At the heels of our upcoming trip, we find ourselves back in our spiritual motherland – Italy, specifically Barolo, where 70 of the world’s notable wine experts, journalists, sommeliers, and Italian Wine Ambassadors aka yours truly, will congregate to experience the glory and richness of Italian regionality via a celebration forged by the grandest twinning of all – art, food, and wine at Collisioni.
Italy is not only carpeted with vines, it may very well be the world champion of protecting local food. Here is one country where regionality is not only accepted, it is encouraged, revered, and passionately pursued. What makes Italy particularly alluring is unlike the yuppies of the west, who voluntarily surrendered tradition for consumerism; Italians, especially the champions of change, the younger generation confidently, with great pride wear their cultural identity as a comfortable cloak or second skin, while crusading their local region onto contemporary stature.
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson.
Sip on this: Italy boasts 814 certified products – 291 Food and 523 Wine, earning the accolades for the highest number of PDO products in the EU, with France a close second.
Synonymous with pasta, pesto, antipasti, extra-virgin olive-oil, espresso, cheeses, wine, and dolce vita, Food quality and regionality is not only paramount to Italy, it directly corresponds to Italy’s identity. All twenty regions have gone to great lengths to support artisanal producers and protect their integrity by establishing strict production regulations, geographical restrictions, and clear labelling rules to guarantee authenticity and typicity.
Ask for DOP – Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, IGP – Indicazione Geografica Protetta, and STG – Specialita’ Tradizionale Garantita. The goal of all three approval seals is to guarantee the originality of specific products by encouraging diverse agricultural production, and counterfeit protection from misuse and imitation.
Fruits and vegetables, followed by extra -virgin olive oil, cheese and dairy products, and lastly perhaps the most famous transplant of all meats (cured and fresh), encompass the gamut of Italy’s locally protected foods.
Mother nature at its finest – Italy’s mountainous terrain (Apennines and Alps), combined with proximity to four seas (Adriatic, Ligurian, Mediterranean, & Tyrrhenian), and a melange of soils create distinct micro-climates that fiercely influences the character of Italian agricultural products.
The quickest way to discover and fall in love with Italy is through the dinner table. And any and all of these locally protected foods are woven into the fabric of an Italian meal. Shall we?
Piedmont: Straddled on three sides by snow-clad peaks of Alp, flanked by both France and Switzerland, the legendary land of the king of Italian grapes – Nebbiolo, Piemonte boasts delicately spiced pork deli meat – Mortadella Bologna IGP and a sweet Italian dry-cured sausage – Salamini italiani alla cacciatora DOP. Wide array of soft to hard DOP cheeses – Bra, Castelmagno, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Murazzano, Raschera, Robiola di Roccaverano, Taleggio, Toma Piemontese. The source of the famed nutty spread nutella – hazelnuts also called filberts – Nocciola di Piemonte IGP.
Our extravagant excursion includes I reckon, unforgettable meals hosted at Chef Enrico Crippa’s 3-Michelin star restaurant Piazza Duoma, and Antica Corono Reale – Chef Gian Piero Vivalda 2-Michelin star.
Valle D’ Aosta: With both Italy and French as their official language, Italy’s smallest region Valle D’Aosta is also home to the highest mountain in Europe Monte Bianco. Valle D’Aosta’s protected local foods include: Jambon de Bosses DOP which can only be produced in the town Saint Rhemy en Bosses; buttery, slightly tangy Lard d’Arnad DOP curated from domestically raised pigs fed on chestnuts, grains, and vegetables; perfumy and brazen, Fontina DOP made from a single milking of Valdostana cows, and the slightly stronger cheese Fromadzo DOP.
Lombardy: Italy’s fashion and finance hub, not only dazzles with sparkling wines of Franciacorta, the prolific Po Valley is also the agricultural epicenter with 36 DOP & IGP products. Including the lion’s share of rice production (Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe 51%). Fresh & Cured Meats: Salame Brianza DOP, Zampone di Modena IGP, Cotechino di Modena IGP, Mortadella Bologna IGP, Bresaola della Valtellina IGP, Salame di Varzi DOP, Salame d’Oca di Mortasa IGP, Salamini italiani alla cacciatora DOP. DOP Cheeses: Bitto, Formai de Mut dell’Alta Val Brembana, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Provolone Val Padana, Quartirolo Lombardo, Taleggio, Valtellina Casera, & Parmigiano Reggiano. DOP Olive oils: Garda and Laghi Lombardi. PGI Fruit: Pera Mantovana (pear).
Trentino-Alto Adige: The most northern and picturesque wine region in Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige famed products are the mildly smoky Speck and springy and soft cow’s milk cheese Asiago. Olive oil – Gardo DOP. Fruits – Mela Val di Non DOP, Mela Alto Adige or Südtiroler Apfel IGP. IGP Meats – Speck dell’Alto Adige & Mortadella Bologna; DOP Cheeses – Asiago, Grana Padano, Provolone Val Padana, Spressa delle Giudicarie, and Stelvio.
Veneto: Only second to Emilia Romagna, Veneto’s 38 DOP and IGP products range from fresh & cured meats, olive oils, cheeses, fruits cherries – Ciliegia di Marostica IGP and chestnuts – Marrone di San Zeno DOP, to rice – Riso Nano Vialone Veronese IGP and IGP vegetables: Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco, Asparago bianco di Cimadolmo, Fagiolo di Lamon della Vallata Bellunese, and Radicchio Rosso di Treviso.
As they say in Italy: “Rice is born in water … but dies in wine“. Veneto’s opulent Amarone soaked in carnoli rice produces some of the richest renditions of risotto. And we had the pleasure of not only sampling but rolling up our white silk sleeves to cook the signature luxurious Risotto alla Amarone del Valpolicella at the family winery Santa Sophia.
Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG): juxtaposed between regal Austria to the north, snow-capped Slovenia on its east, Adriatic sea to the south, and vine-centric Veneto out west, Friuli delivers olive oil, cured meats, and cheese products.
Like prosciutto di Parma (Parma), prosciutto di Carpegna San Leo (Marche), Friuli produces the rich, sweetly scented Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP. Following the strict legal guidelines, a pork thigh can only be deemed Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP if three conditions are met:
1. The pig must be raised in one of the 10 regions of the central-north of Italy.
2. The pig must be raised using specific, age-old traditions.
3. The process and aging must take place in San Daniele.
Liguria: The Italian Riveria and World heritage site of Cinque Terre produces Riviera Ligure DOP olive oil and Italy’s quintessential herb – Basilico Genovese DOP.
Emilia Romagna: Home to the king of Italian cheese Parmigiano, arguably Italy’s beloved transplant – Prosciutto di Parma, world’s most celebrated and complex vinegar – aged Balsamic Vinegar, made with grape must from indigenous grape varieties of Lambrusco and Trebbiano — and the gastronomic capital of Italy – Bologna, Emilia Romagna is the number one region with 45 DOP & IGP specific products. Including IGP Vegetables: asparagus – Asparago verde di Altedo, mushroom Borgotaro, and shallots – Scalogno di Romagna. Coppia Ferrarese IGP is a type of sourdough bread made with flour, lard, malt, & olive oil.
Tuscany: Toscano to the Italians, Tuscany is the land of Renaissance, a marriage of modern and old world charm, stage for exquisite food and world-class wines, burnt-orange vistas, rust-colored hills, pristine and picturesque landscapes, charming trattorias and pizzerias. Aside from cheeses, olive oils, cured meats, fruits, vegetables, and cereals, Tuscany’s locally protected food includes honey – Miele della Lunigiana DOP, and saffron – Zafferano di San Gimignano DOP.
Marche: Pronounced ‘Lay Markay’, roughly the size of Delaware, this Italian province aptly translates “the borderlands”, hugs the Adriatic Sea to the east with a 111-mile-long coastline and stretches of unspoiled countryside extend into Emilia-Romagna to the north, Tuscany and Umbria to the West, and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south.
Michelangelo and Pope Clement XIV’s preferred choice of cheese – Casciotta d’Urbino DOP, is a semi-soft Caciotta cheese made with a combination of sheep and cow’s milk. In Italy one couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a grape vine or in our case an olive tree. The tender green-tinged Ascolan Olive Piceno DOP can be devoured fresh, pressed into an ubiquitous olive oil, an essential tool in any cook’s arsenal, or like the Ascolini families stuffed, lightly fried, and served as fritti to the likes of Rossini and Puccini. Lentils – Lenticchia di Castelluccio di Norcia IGP. Cured meats – Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP, Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGP, Mortadella Bologna IGP.
For an even deeper understanding of the soul of a Marchigiano, one must drink Verdicchio, every style from dry to sweet to sparkling. It’s liquid gold they have perfected, perhaps as early as the eighth century.
Umbria: Land locked Umbria, the green heart of Italy provides most of Italy’s perfumed, aphrodisiac lavish mushroom – black truffles from Norcia. The gentle rolling hills also produce DOP & IGP olive oil, fresh & cured meats, cheeses, and lentils.
Lazio: from the epicenter of occidental civilization and Christian culture (Rome), arises two of our personal favored Italian ingredients. Moist, sweet, pull-apart Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP and earthy, piney addictive artichokes – Carciofo romanesco del Lazio IGP. Other locally protected foods to request by name – DOP Olive Oils: Canino, Sabina, & Tuscia. Fresh & Cured Meats: Mortadella Bologna IGP, Salamini italiani alla cacciatora DOP, Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGP. DOP Cheeses: Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Toscano, & Ricotta Romana. Fruits: Kiwi Latina IGP. Breads & Cereals: Pane Casareccio di Genzano IGP.
Abruzzo: is home to Italy’s best kept secret – Rosato (rose wine) from Cerasulo d’Abruzzo and herbal-heady white Pecornio. The massive earthquake at the regional capital at L’Aquila that left 65,000 Italians homeless is also the hub for the extravagant golden hued spice saffron – Zafferano de L’Aquila. Followed by DOP Olive Oils: Aprutino Pescarese, Colline Teatine, Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane. Fresh & Cured Meats: Salamini italiani alla cacciatora DOP, Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGP. Vegetables: carrot – Carota dell’Altopiano del Fucino IGP, and Oliva Ascolana del Piceno DOP.
Molise: Abruzzo and Molise were united as one region as recently as 1963. The sparsely populated, mountainous region (40%) of Molise is best known for the “White Vitello of the Central Apennine”, the only quality brand approved by EU for Italian fresh beef – Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGP. Molise also provides olive oil Molise DOP, cured Salamini Italiani alla cacciatora DOP, and cheese – Caciocavallo Silano DOP.
Historically admired as Oenotria – the “land of wine:, the ancient Greeks were alluding specifically to the toe (Campania), heel (Puglia), and boot (Calabria).
Campania: Better known for Naples and the Amalfi coast, Campania is one Italian state rich in biodiversity that rejected planting of International grapes, blessed with 56 native varieties exclusive to Campania (to name a few Peidrosso, Aglianico, Pallagrello, Olivello). Endowed with volcanic soils at Campi Flegrei area, Campania list of protected local ingredients include DOP Olive Oils: Cilento, Colline Salernitane, Penisola Sorrentina; Fresh beef Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGP; Caciocavallo Silano DOP and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP cheeses; Fruits: Castagna di Montella IGP (chestnut), Fico Bianco del Cilento DOP (fig), lemons – Limone Costa d’Amalfi IGP & Limone di Sorrento IGP, Mela Annurca Campana IGP (apple), and Nocciola di Giffoni IGP (hazelnut). Vegetables: Carciofo di Paestum IGP (artichoke), Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP (tomatoes).
Puglia/Apulia: from the spiritual land of Zinfandel – Primitivo – DOP Olive Oils: Colline di Brindisi, Dauno, Terra di Bari, Terra d’Otranto, Terre Tarentine. DOP Cheeses: Caciocavallo Silano, Canestrato Pugliese. Breads & Cereals: Pane di Altamura PDO. DOP Vegetables: Oliva da Tavola La Bella Della Daunia. IGP Fruits: Limone Femminello del Gargano (lemon) and Clementina del Golfo di Taranto (clementine).
Basiclicata: embedded between the heel (Puglia) and toe (Calabria) of Italy, the poverty struck Basiclicata not only produces the superstar wine of South Italy – Aglianico, it also boasts Caciocavallo Silano DOP cheese, Fagiolo di Sarconi IGP (beans), and Peperone di Senise IGP (peppers).
Calabria: the country’s fourth biggest producer of DOP olive oils – Alto Crotonese, Bruzio, & Lamezia. Calabria’s flora and fauna bounty includes 90% of the world’s production of the sweetly citrusy scented orange Bergamot (Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria DOP), used extensively as an essential oil and essence. Peppers – Peperone di Senise PGI, fruit Clementina di Calabria PGI, cheese Caciocavallo Silano DOP, and DOP cured meats: red pepper speckled Soppressata di Calabria, hot or sweet Capocollo di Calabria, Italian bacon – Pancetta di Calabria, & Salsiccia di Calabria.
Sicily: in no place is the “Santa Trinita Mediterranea” – holy trinity of bread, wine, and olive oil more evident than in Italy’s largest region Sicily (10,000 miles). Currently considered the hottest wine region in Italy, including the sinfully sweet wines made from Zibbio by Donnafugata family winery, Sicily sports a plethora of locally protected foods. DOP Olive Oils: Monte Etna, Monti Iblei, Val di Mazara, Valdemone, Valle del Belice, & Valli Trapanesi. DOP Cheeses: Pecorino Siciliano & Ragusano. Fruits: Arancia Rossa di Sicilia IGP (orange), Ficodindia dell’Etna DOP (fig), IGP table grapes – Uva da Tavola di Canicatti and Uva da Tavola di Mazzarrone.
Sardinia: from the rugged Nuraghi dotted landscape embracing the Mediterranean Sea – Olive oil Sardegna DOP, lamb meat of Agnello di Sardegna IGP, and DOP cheeses: Fiore Sardo, Pecorino Romano, & Pecorino Sardo.
Italy’s diverse, unparalleled ingredients which have culminated as an integral fabric of our daily lives, are based on a relentless set of standards, which together with generations of experience and expertise, sits perfectly in the premium sector, rendering Italy as one of the most prestigiuous regions for high quality certified local foods.
Italy is an enchanting land of endless discoveries, dreams, & vino!! Be it gastronomical quickies or spell-binding and exhilarating wines, with each sip and bite, I fall in love a little deeper, dream a bit longer.
Stay tuned for the rest of our Italian Wine and Food adventures, a living dream, made possible by the herculean collobrative effort of Dr. Ian D’Agata and Collisioni – Itay’s largest Music, Literature, and Cultural Festival.