Every region of Italy has its own deliciously distinctive flavours, which are deeply rooted in historic traditions that have been shaped by the climate and terrain, or in some cases, the sea!
Get to the heart of Italy’s top exported ingredients and time-honoured recipes as we take you to our cherished foodie holiday hotspots.
Buffalo Mozzarella | Campania
It’s probably no surprise that Campania produces Italy’s finest buffalo mozzarella, given that it's the star ingredient in arguably the world’s most popular recipe, Pizza Napoletana, which comes from the region’s capital.
Buffalo have been bred in Italy since the 10th century and local buffalo mozzarella was only consumed within the country until the 1980s. That’s because Italians eat mozzarella fresh - this cheese only has a short shelf life and is usually eaten within a couple of days of creation.
Refrigerating authentic mozzarella is frowned upon. Genuine Mozzarella di Bufala Campana has its own DOP status (protected Designation of Origin) and follows stringent production guidelines.
For your ultimate mozzarella experience, you must visit Tenuta Vannulo. Crowned as the world’s best mozzarella producer, the 600-strong herd of black water buffalo are pampered beyond belief. Classical and jazz music is piped into where the buffalo lounge around on rubber mattresses, and they receive deep tissue massages and shower mists. The herd solely uses homoeopathic medicine and eat an organic diet, which means this farm makes the world’s only truly 100% organic mozzarella di bufala. While there you can tuck into buffalo milk ice cream, yoghurt, and even milk chocolate.
We recommend you stay at the traditional Hotel Sonia, located just a half hour drive away from Tenuta Vannulo, which is also conveniently located near the Paestum temples. It would be rude not to nod to Campania’s love for lemons, where you can get your citrusy fill of limoncello and granita along the Amalfi Coast, as well as the Babà Napoletano, the classic rum-soaked pastry of Naples.
Pistachios | Sicily
Sicilian people possess their own natural green gold - and that’s pistachios! These were first planted by Arab rulers in the ninth century, and today pistachio harvesting is a family-honoured tradition that’s passed down the generations.
At certain times of year, you’ll find the pistachios drying out in the sun on terraces of local houses. Pistachio is used in both sweet and savoury dishes, including as a spread and as pesto, and pistachios are best purchased while they are still in their shells.
The village of Bronte, near to the hills of Mount Etna, grows a delicious and protected variety that has a longer, pointed shape, a violet skin, and a distinctly vibrant green inner colour. It also has an aromatic smell, and you’ll find the flavour to be both spicy and sweet. It’s such a prized and expensive variety that during harvest time the crop has to have police protection as criminals have been known to steal them, with one kilogram being worth approximately £14.
Taste the Pistacchio verde di Bronte DOP for yourself during your Sicilian holiday but be warned that if you try to pick a pistachio outside of harvest time, then the residents are said to curse you with a fever!
A more affordable variety of Sicilian pistachio is the Ribera variety, which can be found growing and harvested in another small village called Raffadali.
We recommend you stay in the coastal town of Taormina, where you can enjoy pistachio in ice creams, sauces, desserts and, of course, that famous Sicilian pastry, cannoli!
Datterini Tomatoes | Puglia
Sun-soaked Puglia is in the prime position for growing sweet and juicy fruits. It’s not only the largest producer of olive oil in Italy, but also the native home of the deliciously plump and rich datterini tomatoes, which thrive in the hot sun before being picked by hand.
Their name means ‘little date’ as they take on a similarly small, elongated oval shape. Puglian cuisine usually only features a couple of ingredients, and this flavoursome tomato, which is fleshier and with less seeds than most tomato varieties, is often the hero in salads, bruschetta and as a pasta sauce.
Your Puglian foodie stay is best enjoyed at Masseria Montenapoleone, a restored farmhouse, where you can tuck into the fresh, organic produce while dining al fresco.
Nduja | Calabria
Italy isn’t best known for its spicy cuisine, yet there’s one destination where that’s turned on its head, and that’s Calabria. The climate and terrain of this region make it the perfect spot to grow peperoncino - otherwise known as red hot chilli peppers!
You’ll find this ingredient served in penne all’arrabbiata, which literally translates as ‘angry pasta’, but it’s also included in one of the top trending foods: ‘nduja. ‘Nduja - pronounced en-doo-ya - is essentially a spreadable pork salami that’s spiced by the chilli peppers but also has a buttery, creamy consistency. This salami is made in the wintertime and left to naturally cure for three to six months.
With its origins in Naples, it was the Calabrians who fired it up and gave its bright red colour by adding their native Calabrian chilli, which also acts as a natural preservative. Remarkably, this salami was at one time considered a pauper dish, created as a way to avoid wasting any parts of the pig.
Today however the fleshy, fatty parts, such as the cheek and belly, are used. You can tuck into 'nduja directly onto bread, but also enjoy it as a pizza topping, in arancini, pasta, omelettes, as well as the small southern Italian calzone known as panzerotti.
An annual traditional festival, Sagra della ‘Nduja, takes place on 8th August each year in the village of Spilinga, which is known for its fine ‘nduja products, however you can take a 20-minute drive from coastal Ricadi to this area at any time of the year to taste ‘nduja at source.
Bottarga | Sardinia
From one pauper dish to another, as we take you to the fishing villages where you’ll find Sardinia’s very own ‘golden caviar’. After a day at sea, lowly Sardinian fishermen would extract the ovarian sac from female fish and carefully clean and salt it without breaking it, before allowing it to age for several months in the air and sunshine.
The roots of this local fish roe delicacy are an ancient one: the word bottarga allegedly derives from the Arabic expression for salted fish eggs, butarikh. Bottarga is a heady, strong flavour so you only need a little grated over a dish of pasta, and it’s often perfectly paired with another local speciality, the Sardinian spiny artichoke DOP.
Bottarga is an ideal accompaniment to bread or salad if you’re planning to have a picnic on one of the island’s wildly divine beaches. For the finest bottarga, head southwest of the island to Cabras lagoon, which sells grey mullet roe.
Pesto | Liguria
It never ceases to amaze us how a few simple, quality ingredients can create the most decadent dishes - and one shining example is of course the go-to fresh pasta sauce of pesto. Not to be confused with other pesto varieties like the red sun-dried tomato pesto rosso of Sicily, pesto alla genovese is the sauce we Brits celebrate. Its name hints at where it comes from, the Ligurian capital of Genoa.
Pesto's principal ingredient is the small leaves of fragrant and fresh basil, and the reason this simple sauce works is down to the region's mineral rich soil that grows the herb in abundance. Also in this raw sauce is garlic, parmesan and/or pecorino cheese, pine nuts, and salt, which are then ground together in a pestle and mortar.
While today you can enjoy pesto in all sorts of dishes, including baked into the other Ligurian speciality of focaccia, pesto is typically added after a dish is cooked so that it retains its fresh flavour and vibrancy.
The most classical way to enjoy this sauce is to take a day trip to Genoa from Rapallo, where you can have lunch and try authentic trofie al pesto, a dish with the small handmade spiral-shaped pasta known as trofie. This recipe is also sometimes served con patate e faglioni - with potatoes and French green beans.
Discover the real Italy with Citalia
Are you ready for a food tour of Italy? Citalia are the UK’s leading Italy specialist with over 90 years' experience in tailoring holidays to Italy. Experts are on hand every step of the way to ensure you make memories to last a lifetime. It’s never too late to start planning your Italian escape!
Visit citalia.com to discover the real Italy on your next adventure. Andiamo!
Read more: How to dress like an Italian
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