Italy is the motherland of food and wine. People love Italian cuisine for its quality ingredients, simple recipes and great food & wine pairings. Grab our tips about Italian food, wine and wine regions – and travel to Italy in your own kitchen.
1) In Italy food is a way of life
There is a saying that sums up Italian food culture: Italians do not eat to live but live to eat. Also eating habits are of utmost importance for Italians.
Traditional recipes and tricks for a perfect pizza base are transmitted in the family, typically from nonna (grandmother) to the younger ones. The importance of the family is reflected in the food culture. Italians are true masters in eating together: also neighbours and friends are welcome to the table.
2) Italian food is made of just a few quality ingredients
Olive oil, balsamico, tomatoes, pasta and air-dried ham are classic ingredients in Italian kitchen. People also use cheese, such as mozzarella, parmesan, gorgonzola and ricotta, in the kitchen. Herbs and garlic give flavour to the food. Ingredients are always chosen according to the season.
One reason for the popularity of Italian food is the availabiity of basic ingredients; for example tomato is available all over the world. Besides, Italian recipes are short and simple to follow.
3) In Italy food and wine go hand in hand
Wine has been a part of Italian cuisine for thousands of years since it is a traditional agricultural product, like milk in Finland. Locality also means the wine is well priced.
The attitude to wine is relaxed, and a glass of wine is enjoyed during everyday meals as well. Just like French wines, Italian wines go well with local food. For instance, Tuscan wines are great with tomato-based pasta dishes while wines from Piedmont love herby foods and risottos.
4) Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche and Veneto – the best of Italian wine regions
Although pizzas, pastas and risottos are familiar Italian foods for most of us, there is plenty of diversity across the regions, i. e. the country does not have a uniform food and wine culture.
Wine regions and grape varieties are married with each other. Authentic, indigenous varieties are strongly linked to their territory. This encourages people to learn more about Italian wines and their regions.
Especially the wine regions of Northern and Central Italy are well worth exploring:
Piedmont is the culinary centre of Northern Italy. The region is world-famous for its truffles and herby dishes, as well as for golden yellow pasta dough with plenty of egg yolk in it. The specialty of Piedmont is vitello tonnato, a cold antipasto made of roast veal and tuna-based mayo sauce.
On the dessert side, pannacotta comes from Piedmont. The region is also famous for its hazelnuts that are also used for making Nutella.
Try these wines from Piedmont:
- The best-known grape varieties of Piedmont are Nebbiolo ja Barbera. Nebbiolo, considered the King of Piedmontese grapes, is the grape for famous Barolo wine. Grape varieties in Piedmont often have aromas of rosemary and thyme, so they go well with herby foods typical of the region.
- The red wines of the region typically have great acid line and texture. Nebbiolo, in special, produces wines that are rather nuanced and developed than succulent and juicy.
A fantastic travel destination and picturesque region in Central Italy, Tuscany is famous for Under the Tuscan Sun film. The philosophy of Tuscan cooking is simple: meat is meat and veggies are veggies. For example, bruschetta and air-dried ham with melon are well-known Tuscan delicacies.
In the kitchen, local people use a lot of bread, herbs and olive oil. On the dessert side, tiramisù and cantuccini almond cookies are true classics.
Try these wines from Tuscany:
- Today’s ”drink less but better” trend supports gorgeous wines from regions such as Tuscany. Pay 5 or 10 euros more for our wine – and notice the leap in quality.
- Any winelover should try Chianti Classico with pasta. Typical ingredients of Tuscan pasta dishes such as olive oil, fresh tomatoes and herbs call for a full-bodied yet fresh wine with crispy tannins. Chianti Classico is a perfect choice.
Playfully named, Marche has been called ”The New Tuscany”. This region is the cradle of authentic Italy – yet still quite unknown to tourists. The cuisine of Marche is a mixture of North and South. There are plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants in Marche, and many top chefs have named the region as their favourite in Italy.
Try these wines from Marche:
- The best-known grape variety of Marche is Verdicchio.
- Pecorino is another variety worth exploring. It has the same name as the famous cheese that is also eaten in Marche, but it is also a nearly extinct grape variety that the Cocci Grifoni family has been reviving.
- The proximity of the sea brings saltiness to the wines, making them great for seafood.
Many of us know Veneto for its capital, Venice. The food in Veneto is typically seafood, such as fish and mussels, and rice. The meat specialty of the region is fegato alla veneziana, “Venetian liver”. Also Bellini, the cocktail made with sparkling wine and peach juice, comes from Venice.
Try these wines from Veneto:
- The wines from Veneto often feel intense, rich, downright sweetish in the mouth. This mouthfeel that many Finns love derives from appassimento, the drying process of the grapes.
- Veneto’s wines are versatile: same grape varieties produce light Valpolicella wines and very full-bodied Amarone wines.
- Amarone is the most intense and full-bodied wine style of the world, and every wine lover should give it a try.
5) Eat like Italians at home
The order of dishes in Italy differs from what we Finns are used to.
Italian meal consists of five parts:
- starters = antipasti
- first course = primo
- main course = secondo
- sides = contorni
- dessert = dolce.
The meal often starts with an aperitif. The antipasto can be ham and cheese, for example. If bread is served during the meal, it is eaten at the start, never with the main course.
The first course is the one that fills you up. It can be pasta, risotto or polenta, for instance. The main course, in turn, is protein, such as meat or fish served with sides, like vegetables. The dessert is often tiramisù, pannacotta or gelato, Italian ice-cream.
The dinner is finished with espresso and digestif, such as limoncello or amaretto, designed to promote digestion.
Master of Wine’s tip for Italian evenings:
”Everyone should try at least the ABC of Italian wine: Amarone, Barolo ja Chianti Classico!”
The wine tips were given by Master of Wine and Winestate CEO Tuomas Meriluoto, the food tips by food journalist Riikka Kaila.