From Ankle To Arch: Italy’s Culinary Diversity

Go to your local supermarket to buy pasta and you’ll find about a dozen different shapes from which to choose. Travel from the ankle to the arch of the heel in Italy, though, and you’ll find 150 different types. And those are just the pasta types that begin with the letter “C.”


Each of Italy’s 20 regions has a distinct cuisine. Pizza crust thickens and thins. Ingredients go in and out of certain sauces. Meat is cooked in entirely different ways. On the island of Pantelleria, for example, you’ll find as much couscous on the menu of an Italian restaurant as you will pasta. In Sicily bread crumbs are an actual sauce you’ll find in pasta. In Valle d’Aosta, in the Alpine north, you’ll find fondue made with fontina cheese. Culinary diversity is one of the wonders of travel. And Italy is one of the best places to discover new food.

You thought you knew Italian cuisine? Not until you’ve traveled from Torino to Taranto. Here’s a quick guide to some of Italy’s best regional cuisine.


Piedmont
A Slow Approach
It’s no coincidence the world headquarters for the Slow Food movement, which emphasizes the use of local and organic ingredients, is based in this region in northwest Italy. Thanks to its location near the Alps, Piedmont’s capital, Turin, as well as the countryside is awash in mushrooms and truffles. Which is why one of the most local dishes in the region is tagliolini with white truffles, a nutmeg-accented pasta dish that is both earthy and satisfying. Wash it down with a glass of Barolo, Piedmont’s best known beverages and one of Italy’s most acclaimed wines.

Lombardy
More than Milan
The most famous dish to come out of this northern region is the breaded veal or chicken cutlet a la Milanese (which later influenced the advent of Wiener schnitzel, by the way). But Lombardy’s cuisine offers so much more. Risotto and polenta, for example, are more prevalent here than pasta and butter and cream-an influence from northern Europe-are just as popular as olive oil. The region’s capital, Milan, is an optimal place to sample the regional cuisine, but for lesser known specialties head south to the town of Pavia, surrounded by rice patties, for risotto rusti: rice with pork and beans.

Veneto
The taste of La Serenissima
Hugging the Adriatic sea in northeastern Italy, Veneto is-surprise, surprise-a feast for seafood lovers. Dried cod stewed in milk might not sound too delizia, but try it and we trust you’ll be won over. For true carnivores the fegato alla Veneziana –calf’s liver and onions-is a true taste of Venice. Like Lombardy, one of this region’s neighbors to the west, rice is more prevalent than pasta. The area around inland Treviso is famous for its soft, bubbly prosecco, be sure to indulge in a glass.

Emilia-Romagna
Porky Goodness
If there’s a gastronomic epicenter to a country that is already brimming with mouth-watering food, Emilia-Romagna is it. The region’s fertile land means it produces some of the country’s best dishes. The streets of towns like Bologna and Parma are teeming with porkliscious goodness (prosciutto, anyone?) as well as local staples like freshly made tagliatelle and lasagna. Don’t forget to try some Parmagiano in its hometown, Parma.

Tuscany
Under the Tuscan Tongue
Perhaps no other region of Italy has a more romanticized cuisine than that of Tuscany. Geography has played a heavy role in shaping the cuisine, which is earthy, simple, and seasonal: from olive oil to pecorino cheese to spices like rosemary and sage. Panzanella, a bread soup, is a traditional Tuscan dish. So are various bean soups. And, of course, one cannot forget the tender steaks the region produces (the Chianina cow from the sub-region Chianti is a legend among meat eaters). Wash it all down with the king of Italian wines, Brunello di Montalcino, which hails from Montalcino in souther Tuscany.

Umbria
The Green Heart
Known as Italy’s “green heart” for its fertile landscape, Umbria is a foodie paradise. The gorgeous hill-top towns are a feast for the eyes, but there’s plenty for the taste buds as well. Perugia is famous for chocolate and Orvieto for its many Slow Food restaurants (such as Trattoria dell’Orso or La Grotta), but be sure to check out off-the-radar Norcia, where sausage is king. For something less meaty, try the Umbrian dish falchetti verdi: ricotta gnocchi and spinach baked with cheese and tomato sauce.

Lazio
Eternally Delicious
With Rome at its axis, this region is a culinary world all its own. Famous dishes that hail from Lazio include the egg-and-pancetta-laced pasta carbonara, tomato-and-pancetta-based spaghetti amatriciana, and the spicy pasta arabiata. Many of Rome’s dishes were created in the district of Testaccio, home of an ancient slaughterhouse where workers were often paid with the “quinto quarto,” or fifth part of the animal. Only the brave should sample real Roman dishes like pajata, veal intestines with the mother’s milk still inside.

Campania
Tomatoes and Buffalos
Naples is the heart of this southern region’s cuisine, and for good reason. It’s here where locals put their famous tomatoes, San Marzano, and mouth-watering buffalo milk cheese, mozzarella di buffalo, to good use: they’re the main ingredients for the world’s best pizza, invented here in the 16th century. Lesser known treats such as bistecca alla pizzaiola, a thinly sliced beef topped with garlic and tomato sauce, are also worth the trek.

Puglia
The Pull of Puglia
Situated in the heel of the boot, the sparse olive-tree spiked landscape of Puglia has inspired a unique cuisine. And so has the region’s historic poverty. Pasta is made without eggs and the shapes are unique. Orecchiette, or “little ears,” originated here. Puglia gets more sun than anywhere else in Italy, which means the region’s wine is delicious. The negroamaro grape, nearly exclusive to the region, produces a smooth, medium-bodied wine.

Sicily
Sun and Sea
The food of this island, the “ball” being kicked by the “boot,” has a legion of influences, thanks to the many invasions over the millennia. Greeks, Vikings, Muslims and Spanish have all contributed to the cuisine. The sun and the sea have also played a large roll in shaping Sicily’s table. Everything from capers to saffron to wild fennel can be found in pasta dishes (often laced, not surpsingly, with seafood). Arancini, fried rice balls, are a must. So are cannoli, fried tubular dough stuffed with cream. Lemons are ubiquitous here, which means a true taste of Sicily can be found in drinks like the luscious after-dinner digestivi, limoncello.

[Photo by David Farley]

Learn Tuscan Cooking At Historic Wine Estate And Boutique Hotel

chiantiThere’s certainly no shortage of cooking schools and classes to be found in Italy, but the type, quality and locale vary wildly. If you’re looking for something focused on the good stuff – like eating – within a stunning venue, Castello Banfi Il Borgo is likely to make you as happy as a pig in … lardo.

This stunning historic estate, comprised of 7,100 acres of vineyards and olive groves, is located near Montalcino, one hour south of Siena. It was created from restored 17th- and 18th century structures adjacent to a medieval fortress known as Poggio alle Mura, and is owned by the Mariani family, well known for their Brunello di Montacino wine.

The seasonal, contemporary Tuscan menus used in the classes are taught by the property’s English-speaking sous chefs, who are from the region. Classes are offered exclusively to guests of Il Borgo March through November, based upon availability (advance reservations required). Two hundred and twenty euros will get you a demo, hands-on class, and four-course lunch paired with estate wines.

Other activities offered through Il Borgo include foraging for porcini mushrooms and chestnuts in fall, driving the hills of Chianti in a Ferrari or Maserati (but of course), hot air balloon rides, shopping excursions, and more. Even if you decide to just kick it in one of the 14 Frederico Forquet of Cetona-designed rooms, you’ll be able to indulge with bath amenities made from estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. That puts the “ahh” in Montalcino.

Overview of Siena, Italy

The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine

Dreaming of sipping wine in a little Parisian cafe? Or picturing yourself in trendy Napa Valley, sampling new vintages straight from the barrel? While these well-known areas indeed spring to mind when thinking about the world’s finest vintages, you may be surprised to know that excellent wine is being made and enjoyed just about everywhere.

As a wine judge and hobby winemaker, my favorite wine trips have always been to out-of-the-way places, away from tourists and kitsch. This is where you will find the best wines and the most interesting experiences. Here are dozens of not-to-miss wine experiences to plan into your next trip.

San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano is an ancient city in Tuscany whose medieval towers still fill the skyline today. While several grape varieties are grown in the area, the town is famous for its Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a dry white wine made in the region since the 13th century, and made famous by a reference in Dante’s Inferno.

This unique wine is best paired with local fare such as wild boar or mushroom risotto which can be enjoyed in many local restaurants. One of the town’s restaurants, Dorand, even serves authentic medieval food paired with local wines. A luxurious and decadent experience, it will not be soon forgotten.

Beamsville, Ontario, Canada
The Niagara Region of Canada has developed into a thriving wine region over the past thirty years. Its micro-climate is perfect for European-style grape growing and this area is known for award-winning Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Merlots.

The region’s best product, however, is its Icewine. This naturally sweet dessert wine is made from white grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine into the winter and are picked and pressed during the first hard freeze.

Forgo the touristy Niagara-on-the-Lake and stay in Beamsville to the west. Beamsville is surrounded by small craft wineries and vineyards producing a number of varietals. From Beamsville, wine tours are an easy day trip. Beamsville restaurants also carry many local wines, so you can sample to your heart’s content while planning your trip through wine country.Beaune, France
On your next trip to France, escape Paris and drive three hours south east to the city of Beaune. Even without wine, Beaune is a beautiful, historical city, with centuries-old cathedrals, ancient ramparts, and world-class cafs and restaurants.

The best place to sample wines in Beaune is the Marche aux Vins. The Marche, located in a 15th century Franciscan church, is a collective run by many of the region’s wine merchants. For a mere 10.00 €, you can spend a morning or afternoon sampling a very large selection of Burgundies. You will be provided with a souvenir tasting cup and will make your way through the maze of wines. All of the wines are available to purchase. I most enjoy the heavier, older, and often more expensive vintages which are presented near the end of the tastings. Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff first!

Temecula, California, USA
When one thinks California wineries, the exclusive and hip Napa Valley is the first area that comes to mind. While the Napa region produces some amazing wines, California harbors a wine secret farther to the south.

An hour from San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, Temecula has been quietly gaining a name for itself in the wine industry. The hills to the north and west and the ocean breezes make for a perfect grape-growing climate.

If you enjoy gaming as well as wine, the Pechanga Casino and Resort just outside of town provides both. Or take a self-guided tour through Temecula’s small boutique wineries and discover vintages that you will be unlikely to see on your supermarket’s shelves.

Mainz, Germany

When you visit other cities, add a new wine to your repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you back to your trip.

Mainz sits perched on the banks of the Rhine as it has for almost two thousand years. The surrounding countryside is famous for its Rieslings, Sylvaners, and Muller-Thurgau. The cultivated vineyards encompass over 65,000 acres and, like many wine-growing regions along the Rhine, their soil imparts a unique character to these delicate white wines.

In Mainz, you can sample wines at many of the local vineyards, or take a boat ride down the Rhine with wine glass firmly in hand — my favorite activity when I visit Germany. Stick with the Rieslings and forgo the more everyday Mullers. They want to be Rieslings when they grow up.

Valencia, Spain
The Mediterranean Sea keeps the vineyards around Valencia at just the right temperature. The Valencia area is famous for paella and its locally-produced wines; two treats that can easily be combined into one outing to one of the city’s many Spanish restaurants.

The wineries in Valencia are some of the largest in Spain due to the city’s large port and ability to ship large quantities of wine around the world. The area produces deep red Riojas, unique roses, and complex aged sherries.

There are several wine tours, both guided and self-guided that you can sign up for to see the wineries and sample a wider variety than what is available in restaurants.

Bellingham, Washington, USA
Washington is one of the great wine regions of the United States. Although just coming into its own in the past decade, Washington is now the second largest state producer of wine in the country.

While wine towns can be found in most areas of the state, Bellingham, near the Canadian border, is a fun experience and a short trip from the British Columbia wineries to the north.

Bellingham is known for its wine bars and local wine can be found in every one of them. The pace of life in Bellingham tends to be a little more laid back than you may be used to so sit back, enjoy the wine, and listen to live music. If visiting in the fall, include tours of local vineyards in your plans and watch the winemaking happen first hand.

Brisbane, Australia
Brisbane makes the list, not because of its own wine-growing identity, but because of its location. In Brisbane, you can sample the fruit wines produced to the north, on the Sunshine Coast, including pineapple, kiwi, or mango wines. You can also sample more traditional wines from farther south

Australia is known for its Shiraz, a red grape originally from Europe and there are many to choose from in Brisbane restaurants. My favorite way to enjoy wine in Brisbane is to find an outdoor table at one of the restaurants surrounding South Bank park and sip some of Australia’s finest while watching kids play on the man-made beach.

 

 

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is the center of South African wine-making and both reds and whites have been made here for almost 300 years. All of the great grapes of Europe can be found here including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (called Petit Syrah in France), and Sauvignon Blanc.

Many of Cape Town’s upscale hotels offer packages that include tours of the 130+ vineyards (or ‘wine farms’ as they are called in South Africa), wineries, food pairings and accommodation. This is the best way to see Cape Town’s surrounding wine country and an opportunity not to be missed

Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada
Pelee Island is the southernmost tip of Canada and is, in fact, farther south than parts of California. This tiny island is inhabited by only about 500 full-time residents but boasts some of the best vineyards on the continent.

Pelee Island Winery grows all of its grapes on the island (over 500 acres). A weekend on Pelee Island is a great opportunity to get away for a romantic weekend, which I do as often as possible. There are several bed and breakfast inns on the island and the winery offers various wine tours, tastings and educational sessions. And when you tire of drinking wine (an unlikely occurrence), you can enjoy the nature preserve or take a bike ride around the entire island.

— The above was written by
Angie Mohr, Seed contributor.


Walla Walla, Washington, USA
This small town is a four-and-a-half hour drive from Seattle, and it’s a completely different world. Besides having a semi-arid climate and little-to-no traffic, Walla Walla is one of the world’s hottest wine regions. Scattered throughout the countryside are vineyards and tasting rooms (highly recommended is Pepper Bridge Winery, one of many great producers in Walla Walla).

In the small but charming downtown there are enough tasting rooms to keep a wine tourist busy for days. Add in a few very high quality restaurants (Saffron and Brasserie Four, for example), and Walla Walla is one of the world’s most inviting and laid-back wine towns.

Saint-Emilion, France
The wine-tourism capital of Bordeaux is an obvious pick for this list. The vineyards of Saint-Emilion surrounding the ancient town center (a World Heritage Site) produce some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone are the only two Chateaux to receive Saint-Emilion’s highest ranking, and great vintages of the wines frequently fetch over $1,000 per bottle. There are plenty of more economical choices though, and with nearly all of the 13,600 acres dedicated to wine production, there’s plenty to go around.

Portland, Oregon, USA
The largest city in Oregon sits on the banks of the Willamette River and is a mere half-hour drive from many wineries in the Willamette Valley, one of the world’s premium Pinot Noir growing areas. If touring the vineyards isn’t on the agenda, there are numerous great wine bars and restaurants. Check out Alu Wine Bar, which claims a stellar wine list of both Oregon Pinot Noirs and intriguing imported selections.

Cochem, Germany
Cochem is one of dozens of small towns along Germany’s Mosel River, and it is particularly charming. The Mosel is famous for producing some of the world’s best — as well as age-worthy — Rieslings. The wide range of wine styles guarantees a hit with every palate. The town is surrounded by steep hillside vineyards, and a thousand-year-old castle on a hill overlooking the town square adds to the atmosphere.

San Francisco, California, USA
One of the most diverse cities in the United States also has plenty of choices when it comes to wine. Dozens of wine bars are scattered throughout the city center — try Yield Wine Bar for an earth-friendly wine list or the aptly named WINE for a constantly rotating glass selection.

Bonus: Outside the bustling downtown, Napa Valley and Sonoma are easy day trips to sample some of the best U.S.-made wines.

Los Olivos, California, USA
Rather than fighting the crowds in Napa Valley try this quaint Victorian town just north of Santa Barbara. The area is now famous as the setting of Sideways. Don’t let the Hollywood connection scare you away though: the region is stunningly beautiful and is one of the best Pinot Noir producing areas in the United States (alternatively, swing by Andrew Murray for some killer Syrahs). The historic downtown is home to over a dozen wine tasting rooms in a small area.

 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France
The town name is translated as “new castle of the Pope,” from the days when the Pope ruled from nearby Avignon. The Pope no longer lives there, instead you’ll find some of the best wines in the world in this on the rise region. The stellar 2007 vintage is getting a lot of attention around the world, so a visit is recommended before the crowds become unbearable, which seems almost inevitable for good reason.

Montalcino, Italy
It’s hard to imagine any better place to be in the summer than in Tuscany. This old hilltop town has been booming since the 1970s when its now world-famous wine, Brunello di Montalcino, began to receive praise. It’s now surrounded by the world’s premier Sangiovese vineyards, and provides a stunning view of the Tuscan countryside.

Tampa, Florida, USA
While this city is not even close to a major wine region, it does have events and restaurants to make it one of the East Coast’s best wine destinations. Possibly the biggest draw is Bern’s Steak House, which has an absurdly huge wine list. There can’t be many other restaurants in the world offering a 1970 Pauillac for $18 per glass. If that doesn’t suit your style there are 150 other wines by the glass to choose from.

Pro tip: The Florida Wine Festival is held every April in nearby Sarasota.

New York, New York, USA
If money is no object, but drinking wine is, New York is hard to beat. There’s a particularly high concentration of wine bars in the East Village and Midtown. If you’re in Midtown, check out Clo WineBar above Columbus Circle for a high-tech, interactive wine experience. The wine list is displayed on a touch screen bar top, and the wines are dispensed automatically throughout the room.

— The above was written by
Steven Washuta, Seed contributor.


Yountville, California, USA
Tucked into the vastness that is Northern California’s famous wine country, is this 5-mile-long, cozy village. Wine country has many excellent dining opportunities to enjoy with their world class wines — but Yountville beats them all with top restaurants (several are Michelin). It’s hard to say which is better — the wine or the food — but wine pairing is what this area is all about. Stay at the Villagio Inn, and explore the town’s antique shops and art galleries. And at night, get ready for Wine Pairing 101, taught by some of the world’s best sommeliers.

Oetigheim, Germany
This quaint town is home to Germany’s largest open-air theater, the Volksschauspiele. Nestled along the French border, this area also has it’s own understated wine country: many of these vineyards grow the grapes that make German whites so famous and versatile.

The tiniest restaurants here pride themselves on their schnitzel or other old world dishes. Pair a favorite with one of the regional, world class Rieslings — some are produced in such small quantity, you may not find this nectar anywhere else in the world.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA
When you visit other cities, add a new wine to your repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you right back to your special trip. While known for world class skiing, Steamboat is a summer haven — to enjoy fresh mountain air, wine and music. A tiny specialty grocer, Market on the Mountain, can assist you in packing the perfect picnic basket with your favorite cheeses, crusty bread and a Pinot Grigio, so you may enjoy the majestic beauty of Mt. Werner and the Yampa Valley.

Pro tip: try to visit during “Strings on the Mountain” — Steamboat’s summer music festival (though Strings also runs a winter concert series, as well).

London, England
London has it all — excellent wines from all over the world to pair with multiple cuisines, entertainment, and easy ways to get around without driving. Start out in one of Mayfair’s excellent restaurants (we like the Greenhouse). Ask the sommelier for a brand new release — or a warming Cabernet before taking the tube to the West End. SoHo’s wine tasting and dancing venues top off the night, and grab a taxi back to your place. Wine, food, entertainment and transport are all integral to global scale, “good times” in the London scene.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
Host to the nation’s largest music festival (Musikfest), Bethlehem has an historic “Party Hearty” reputation. This may have originated with the 1741 settlers: Moravians (who were wine-makers) moving in alongside Germans (who, even today, remain devoted wine-drinkers).

Gaining recognition is the region’s wine industry; Rieslings and Chambourcin are local favorites. Stay in the historic district in one of the B&B’s (we like Morningstar Inn) and discover the town. Tour the wineries: Amore’, Franklin Hill and Blue Mountain. This area’s unique mix of history, music, and party provides lots of good times for Vino Explorers in search of new regional finds.

Pro tip for novice oenophiles: Where ever you live — your town (and home) can become The Best Place for Wine Drinking. Take time to train your palate by starting with a single varietal, maybe a Merlot, and stick with it for a while. Then add another — perhaps a Pinot — and try that for a couple weeks. Soon, you’ll be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test. When you’re ready, try adding a Cabernet to the mix, but don’t push this one. And, when you visit other cities, add a new wine to your wine repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you right back to your special trip.

–The above was written by
Kris Myers, Seed contributor.