cocumella’s organic garden, Sorrento.
One of the joys of traveling and eating in Italy is returning home with some of the fruits of your journey. As you potentially overwhelming selections of culinary products throughout your travels, you may notice certain foods such as cheeses and sausages carry a special government-approved seal, which acknowledges its outstanding regional quality. This is known as the “controlled designation of origin,” indicated by the initials DOC. Foods that receive this stamp of approval have met the government’s strictest of standards for quality and authenticity.
A prime example is Asiago cheese from the Veneto region. Asiago received its DOC certification in 1978, which not only limited the geographical area in which the milk used in its production could be produced and collected but also ensured that its traditional production methods were adhered to and carried out. The officially recognized zones are defined as the whole province of Vicenza and Trento, as well as the two provinces of Treviso and Padova. Asiago also received an additional certification of DOP, or “protected designation of origin,” one of only thirty among Italy’s four hundred or so cheeses to have been awarded this honor.
Regardless of its simplicity or sophistication, whether the products were collected and produced in Piedmonte or Puglia, or if its ingredients hold a DOC or DOP certification, Italian cuisine ultimately arouses the senses though its artful expression and the joining together of friends and family. We’ve found that some of the best places to buy products to bring home are at the places you stay. Hotels that have their own estate wines, olive oils, or other products often feature these delicacies on their menus, giving travelers a change to not only sample the flavors, but also learn more about the production and history of the items. Returning home with a bottle of extra virgin oil from olive groves you have yourself explored is a wonderful treat!
If you love the joys of Italian cuisine as much as we do, check out our Taste of Italy signature trip, or let us craft you the ultimate foodie itinerary? Contact us at (888) 770 8048, or shoot us an email, we’re always happy to hear from you!