Welcome to a gelato-lover’s paradise. It’s the land of dozens of cheeses, scores of smallgoods and hundreds of pasta shapes; one where every nonna is totally assured that her lasagne (or gnocchi, risotto and minestrone) has no equal – and whose family agrees with her totally!
Italy is full of food-lovers. It’s the place that has, somehow, from a multitude of influences over the centuries, concocted a way of cooking that has made its food the second-most favoured cuisine of almost every other country in the world.
Welcome to Italy - and Buon appetito!
Where is it?
Italy’s leg-like peninsula is attached at the top to France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. On a map, it appears to be kicking ‘little Sicily right into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea’ as a children’s rhyme used to say. Mountains barrier the north, and a spine of mountains (the Apennines) run down the centre. It has two main islands, Sardinia and Sicily, and two enclaves, San Marino and Vatican City.
It’s easy - the answer is the three Cs:
Culture, Climate and Cuisine.
Although politically Italy is one of the newest countries in Europe, politically (Italy became a republic in 1946) this part of Europe it is one of the oldest culturally. The mighty Roman Empire spread from here.
Italy’s 20 regions are home to 60 million inhabitants. Most of the peninsula and islands were once administered by other countries, so there are vestiges of the religion and cultures of constantly changing parade of conquerors throughout the ages.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the food. From rice and polenta-based meals in the north, to pasta and couscous in the south, the differences go on from there – often influenced by what the sometimes harsh terrain can provide. In some parts the food is called cucina povera (literally ‘poor cuisine’) which does not mean it is bad food, but that it uses simple inexpensive ingredients. Common to the entire country is pork and pig-based smallgoods.
The climate varies from Alpine in – you guessed it – the Alps in the north, to hot in the south (the ‘boot’) which the Italians refer to as the mezzogiorno - which translates, appropriately, as ‘the midday.