Italy is among the most preferred destinations in the world for food and wine. And the country’s gastronomic delights are not just limited to pizza, pasta and Chianti wine. We’re certainly not omitting a trip to Rome to indulge in a hearty plate of cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta), tasting a foamed cappuccino in one of Florence’s lively squares or treating on a fancy dinner out in Milan (there are over 60 restaurants with Michelin stars in this Lombardy region).
If you are an enthusiast and desire to explore more profoundly into Italy’s world-renowned food and wine scene, we would recommend you to take a vacation in one of these lesser-travelled regions known for Italian cuisine.
This northern Italian region is home to some of Italy’s best cuisine. Begin with the city of Bologna, which is identified as the culinary capital of Italy. Bologna is compassionately nicknamed La Grassa (the fat lady) by Italians because of its ragu, aka Bolognese sauce, a tomato-and-meat-based thick sauce often loaded upon pizza or put in lasagna.
Some of the country’s best prosciutto (dried, cured ham) hails from the hill town of Parma. Serve the ham with a ‘must-have’ – Parmigiano Reggiano, a cured, hard cheese that also comes from the region. Then there is sharp balsamic vinegar which is frequently sprinkled over the popular cheese, which comes from Modena. Not forgetting a sparkling Lambrusco wine.
Cannoli, cassata (a ricotta-based cake) and warm brioche bread served with either lemon or almond granita (a type of flavoured Italian ice), often consumed for breakfast in the warmer months.
Sicilian pistachios are ubiquitous: in pastries, covered and sauteed on sea bass and crushed into pesto with basil, lemon, garlic and cheese. Most importantly serve a dish of pasta alla norma (pasta topped with tomato, aubergine and ricotta) along with a full-bodied glass of Nero D’Avola wine; you’ll thank us for this.
Piedmont is the budding gourmet destination for both locals and tourists the same. Travelling few of Piedmont’s smaller towns and wine villages will acquaint you with the best slow food — local, seasonal ingredients, ecological wines and age-old recipes.
Here, you can treat yourself in some of the region’s new and creative cuisine, items like cyber eggs or virtual oysters.
This crescent-shaped region extends beyond Cinqueterre. Possibly you’ve eaten focaccia bread or pesto? Both originate from this region. Liguria’s mineral-rich soil is also perfect for growing herbs, meaning much of the food you’ll discover there will be seasoned with fennel, rosemary, basil and sage which takes us to pesto. You can spread the green basil-based sauce on pretty much anything and everything for a burst of flavour.
And whatever it is that you eat in Liguria, will be drenched in olive oil. Specifically, this region’s oil is prepared with the Taggiasca olive, making an extra virgin type that is light and delicious, yet not so strong.
Beginning with Naples and its famous pizza, the city actually has its own pizza police: the which approves pizzerias and gives them the official consent to make authentic Neapolitan pizza. This pizza is different from other pizzas because it’s cooked in a wood-burning oven, for about a minute at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes sure that the crust is soft and supple and the mozzarella cheese is flawlessly melted.
The region is even renowned for its citrus fruits, specifically Sorrento lemons. As you move through the Amalfi Coast, you’ll taste the lemon in almost all the things you have, marinated chicken, zested into a seafood dish, in gelato, cookies and of course, limoncello.
Puglia forms the southern heel of Italy’s boot, known for gorgeous villages, seaside towns and endless olive groves, vineyards and rolling countryside. The south of Italy moves at a slower pace, ensuring you’ll have plenty of time to indulge in long, leisurely meals. Dining in areas with fewer tourists may mean you might not be charged a coperto — a surcharge which is basically to sit at the restaurant (often higher if you’re sitting outside). You can also avoid this by standing at the bar for your coffee instead of sitting.
If you’re visiting during the heat of summer, make sure to sample frisell, a cracker-style bread that’s baked and toasted, topped with tomato, olive oil, garlic and salt. Another must-have is bread made in the village of Altamura. Created from durum wheat flour and baked in a wood oven, this round, large bread is the only bread in the world with a DOP status (Protected Designation of Origin). The recipe is rumored to date back to the Middle Ages. Puglians also love antipasti (starters), so don’t be surprised to see many on the menu — items like stuffed, grilled or fried vegetables, local cheeses and souffles.
While everyone knows about Tuscany, fewer are familiar with the region to its southeast: Umbria. The small, landlocked area is known as one of the greener areas of the country, scattered with vineyards and forests. Carnivores should head to Norcia, known as the pork capital of Italy. Here, you can enjoy cured meats like ham (Prosciutto di Norcia is especially famous), salami and even wild boar, as well as other types of charcuterie.
Visitors can also head into the woods to truffle hunt, or simply enjoy the specialty tartufo grated on pasta, sauteed with eggs or even used to flavor the aforementioned meats and Umbrian Caciotta cheese. And for dessert, don’t forget to sample something sweet at the Perugina Chocolate Factory. Umbria is also home to a number of wine regions.
While you really can’t go wrong eating anywhere in Italy, diving into some of the country’s lesser-visited regions may ensure you get a taste of true Italian ingredients and recipes. Whether it be pork in Umbria, truffles in Piedmont or pizza in Campania, get ready to discover some of the world’s best cuisine in Italy — with wines to match.