Home » Guide » Viaggio In Italia: A Foodie Glossary & Guide to Italian Cuisine
Two truths: every traveller needs a phrasebook, and every traveller needs to eat. And, seeing as those travellers with a nose for fine food and drink will probably have Italy firmly fixed to their gastronomic maps, our Italian colleagues have provided us with a list of great Italian wines and cheeses (wine’s essential escort), plus special dishes and ingredients culled from the annals of Italian regional cookery.
We’re not promising you’re going to be able to politely communicate to your attentive waiter that you’d like dish X, wine Y, and an antipasto platter of cheese Z kindly brought to table, grazie mille. But you will at least be able to speak your mind and get right to the point: the point being a round of indulgence in the inimitable cuisine of Italy, and your mind being of the foodie type.
Wine / Vino
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2005 dell’Azienda Bertani (Veneto)
Amarone della Valpolicella is considered to be one of the finest red wines from the northern Italian region of Veneto, and is known for its typically bitter aftertaste (amaro means bitter in Italian). Handcrafted in limited quantities, this full-bodied wine is produced in only two villages – Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro – from selected grapes of only four types. Oseleta, Corvinone, Rondinella and Corvina Veronese varietals are harvested in October and left on racks for three months. After pressing and primary fermentation, the wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels before being bottled. Amarone Classico is characterised by an intense ruby red colour with hints of purple, and is perfect when paired with cheeses and meats.
Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé 2010 dell’Azienda Donnafugata (Sicily)
Ben Ryé is a sweet wine produced by the Donnafugata winery, and is one of the most sought-after dessert wines in Italy and abroad. Winning multiple awards, its reputation is backed by the consensus of of experts and non-professional wine enthusiasts alike. Produced exclusively with Zibibbo grapes from Pantelleria, an island between Sicily and Tunisia, Ben Ryé has a amber colour with an ample bouquet enriched with hints of fresh apricots, oranges, herbs and balsam. The taste is balanced with a unique sour aspect. It’s perfect in combination with desserts made of dried fruit or chocolate, with well-aged cheeses, or alone as an example of what the Italians call vino da meditazione or “meditation wine”.
Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 anni 2008 dell’Azienda Arnaldo Caprai (Umbria)
Sagrantino di Montefalco is a red wine that gave the region of Umbria worldwide fame. The Sagrantino grape variety grows only in the green hills of Montefalco and Bevagna, close to Perugia. The fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 28 days, followed by barrel aging for twelve months before bottling. This wine is characterised by an intense ruby colour and a full and complex bouquet with fruity and elegant notes of sweet spices and cocoa. It has a pronounced structure, with a fragrant sourness and mature tannins. It’s perfect with red meats, roasts and aged cheeses.
Franciacorta Rosé Extra Brut Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Riserva 2004 dell’Azienda Ca’ del Bosco (Lombardy)
Franciacorta Rosé Extra Brut Cuvée is the quintessence of Franciacorta, an area in the Province of Brescia, itself a part of the northern Italian Region of Lombardy. It’s here that the best sparkling wines in Italy are produced, and this wine is exemplary of the type. Made from pinot grapes, fermentation is divided into two parts: the first stage occurs in oak barrels and the second occurs in the bottle, according to the champenoise method. The colour is a pink- salmon, the bead is fine and on the palate the wine has a delightful finish of candied cherries, marzipan and hazelnut. Perfect in combination with canapes, appetizers and entrees, it’s also ideal as an aperitif and as an accompaniment to fish.
Terra di Lavoro 2010 dell’Azienda Galardi (Campania)
Terra di Lavoro is a red wine from San Carlo di Sessa Aurunca in Campania. It is made with Aglianico and Piedirosso grapes that grow in vineyards on the Gaeta Gulf hills, at an altitude between 400 and 500 metres. The aging takes place in oak barrels from Allier and Nevers for twelve months, resulting in an impenetrable ruby red colour and a bouquet characterised by wild berries, liquorice and spicy black pepper notes. The palate is concentrated, round and fleshy with lingering aftertaste. Ideal with meats and cheeses.
Torgiano Rosso Rubesco Vigna Monticchio Riserva 2007 dell’Azienda Lungarotti (Umbria)
Torgiano Rosso Riserva comes from the Monticchio vineyard, located on the hills of Brufa in the heart of Umbria. It is produced with Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes, harvested during October. The fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks followed by aging in oak barrels for twelve months and in the bottle for four years. Torgiano Rosso Riserva is characterised by an intense ruby colour and an elegant and complex bouquet with hints of violet enriched by spicy cocoa and coffee notes. The palate is warm with a lovely acidity. Perfect in combination with grilled and roast meats, and aged cheeses.
Barbaresco Camp Gros Martinenga 2008 dell’Azienda Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy (Piedmont)
Barbaresco Camp Gros Martinenga embodies the harmonious and complex characteristics of a great Barbaresco wine. Produced in Piedmont, closed to Cuneo, it is made solely from Nebbiolo grapes. The colour is a brilliant ruby red with orange tints, and the bouquet is intense and balanced with notes of wild berries, jam, plums and hints of hay. Again, it is perfect in combination with meat and cheeses.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva Villa Bucci 2009 dell’Azienda Bucci (Marche)
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi It is produced exclusively from Verdicchio grapes carefully selected from Marche vineyards to maximise the wine’s sensuous characteristics. Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks followed by aging in the same containers before being bottled. Verdicchio is characterized by its pale yellow colour, and a nose that opens with floral aromas of hawthorn and broom enriched with pleasant hints of apple and pear. The taste is pleasantly fresh and has a strong personality. Final vegetal notes of cedar showcase the complexity of the wine’s aroma. Perfect alongside appetizers, main courses and fresh cheeses, Verdicchio is ideal in combination with dishes based on fish and seafood.
Cepparello 2009 dell’Azienda Isole e Olena (Tuscany)
Cepparello Isole e Olena is a Tuscan wine produced exclusively from Sangiovese grapes, with a handpicked harvest taking place between the second and third week of October. The wine is aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels before being bottled. Cepparello is a ruby red coloured wine with purple tints. At the nose the wine reveals hints of blackberry, raspberry and cherry with an finish of sweet spices and coffee. On the palate the wine is exuberant but balanced, and an ideal accompaniment alongside meat and well-aged cheese.
Brunello di Montalcino 2007 dell’Azienda Poggio di Sotto (Tuscany)
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most well-known Italian wines, typical of Tuscany and the gentle hills of Montalcino. Made from Sangiovese grapes, it is left to ferment at a controlled temperature for at least twenty days. After this, the wine is aged for twelve months in French oak barrels and for another twelve months in large Slavonian oak barrels. The final step is another six months of aging in the bottle, resulting in a deep ruby colour. The bouquet is complex, clean, elegant and intense with notes of anise, vanilla, and hints of ripe berries. The palate is warm, structured and possesses a persistent flavour. While it’s ideal in combination with red meats and cheeses, its true partners are mushrooms and truffles.
Cheese / Formaggi
Fontina is a typical product of Valle d’Aosta in the north of Italy, and has obtained DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or “Protected Designation of Origin”) status because it is produced exclusively from the milk of cows pastured in Val d’Aosta. The maturation period lasts at least three months resulting in a cheese with a soft texture and sweet taste.
Fiore Sardo has an ancient history and is still produced from the milk of native Sardinian sheep. Aged for two to eight months, the cheese has a very strong flavour. It is often served with honey or jam.
Squacquerone is a soft cheese typical of the province of Bologna and central Italy. A fresh cheese (not aged), it tastes creamy and slightly sour. It is traditionally spread on “piadina” or flatbread from the Romagna region.
Probably the most famous Italian cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is also known simply as Parmesan and is commonly sold around the world. Due to its global reach, those in charge of protecting indigenous italian products have been waging war against the many fakes that are on the international market for years. This hard cheese improves with maturation – it’s at its flavoursome best when aged between 24 and 30 months.
Stretched curd cheese from southern Italy, especially Apulia and Calabria. Known for its stretchy, elastic qualities and meltability, it is similar to mozzarella but has a more dominant savoury flavour, compact structure and is distinctive for the pear shape it takes on when hung to age. The smoked version of this cheese, scamorza affumicata, is particularly delicious.
Taleggio comes from Lombardy in northern Italy, and owes its name to the Taleggio Valley, near Bergamo. An ancient cheese first produced in medieval times, the cheese is typically aged in a cave, giving it its distinctive aroma and flavour.
Gorgonzola has had DOP status since 1996, and comes in two types: sweet and spicy. The first is creamy and the second more compact with a stronger flavour. Both are produced using only the milk of cows from Lombardy.
Ricotta romana has ancient origins, being produced since at least the time of the Roman Empire. This sweet-flavoured and DOP-certified cheese uses milk from production sites strictly within the boundaries of the Lazio region.
Asiago cheese takes its name from the Venetian plateau of Asiago. Aging lasts about three months, but it is possible to find also the “stravecchio” (well-aged) type. In this case an aging period of two years gives the cheese a strong flavour and a hard consistency suitable for grating.
Mozzarella di bufala
Mozzarella di bufala is a spun cheese, made exclusively from buffalo milk produced in Campania and Lazio. It should be eaten fresh and, upon slicing, good quality mozzarella di bufala exudes a typical milky fluid.
Special regional dishes and ingredients / piatti speciali regionali e ingredienti
Traditional dish from the southern Italian region of Apulia – ain to a very small calzone – filled with mozzarella and tomato, or mozzarella and ham, spinach and mushrooms.
Typical of Tuscan cuisine, this is a twice-boiled soup prepared with various vegetables served with slices of bread.
Typical Sardinian bread made with whole wheat flour or barley flour and cooked twice in the oven. This technique makes the bread incredibly crispy.
Rustic, friable pie typical to Mantua, made of sugar, butter, eggs, nuts and almonds.
Fresh filled pasta, round or rectangular, stuffed with meat and vegetables, originally from Piedmont. It is served with various sauces, sometimes gravies recovered from roasted, braised or stewed game.
Musetto is a type of sausage originally from Veneto and Friuli in northeastern Italy. The meat used in this sausage taken exclusively from pigs’ snouts.
Bottarga is tuna or mullet roe compressed, salted and dried, usually served in thin slices as a starter or grated as a condiment. In Italy it is considered a gourmet dish.
Friarielli are the green tops of turnips, typically used in Neapolitan dishes. In Rome, this vegetable is called “broccoletti”. Friarielli are used in combination with sausages, especially in Italian sandwiches (panini), on pizza and as a stuffing for calzone.
A coarse brown cornmeal from northern Italy, usually served with cheeses and bacon and as a side dish with meat.
Chiacchiere are sweets typically prepared during the carnival season all around Italy. They are called also bigie, strufoli, frappe or cenci, depending on where they are made. Most consist of fried strips of flour sprinkled with powdered sugar.