Italian Food and Wines

Italian Food and Wines

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A travel through the Italian regional diversity in food and wines. Discover the typical dishes and wines for each region!

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Publié le 12 août 2011
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Langue English
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La cucina italiana
, with its appetizing medleys of
aromas, flavors, colors and textures continues to gain
magnitude as the western world's favorite cuisine.
Italian food is doubly appealing for its healthful
nature, for the olive oil, grains, vegetables, herbs,
fish, cheese, fruit and wine of the ancient
Mediterranean diet that is increasingly esteemed as
the ideal modern way to eat.
By now the pleasures of pasta, pizza, risotto,
balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Mozzarella,
gelato and espresso are so familiar to foreigners that
they might not realize that Italy doesn't have a
stereotyped national cuisine. Instead, cooks over the
monumental repertory of recipes and dishes that
vary from region to region and town to town. It's this
local individuality that makes
la cucina italiana
so
original, so diversified, so delightful.
Fresh produce is essential to Italian cooks, with
their legendary knack for making things look easy.
But menus also rely on specialty foods - cheeses,
pasta, cured meats and fish, baked goods, olive oil,
vinegar, condiments and sauces - crafted by artisan in
Italy following age-old techniques. Their excellence
can't be duplicated, yet copies abound. The gap in
quality between Italy's authentic artisan foods and
the widespread fabrications continues to grow.
Italians trace their culinary heritage to Romans,
Greeks, Etruscans and other early Mediterranean
peoples who elaborated the methods of raising,
refining and preserving foods. But dining customs
acquired local accents in a land divided by mountains
and seas into natural enclaves where independent
spirits developed during the repeated shifts of ruling
powers that fragmented Italy from Roman times to
the Risorgimento.
Still, despite the different attitudes about eating
expressed from the Mediterranean isles to the Alps,
Italian foods have points in common. Consider pizza
which migrated from Naples to become what must
rank as Italy's - and the world's - favorite fast food.
Every Italian town has a
gelateria
making ice cream
sherbet and shaved ice
granita
. And every piazza
has a bar or two where tiny cups of densely aromatic
espresso are brewed rigorously to command.
Pasta is a national institution, and it comes in
so many shapes and sizes and carries so many names
that there is no way of documenting all the different
types. Still, pasta falls into two basic categories: the
dried, made from hard wheat semola flour and water,
and the fresh, made from soft wheat flour and eggs,
often with other ingredients in the dough or filling.
Dried pasta prevailed in the south and fresh pasta
in the north, in territories similar to those long
described as "the Italy of olive oil and the Italy of
butter." But barriers fell as spaghetti and maccheroni
gained ground to the Alps and beyond and ravioli and
tortellini (with their northern partners risotto and
polenta) won admirers in the Mezzogiorno. Mean-
while, extra virgin olive oil has triumphed every-
where as the essence of the Mediterranean diet.
Each province of Italy has its
salumi
- cured
meat products, usually from pork but also from other
animals, in the forms of salame, sausages, prosciutto,
mortadella, bresaola and more. Italians produce some
450 different cheeses, from the milk of cows, sheep,
goats and even water buffalo. The best known is
Parmigiano Reggiano, used universally for grating but
savored at home in bite-sized chunks. Gorgonzola,
Grana Padano, Mozzarella, Provolone and Pecorino
Romano also have international followings. But most
Italian
formaggio
remains proudly local.
The same can be said for breads, which range in
type from hefty loaves of unsalted
pane toscano
to
Emilia's tawny
coppiette
rolls to Alto Adige's dark
Schwartzbrot
to Turin's stick-like
grissini
to
Sardinia's brittle "music paper" and on to a vast
assortment of flatbreads or
focacce
. The national
inventory of pastries, biscuits and cakes is equally
awe inspiring.
Italian meals may progress through multiple
courses, from
antipasto
to
primo
and
secondo
and
on to
dolce
. But even a simple repast would not be
complete without
vino
. Italy makes more wine than
any other country in the greatest variety of types and
styles. Each of the 20 regions provides distinctive
foods and wines, which, needless to say, have an
inherent affinity for one another.
Today, in a world of ever more uniform tastes,
Italians retain their customary loyalty to local foods
and wines. This region-by-region review of the
cucina
begins in the south, in the islands, in those
antique Mediterranean lands where the roots of
Italy's culinary culture were formed.
Sicily
This island crossroads
of the Mediterranean,
endowed as it is with
sunshine on fertile volcanic
soils, has been the source
of many good things to eat.
Sicily's exotic array of
foods bespeaks the
influences of prominent
settlers. Greeks, who
pasta con le sarde
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baked flatbreads that were fore
runners to pizza and
focaccia, used the snows of Mount Etna to make
gelato, heralding Sicily's reputation as a treasure
island of sweets. Italy's first pasta industry was
founded near Palermo in the 12th century by Arabs
using grain from fields planted earlier by the Romans.
Sicilian menus rely on vegetables, herbs, spices,
olives and olive oil, capers and fish. A noted first
course is
pasta con le sarde
(noodles with sardines
and wild fennel). Vegetable stews called
caponata
(based on eggplant and tomato) and
peperonata
(based on peppers) may accompany freshly caught
tuna or swordfish. Popular cheeses are Pecorino
Romano and Caciocavallo, though creamy soft
ricotta
is used in pasta fillings and pastries. Oranges, lemons,
sun-dried and candied fruits and nuts (notably
almond paste for marzipan) go into the dazzling
array of sweets, led by
cassata
(a chocolate-coated
sponge cake of lavish decor). Sicily is renowned for
dessert wines - toasty Marsala and sweet Moscato
Passito di Pantelleria and Malvasia delle Lipari. But
its growing reputation is for dry table wines.
lobster). Near Oristano they dry mullet eggs as the
pungent
bottarga
, to slice thin over pasta or salads.
Yet it's said that the real Sardinian cooking is the
rustic fare of the hills and the open hearth - roast
lamb and kid, suckling pig called
porceddu
, sausages,
savory
Pecorino Romano
cheese and red wines of
the weight of Cannonau. Outsiders, from Phoenicians to
Spaniards, who ruled the island for centuries, lent their
accents to the foods. Specialties include
su farru
(mint
and barley soup),
malloreddus
(semolino
gnocchi with meat or tomato sauce),
favata
(fava,
beans stewed with pork),
sebadas
(pastry with
Pecorino Romano and bitter honey). Each village has
its own styles of bread, though bakers everywhere
share a liking for the flat
pane carasau
and its crisp
variation called
carta da musica
(music paper).
Sardinia
Modern Sardinia is known
for seaside resorts, where
summer crowds feast on
fish from the island's rocky
coasts and sip cool white
Vermentino and Nuragus.
The main port of Cagliari
offers a piquant fish stew
called
burrida
. Alghero
boasts
aragosta
(rock
Calabria
The ancient Greeks dined sumptuously in Calabria.
But the mountainous toe of the Italian boot remained
mostly isolated for centuries after, as its foods took
on the tasty simplicity of an old country tradition. The
diet relies on soups and pastas laden with vegetables,
especially eggplants and peppers, which are stewed
with pork and tomatoes in what is called
mursiellu.
Pork prevails in ham and salame,
though lamb is
equally prized. The Tyrrhenian
renders
ala longa
(baby
tuna) and swordfish.
Pitta
chicculiata
is a type of
pizza with fish, tomato and
capers. Calabrians make
delicious pastries and
sweets, using grapes, honey,
citrus fruit and dried figs,
which may be covered with
chocolate. Among wines, the
ancient Cirò is exported,
though the luscious white Greco di Bianco is hard to
find beyond its sunny vineyards.
mursiellu
carta da musica
fichi secchi,
ammandorlati
Basilicata
The people of this sparsely
populated region share with
their southern neighbors a taste
for lamb and pork, whose
variations include sausage
known as
luganega
(after the
region's alternate name of
Lucania). Other specialties
include pasta tubes known as
minuich
, lasagne with beans
and a stew called
ciammotta
(with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes).
Basilicata's cooking is fiery, thanks to liberal
lacings of chili pepper, here called
diavolicchio
.
Fichi secchi, ammandorlati
(fresh and dried figs
and almonds) are popular in the region, which
boasts a grandiose red wine in Aglianico del
Vulture.
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Apulia
This long, slender region
whose tip, the Salento
peninsula, forms the heel
of the Italian boot, is noted
for rolling plains, as a
source of cereals and the
nation's largest volumes of
wine and olive oil. The
Apulian diet draws from
land and sea to achieve an
enviable balance. Lamb prepared in many ways, such
as
abbacchio e funghi
, (lamb and mushrooms) is the
preferred meat, though pastas, soups and vegetables,
such as fava beans and artichokes, provide sustenance.
Specialties include the pasta shells called
orecchiette
and
cavatieddi
(the first served with turnip greens,
the second with rocket),
tiella
(rice and potatoes
layered with meat, cheese or fish) and
ciceri e tria
(noodles with chick peas). The Adriatic and Ionian
seas provide
cozze
(mussels) and
ostriche
(oysters).
Among cheeses, the buttery soft
burrata
of the town
of Andria stands out. Notable wines are the crisp
white Locorotondo in addition to the reds and rosés
of Salento and Castel del Monte.
abbacchio e funghi
pizza Margherita
brodetto
Campania
The ancient Romans, who
called it Campania Felix,
marveled at the fertility of
its volcanic soils, which
today supply Naples and its
region with tomatoes, egg-
plants, peppers and fruit of
unmatched flavor. The gulf
abounds in fish. Buffalo
grazed near Salerno, and
Capua yields the finest of
Mozzarella di Bufala
and
Provola
. The hills provide lamb and pork, as well as
Campania's best wines: white Greco and Fiano, and
red Taurasi from around Avellino. But Naples, in
spite of its noble resources, reigns as a paradise of
street food. The primadonna, of the byways is pizza in
versions called Marinara (with tomato, garlic and oil)
and Margherita (with tomato, basil and Mozzarella).
Neapolitans are equally devoted to maccheroni
dressed with
pummarola
(tomato sauce), though
even spaghetti were once eaten standing up. The city
is justly famous for ices, pastries and seductively
sweet espresso.
Abruzzi
The people of this mountain-
ous Adriatic region have long
been noted as some of Italy's
heartiest eaters - and some
of its best cooks. The sea
provides the fish for
brodetto
(a peppery soup), though
many Abruzzesi look to the
land for nourishment. The
vaunted pasta is
maccheroni
alla chitarra
(quadrangular strands formed by
the strings of what resembles a guitar), dressed
with tomato, olives and
diavolino
, the pepper
that enlivens many a dish. The singular
scrippelle
'nfuss
is cheese-coated crepes in broth. Lamb
and pork prevail in Abruzzi and Molise, which
also share cheeses:
Caciocavallo, Pecorino
Romano
and
Scamorza
(fresh or grilled). White
Trebbiano, goes with fish, though the wine of
choice is the supple, and sometimes superb,
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
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hilly. The steep slopes provide rich pasturage for sheep
and hogs, the sources of most of the region's
succulent meat dishes. As in other parts of the
Apennines, the
porchetta
(roast pork), flavored
with mountain herbs, is superb. The Molise cook
also shows a deft hand with lamb, turning out
dishes that are simple but extraordinarily savory,
such as
agnello alle olive
(lamb stewed with black
olives) and
agnello brodettato
(lamb cooked in
white wine and served with a sauce thickened
with egg yolks and flavored with lemon juice).
The region's flocks also supply ewe's milk
cheeses that are used in many ways.
Ricotta
, for
example, is combined with raw ham and
Provolone
to create a stuffing for
calcioni
, pastry
envelopes that are deep-fried and served as part of
a
frittura mista
. Scarmorza is a mellow cow's-
milk cheese that is popular throughout the region
and is usually toasted over a wood fire or roasted
in the oven. Wild greens, like mountain
asparagus, are widely consumed and among the
regional specialties is a soup made from nettle
shoots, collected in the fields in early spring. As
in the Abruzzi,
peperoncino
(hot red pepper) is
freely used to spice numerous preparations.
Molise
Until 1963, Molise and the
Abruzzi were one region.
Although they are now
separate entities, the cooking
in both is extremely similar.
Except for a short stretch of
flat coastline along the
Adriatic and a few narrow
river valleys, Molise is
ruggedly mountainous or
Marches
In this peaceful region,
cooks draw from sea and
hillsides, and with equal
ease put the best of both on
the table. The Adriatic
provides the choicest of
sea creatures - of which
13 are required in the broth
of Ancona's
brodetto
- to
be complemented by
Verdicchio, the paragon of fish wines. Fish or
fowl may be cooked
in potacchio
(with tomato,
onion, garlic and rosemary). Special treats are
the giant green olives of Ascoli, stuffed with
meat and fried, and
vincisgrassi
, an elaborate
lasagne with bechamel cheese and truffles -
preferably the white variety, which abound in
the Marches. Succulent
anatra
(duck) and
coniglio in porchetta
(rabbit roasted with wild
fennel and garlic) call for a local red of the
class of Rosso Conero.
Umbria
The green heart of Italy is
a compact, landlocked
region whose recipes
suggest simplicity but
whose dishes may be little
short of sublime. Umbria
makes a major share of
dried pasta, though its
fresh
tagliatelle
with
ragout can rival the best of
Emilia. It produces some of
Italy's finest olive oil and most of its black truffles.
These come from beds around Norcia, a town whose
pork butchers are noted for the art of making
salumi
peperoncino
coniglio in porchetta
prosciutto di agnello
e dindo affumicato
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and the roasting of
porchetta
(whole pig) in wood-
fired ovens, a specialty of the central Apennines.
Equally admired are the region's Chianina beef,
lamb, poultry and rabbit. Umbrian cured meats, like
prosciutto di agnello e dindo affumicato
(lamb and
turkey "hams" are famous.) The wine of renown is
the white Orvieto, though also worth seeking out are
the reds of Torgiano, and Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Latium
As a perennial melting
pot for foods from far
flung places, Rome offers
cosmopolitan menus. Yet
the Eternal City boasts
many a tasty dishes of its
own.
Tempting arrays of
antipasti may be followed
by
spaghetti alla carbonara
(with eggs, bacon and
cheese),
bucatini alla matriciana
(tubes with
tomato, salt pork and pungent Pecorino Romano)
or the popular
fettuccine al burro
(egg noodles
with butter, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano).
Latium's gardens grow the tastiest of peas and
artichokes, the latter flattened and fried in the
style of the Jewish ghetto as
carciofi alla giudea
.
Seafood of every sort is served, but a local
favorite is
cozze alla marinara
(mussels steamed
with tomato). Meat dishes include tender
abbacchio
(milk-fed lamb) and zesty
coda alla
vaccinara
(oxtail stew). Latium's hills provide
mainly white wines, led by the versatile Frascati
and Marino. Roman meals often end with a glass
of sweet sambuca liqueur, sipped with three
coffee beans to munch on.
Tuscany
Tuscan cooking attests to
the innate goodness of
seasonal produce and
splendid extra virgin olive
oil. In Florence's region
bread baked in wood-fired
ovens upstages pasta.
Slices of
pane toscano
may
be toasted with garlic and
oil as
fettunta
or
bruschetta
,
crumbled into
panzanella
(with tomatoes and onions)
or spread with chicken liver paste as
crostini.
Bread
sustains the thick vegetable soups called
ribollita
and
pappa al pomodoro
(literally tomato pap). Tuscans,
who relish vegetables, herbs and wild mushrooms,
have a weakness for
fagioli
, stewed white beans that
are indispensable with
bistecca alla fiorentina
, thick
steak from native Chianina beef. Fish excels along
the coast, where Livorno's
cacciucco
is a zesty soup.
But in the land of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino
and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, all red wines,
meat rules in roast and grilled pork, poultry and game
(ranging from stewed wild boar to pigeon turned
on the spit). Pecorino Toscano is the most savory
of sheep cheeses. Preferred sweets are Prato's
cantuccini, almond biscuits and Siena's panforte,
fruit and nut cake, served with sweet vin santo.
panzanella
antipasti
Emilia-Romagna
Emilia (to the west of Bologna) and Romagna (to the
east) flaunt their differences, but together they share
Italy's most luxuriant tables. Pasta - by definition
fresh and rolled by hand by a
sfogliatrice
- triumphs
as tagliatelle, tortellini, tortelli, cappelletti and
lasagne (to name a few). Pork reigns supreme in
Prosciutto di Parma, Modena's zampone, Piacenza's
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coppa, Bologna's morta-
della and delectable salame.
Emilia is the home of
Parmigiano Reggiano, king
of cheeses, and the aceto
balsamico tradizionale of
Modena and Reggio, which
must be aged at least 12
years in wooden barrels to
become dark and dense
and almost too divine to be
called vinegar (imitations,
naturally, abound). The perfect foil for Emilia's
lavish fare is vivacious red Lambrusco - dry,
however, not sweet. Romagnans snack on the
flatbread called
piadina
, stuffed with ham or
cheese and washed down with tasty red
Sangiovese. They also relish fish from the
Adriatic, served with dry white Albana di
Romagna.
Liguria
The Mediterranean diet
takes on touches of genius
along the Riviera that flanks
the busy port of Genoa.
Restaurateurs demand sea
bass and prawns and the
makings of
cappon magro
, a
pyramid built with a
dozen types of seafood,
including oysters and lobsters.Yet Ligurians
seem just as fond of ordinary fish in soups
called
buridda
and
ciuppin
and salted and
dried cod called
bacalà
and
stoccafisso
,
stewed in tasty sauces. Cooks seem to be
deftest with produce from their terraced
hillsides: pale golden olive oil, vegetables,
nuts and herbs, above all with basil as the base
of
pesto
, the green sauce that glorifies
trenette
and
other pasta.
Pansôti
are a type of ravioli
dressed with
salsa di noci
(walnut sauce).
Meats of choice are rabbit and veal.
Farinata
is
baked chick pea paste sliced and eaten like
pizza. Wines to seek out are red Rossese di
Dolceacqua, and white Vermentino and Pigato.
Piedmont
Piedmont's staunchly
traditional cooking hits
peaks in autumn, the
season of game and
mushrooms and, above
all, the white truffles of
Alba, which emit magical
aromas when shaved
over pasta and risotto.
Alba's hills produce
majestic Barolo and
Barbaresco, as well as Dolcetto and Barbera, reds
that flow with
fonduta
(fondue of Fontina cheese),
carne cruda
(marinated raw veal),
tajarin
noodles
with truffles, meat-stuffed envelopes called
agnolotti,
brasato
(beef braised with Barolo) and tasty cheese
called Toma
.
Piedmont's capital of Turin is noted for
grissini
, (yard-long breadsticks) good munched
with bagna
caôda
("hot bath" of oil, garlic and
anchovies into which raw vegetables are dipped).
Other delights are
bollito misto
(boiled meats) and
fritto misto
or
fricia
(deep fried meats, vegetables
and cheese). Flatlands near the Po are Europe's
leading source of rice for risotto, especially prized
Carnaroli, cooked with beans in
panissa
. Piedmont's
renowned whites are the dry Gavi and Arneis and
the sweet and bubbly Asti Spumante to accompany
desserts or
torrone
, nougat candy. Turin is the world
capital of ver-mouth, fortified wine flavored with
herbs and spices.
grissini
prosciutto e melone
salsa di noci, pesto
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fegato alla veneziana
taleggio, mustard fruit
polenta
Valle d'Aosta
Italy's tiniest region is tucked
into the loftiest
angle of the Alps,
bordering on France,
Switzerland and
Piedmont, whose
influences can be tasted.
Yet the foods of French-
speaking Valle d'Aosta
have a rarefied character
of their own. Thick soups and
polenta
outrank pasta,
though meat is the essence of the hearty cuisine in
salami, sausages, hams and stews of
beef, pork and venison. Fontina cheese is the
base of fondue. Wine, such as Blanc de Morgex and
Torrette, are so rare that they have to be sampled
locally. Meals conclude with the
passing of the
grolla,
a pot containing coffee
and grappa sipped from numerous spouts.
Lombardy
Cooks of Milan's affluent
region produce some of
Italy's most elaborate
dishes and most esoteric
tastes. Milanese adore the
saffron-tinted
risotto alla
milanese,
it's often served
with
ossobuco
(a braised
veal shank), as well as
such tasty fillers as
busecca
(tripe soup) and
casoeûla
(pork stewed with beans and
cabbage). The city's
panettone
Christmas cake is a
national best-seller. Pavia is noted for risotto with frogs
and snails. At Mantua
tortelli
envelopes are filled with
sweet pumpkin pasta. Cremona offers you
mostarda
(mustard-flavored candied fruits) with boiled meats. At
Bergamo they often serve the
polenta with tiny birds cooked crisp. The Alpine
Valtellina is noted for
bresaola
(air-dried beef) and the
buckwheat noodles called
pizzoecheri
. Lombardy
shares with Piedmont the delight of
vitello tonnato
(sliced veal with tuna and caper sauce). The region's
grand tradition of cheeses takes in Gorgonzola, Grana
Padano, Taleggio, Stracchino and the Valtellina's
Bitto. Wines range from the fine bottle-fermented
spumante of Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese to
Valtellina's dignified aged reds.
Veneto
Venice, as a seafood haven,
exalts razor-shell clams called
cannolicchi
,
granseole
(Adriatic crabs) and
risotto
nero
(blackened with cuttle-
fish ink). But the Venetians
also dine on the earthly likes
of
risi e bisi
(rice and peas),
fegato alla veneziana
(liver
with onions) and
Carpaccio
.
That raw beef dish seems to
have originated in the canal city, as did the chocolate
covered dessert called
tiramisù
. The Veneto's
rich and varied diet reflects an enviable balance of
sources. The plains supply grain, Vialone Nano rice
for risotto, corn for polenta and livestock. The Alpine
slopes provide game, wild mushrooms, air-dried
prosciutto and the cheeses of Asiago and Montasio.
Delicacies include
pastissada
(beef stew with potato
gnocchi), Vicenza's
bigoli con l'anara
(thick spaghetti
with duck ragout), Treviso's
sopa coada
(pigeon and
vegetable soup) and Padua's
pasta e fasioi
(pasta and
bean soup). Beyond Verona's renowned Soave,
Valpolicella and opulent Amarone, the region's
vineyards proliferate in Merlot and Cabernet and the
bubbly white Prosecco that delights Venetians.
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frico
speck
Friuli-
Venezia
Giulia
In Italy's northeast corner,
the country fare of Friuli
(the Alpine area to the
north) contrasts with the
more delicate diet of
Venezia Giulia (the
Adriatic coast taking in
Trieste). Friulians grill
meats and sausages at the open hearth
fogolar
and
savor such curiosities as
jota
(liquidy polenta with
pork and cabbage),
frico
(crunchy fried cheese),
cialzons
(sweet-sour pasta packets) and
muset con la
brovada
(pork rind with turnips steeped in grape
pressings). The hills render Montasio cheese and
the exquisite Prosciutto of San Daniele. Coastal
dwellers favor pasta and seafood: prawns, squid,
scallops, spider crabs called
granzevola
and the
tangychowdercalled
boreto alla gradese
.Menusalso
echo the tangs of Austrian and Slavic neighbors with
the likes of
gulasch
and the apple strudel called
strucolo
.Italy'smostadmiredwhitewinescomefrom
Friuli'shills-TocaiFriulano,Sauvignon,Chardonnay,
Pinot Grigio and sweet Picolit - though red Merlot,
Cabernet and Refosco dal Penducolo Rosso are also
eminently drinkable.
Trentino-Alto
Adige
Amid the towering
Dolomites of this northern-
most region, Italian and
Germanic cultures mingle.
In Alto Adige (or Südtirol,
the German-speaking
province of Bolzano),
Tyrolean customs prevail
in wursts, potatoes, rye
bread and soups. In Trentino (the province of
Trento to the south), Venetian traditions of pasta,
polenta and gnocchi take on Alpine accents with
butter, cheese, game and a dazzling array of wild
mushrooms. Trentino's best include blood
sausages called
biroldi
and buckwheat cakes
called
smacafam
served with sausage and cheese.
Alto Adige makes fine smoked bacon called
speck
and loaves of deliciously dark
Schwarzbrot
. Still,
in these days of cultural exchange the South
Tyroleans may dine on pizza or spaghetti just as
readily as the Trentini eat
Knödel
(liver
dumplings) or kraut. Red wines tend to prevail
throughout the region. Yet notable whites such as
Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon as well
as the Pinot and Chardonnay used to make first-
rate sparkling wines have a way of flourishing in
the crisp Alpine air.
With those qualities in mind, Trentino-Alto Adige
makes an excellent closing argument in any well
constructed case for the unmatched diversity of
cucina italiana
.