Geographical Indications: Italian Food, Made Official Or “Complicated Simplicity”

For the first time in this blog, I have the pleasure to feature a guest post. This article is by enologist, writer, and photographer Melinda King. To know more about Melinda, check out The Premise of Italian Cuisine podcast.

Melinda King

Italian culture is special in ways that are delicately combined, tangible and intangible. It would be impossible to disconnect Italian culture from the topic of Italian food, and the entire nation is formed by connections of things grown and eaten. Eating evokes emotional, memory, sensory, spiritual, and gustatory reactions, which are born from chemistry and imagination. This is a proud food system made from thousands of years of place-specific combinations; exceptional raw ingredients, combined and shared at tables, are traded in markets and perfected with love. Italian flavors are a stunning collection of colorful stories that grow from field to city, within regions—after all, the country was a collection of nation-states until unification in 1861. The subject of authenticity is constant to hungry Italians, who does it best, according to the way it is supposed to be done. Although they are talented innovators, tradition is the mark of excellence and respect. Thus, we are left to wonder: what is Italian food? What is Italian? Now, the country that has been a historical crossroads is asking serious questions about identity. Thoughts on the Table is the brilliant work of a worldly Italian (Paolo Rigiroli) who is brave enough to explore these themes. What Italians eat (and how), he reminds us, is every bit who they are.

And it is the Italians who have the hardest time answering these queries. The food is a source of incredible comfort and passion, and it is very difficult to reach conclusions. In an effort to distill one singular definition for the entirety of “Italian food,” one might say it is agriculture. This reminds us that the cuisine is an honorable and humble form of hard work. It is the superlative expression of microclimate, microbiology, and sunshine. It is the Italian people, respecting the gifts of their land, who proceed to turn wheat fields into toothsome vermicelli, lemons to acrid limoncello, winter cabbage into soothing ribollita, and 140-kg pigs into rose-leather prosciutto. Wine is further example of Italian agricultural genius.

How is it possible to organize such an enormous, magnificent topic? Taking into consideration so many places, dialects, seasons, and details, what is Italian food, and where does it come from? Are we being too precious about what we eat? Does place truly matter? And how can an entire nation be world-known such a thing as flavor?

Italian PGI olive oil sold in the UK.[Photo by Paolo Rigiroli]Recently, a friend of mine traveled to Rome, and wanted to buy a bottle of “authentic” Italian olive oil, to take with him back to Sweden. He found a large store, and assumed it would be a simple purchase. He tells me that it took forty minutes for him to decide on a single bottle, after asking three employees for help and making various searches on his cell phone. “There were so many bottles!” he exclaimed. “So many oils, from so many places, and so many different prices! Why do they do this?” In the end, he bought the smallest one, and left. Italy is very proud of its products, and olive oil is an incredibly critical topic. I imagine my friend saw bottles from Puglia, Veneto, Sicilia, Toscana, and Umbria, at the least, as each claims its olives to be the best. There are then the categories of oils (virgin, extra virgin, cold press, organic, biodynamic, gold label, etc.) and sizes (1 oz. flavored with pepperoncini or truffle) to 5 kg. The oils are sacred to the places they come from, and one would use local oil for local dishes. Moreover, every Italian olive has different compounds (peppery, golden, green, honey, smoky, juniper), that is tied to the environment it was grown and processed in. Hundreds of such compounds have been identified which contribute to the distinctive organoleptic characteristics that make Italian olive oil so exceptional.

Added to that, there are currently some issues in the worldwide olive oil industry, as origin is not easy to certify. Olives may be grown in Tunisia, and bottled in Spain. California olive oils companies used to quietly fly their products to southern Italy, where the plane would touch down and fill with gas, only to return to California for sale. This meant the oil bottles could be labeled with the words “From Italy.” Confusion is rampant in the marketplace, considering the brand of Italian foods.

How can Italian food protect and promote itself, and guarantee quality? This is important, more than ever, with the increasing global economy—and with new technologies (it is easier to mass produce foods, or copy ones already existing). What about Italian traditions? The individual state governments of Europe have, for the past few decades, been dealing with these issues within their own cultures. How to protect the integrity of Bulgarian cheeses, Greek wine, or German blood sausage? Italy was the second country, after France, to take action on certifying its natural food products. It was both a post-war reaction to economic and land issues, as well as a way to acknowledge the most important pieces of lifestyle. European states have since cooperated under the umbrella of the European Union, recognizing one another’s specialized products. Italy has been a tremendous example in this movement, to certify traditions in and out of its borders.

This does not mean that Italy published a list of official foods. Protected status does not cover lasagna and tiramisu. The topic is Geographical Indications (GI), and means that certain food products are trademarked as Italian, and cannot be impersonated or misrepresented. To be certified, the item must have a specific place of origin, a historically documented meaning, and production methods that adhere to exact steps and standards. They are the ingredients (animal products, herbs, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products) that make Italian food “Italian,” that they are raised in Italy, by Italians, where taste represents what cannot be verbalized. It is also a way to maintain identity, while earning a decent income. This applies to small-time producers, as well as the entire industries.

Geographical indications (GIs) is a legal status, represented with a visual package or label symbol, that identify a food as having originated from a specific place where a given attribute, reputation, or other characteristic of that good is attributable to its geographical home. GIs act like a trademark–once established, they confer certain exclusive rights to the owner. Unlike other intellectual property rights (patents, trademarks, copyrights), GIs are owned collectively by all producers in a region, rather than by an individual or a single company.

Note: there are Geographical indications are over the world (China, India, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, etc.). The United States is currently trying to garner support for their own system of GI (Georgia peaches, Idaho potatoes, California avocados), but the reputations of such products, and a strong system of capitalism, prevents the need for place/product protection. This article seeks to concentrate on the Italian context.

France was the first to certify national butter, cheese, and wine products (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, AOC). Roquefort cheese was regulated by a parliamentary decree in the year 1411; the modern system was reinstated in France in 1919. Italians followed with their own GI organization, post-war, as a way of naming and protecting cultural property within a delicate economic structure. Geographical indications were created by the European Union with Regulation 2081/921, seeking to solve communication problems between and within countries, for consumers and producers, while promoting rural development. Italian GI goods earned €15.2 million in production value in 2018, contributing 18% of the national agricultural economy.

There are 550 Sicilian growers certified for Sicilian arancia rossa (blood red oranges, IGP); each farm cultivates the same three arancia rossa varieties (there are three) according to the same rules, and is overseen and organized by a central ruling body called a consorzio. Each consorzio reports to the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole Alimentari, Forestali e del Turismo (MIPAAF), (Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies). These fruits are monitored by the Italian government, and have protection within the European Union.

The GI system has broad and precise stated objectives:

  • To promote foods, beverages, and wines with specific characteristics, particularly those coming from less-known or rural areas;
  • To improve the income of farmers who make “genuine effort to improve quality”;
  • Sustaining populations in rural areas;
  • Providing clear and “not-misleading” information to consumers regarding product origin;
  • Preserving cultural and historical identity.

Place-defined products connect value between food and territory, thus guaranteeing the quality for which a consumer pays a premium. The idea is to further prevent unwanted third parties from using terms, tactics, and marketing that mislead and misrepresent. Italian pride and livelihoods remain in the balance.

There are currently three European Union schemes for geographic preservation:

EU quality schemes
The EU Protected Geographical Status logos.
[Fair use of copyrighted logos]
  1. Protected Designation of Origin (PDO, red symbol): the entire product must be traditionally and entirely manufactured (prepared, processed and produced) within the specific region.
  2. Protected Geographical Indication (PGI, blue symbol): the entire product must be traditionally and at least partially manufactured (prepared, processed or produced) within the specific region.
  3. Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG): food must be of “specific character” and either the raw materials, production method, or processing must be done in exact area (consistent for a minimum of 30 years).
PDO apples
The PDO logo applied on “Val di Non” apples, which are coincidentally brand-named ‘Melinda’.) [Photo by Melinda King]
Gorgonzola DOP
Gorgonzola DOP sold in the United Kingdom, branded with both the PDO and the Consorzio logos.

Protected Italian Foods

Many of the GI items are known to anyone interested in Italian eating. The names of these items are synonymous with the places they come from, and the name alone acts as an Italian ambassador. Some of the expected items on the list: PDO Chianti Classico olive oil, PDO Lago di Garda olive oil, PDO Mortadella, Asiago cheese, PDO Basilico Genovese (think pesto), PDO Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, IGP Nocciola Piemonte (hazelnuts famed for chocolates).

Still, most of the items may be called peculiar or even uninteresting to those outside the places they are made. Some unexpected items: IGP Acciughe sotto sale del Mar Ligure (anchovies), IGP Carota dell’Altopiano del Fucino (“A carrot? That’s not sexy!”), Pane di Matera (specialized bread loaves from the Sassi cave town), three kinds of saffron, IGP Bresaola della Valtellina (dried horse meat is highly esteemed), four kinds of asparagus (Bassano, especially), five kinds of lemons, eight kinds of chestnuts, Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria essential oil, Kiwi Latina (an Italian kiwi? Yes, and it is magnificent!). Of course, this country is always surprising.

Asparagus
Asparagus, unexpected IGP. [Phtoto by Melinda King]
It is quite common to see the PDO or IGP acronym in a restaurant or gelateria, where the pride of place ingredients is translated to the consumer, as a promise of something real and delicious to be had. And with the force of 0 KM eating, Slow Foods, Bio, Organic, and artisanal products, GI label status is not only economic, but “cool.”

Pepite McDonalds
The Italian McDonald’s featuring IG products. [Screenshot from www.mcdonalds.it]

Cin Cin

Italian wines have an exceptional portion of Geographical Indications to endorsement. GI wines are a vital element, though controversial, in the business and character of Italian winemaking. Autochthonous (native) grapes represent distinctive zones and methods of viticulture, each with unique climactic features. Nerello Mascaelese is a grape that only grows on Mount Etna, in Sicily; this grape is authorized as one of the grapes to be used in the Etna DOC red wine. Nerello Mascalese has been growing in this place for centuries. Popular international varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah need no protection–nor do they have such a significant history, cultivation, or sensory connection to Italian soil.

In 1964, Italy established a series of laws to safeguard the brilliance and authenticity of their wines. The directives define wines by characteristics such as: type of grape(s) used, alcohol content, bottling, labeling, how long the wine is aged, how and when to harvest, who can work the fields, machinery and tools, irrigation, naming, and sales promotions. In the last decades, several modifications and changes have been made to original legislation, as the numbers of wines and regions grow to the list. The last addition, made in 2010, established four basic categories that read consistent with concurrent European Union wine regulations (2008-2009) — Italian wines GIs are categorized as:

  1. Vini (also known as ‘generic/table wines’): wines can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU, label includes no certain indication of place origin (of grape varieties used or vintage); only the wine color is required to be listed on the bottle label (“Tavernello” often ‘house wine’). In some cases, however, table wines can have very high quality and be sought by connoisseurs that don’t need any official certifications (‘Super Tuscans’).
  2. Vini Varietali (Varietal Wines): generic wines that derive mostly (at least 85%) from one kind of certified ‘international (grown in many places)’ grape variety (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah) or entirely from two or more of them; grape used or vintage may be shown on the label (e.g. “Merlot-Raboso” blend from Veneto).
  3. IGP (‘Protected Geographical Indication’ also known as IGT: ‘Typical Geographical Indication’): wines produced in a specific territory within Italy that follow precise regulations on allowed varieties, growing and vinification practices, organoleptic and chemical/physical characteristics, labeling instructions, among others (e.g. “Toscana IGT”).
  4. DOP (‘Protected Designation of Origin’) which includes two classes:
    • DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) These wines must have been IGP wines for at least 5 years, and generally come from smaller regions within a certain IGP territory; far stricter regulations and focus on territorial personalities; a DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG after 10 years.
    • DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) In addition to fulfilling DOC requisites, DOCG wines meet tighter analyses before going to market; they must also demonstrate a superior commercial value, and are linked with historical development.

Currently, there exist 332 DOCs (e.g. “Aleatico di Gradoli DOC”) and 73 DOCGs (e.g. “Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG”) bringing total to 405 DOPs. The financial aspects of the wine GI are momentous; a single bottle of DOCG Brunello di Montalcino can sell for up to $550. A scandal shook the Brunello consorzio in 2008 (known as “Brunellopoli”), where select winemakers were suspect for mixing lower quality wine grapes from other regions with local Sangiovese. Vineyards were quarantined and hundreds of thousands of bottles seized by authorities, facing millions of dollars in fines and years in prison. The issue was potential violation of GI purity rules, written by the Brunello Consorzio ruling body, and approved by the Italian Agricultural Ministry. Charges were ultimately dropped, and agreements to reinforce production principles were made between the Consorzio and winemakers.

Wine bottles display

I spent a number of years working in a wine business in California. When customers asked about Italian wines, they asked for wines by company or grape. Furthermore, their purchase decisions were generally based on price; customers were fascinated anytime I gave them a back story to the makers of the wine, the place it was made, or the types of grapes used. A wine was Chianti or Prosecco, but they did not know why. I would point to the labeling below the cork, when appropriate—if the bottle had the DOC or DOCG certification. “So the government says this wine is the best?” they would ask. No, I would shake my head and give a brief description of what GI represents. “Oh,” they would continue, “so the Italian government says this wine is the best?” they would repeat. Every time.

No, the government has no sensory opinion on the wines being made. This is a label that a company pays for, in a group with other companies in the same place, in order to show you, the consumer, that they mean business. The bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comes from vineyard lands that were budding vines hundreds of years before the pilgrims even built their boat. That is what the GI system would like us to remember. Currently, I am working in a vineyard/winery on Mount Etna, in Sicily. The DOC here is exceedingly proud of its work, and place (terra) is the language spoken in every glass. The soil changes from sandy to limestone, then lava rock, within a few meters, and vines stand fierce tests of weather and volcano. Add the salt of the sea and the shine of the sun, and it makes for an extraordinary natural beverage. The GI labels struggle to describe these things to an American wine shopper: philosophy of terra in an island borough founded by Greek settlers in 734 B.C.E.

Although GIs may promote a food or wine’s reputation, the level of quality is not guaranteed above similar food items. The perception of GIs is a matter of personal consumer taste and company/brand marketing, and this is an important concept to understand. For example, there may be six options of lemons at the local market. Two are certified GI status, from Siracusa (Sicilia) and Sorrento (Campania), and one from Spain. The other three, local fruits, do not list variety, but are stamped with the farm and city of origin. The GI status lemons cost twice as many Euros per kilo. Would you choose a locally made lemon, a higher priced GI, or the least expensive Spanish one?

How much sway does GI play, in the eyes of a shopper? Does it shift our priorities–taste preference, price, or place of being picked? Would you scrimp on lemons but splurge on cheese? How is this any different from brand name luxury Italian Gucci, Ferrari, or Armani? Normal people buy according to experience and reputation. If it works, they buy again. Italy, itself, has become a brand. The Italian GI is represented on the food or drink label with a small circular symbol (red and yellow or blue and yellow, depending on legal status), so we see as we buy. But these certifications are very expensive, and they require a long and thorough vetting process.

The symbol on the food (package, container, box, fruit seal, or wine label) will tell the buyer that it was made in according to the tradition of the area, by people who live there, with local or regional resources, in Italy by Italians. It will taste the way it is supposed to taste, according to history of the place, made flavorful by unique environmental conditions that only that place can provide. Terra, confirms that balsamic vinegar from Modena can only come from Modena. In this case, the Balsamic Vinegar Consorzio is a nearly secret society of older gentlemen who speak very little and carry out regular chemical “alchemical” analysis with small glass pipets and sensorial tastings. They meet in quiet rooms, and keep careful records. But they are extremely exclusive, and there is worry that the Modena vinegar community will soon disappear. It is not easy to pass on the legacy, or attract much excitement, as the work is difficult and unattractive to outsiders. This kind of work must be psychologically understood. But this is a common problem today, in Italy, with gentrification, separating family structures, and move towards tech jobs and city life.

Pomodoro di Pachino

The taste of Sicilian Pachino tomatoes cannot be reproduced. Heart-shaped Marostica cherries, from Veneto, are blessed by cool mountain breeze and warm sunshine. There is a cherry festival to honor the local fruits, as well as a famous chess game played with real-life human pawns in the Piazza degli Scacchi. The game dates back to 1454 when it was organized to settle a courtly duel between two noble lords competing for the hand of a lady. The history, the climate, and the science of place convene to create, in legal status, a true Italian flavor. Travelers can go to the game, enjoy the festival, and feel the life behind the GI, every September.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is a prime example of a Geographical Indication, demonstrating food as an art form. Outside Italy, “Parmesan” (originally a term from France to refer to Italian hard cheeses) is used as a generic name to identify a product (cheese-like, but not always cheese), that has a flavor reminiscent of the famed nutty bite that we know from true Parmigiano Reggiano. However, this copy food lacks the origin, and artisan producers. Parmigiano Reggiano has a singular history, taste, and identity that is unmistakably Italian. The Consorzio for Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese was formed in 1934; in 1996, Parmigiano Reggiano earned complete legal status in the EU. The Consorzio states that “the secret of its goodness originates in the place of origin, in the natural feed, our types of milk cows, the wind, the incline of our hills and goodness of grass, and in the high-quality milk with no additives.” The term “Parmesan” comes from geographical origin and means “of or from Parma.”

Parmigiano Reggiano is not only a good cheese, but also healthy and nutritious (named the official food of the International Space Station). After creation, the cheese wheels are subjected to a maturation period of at least twelve months (twenty-four for the most common version, thirty-six months and more for finer stravecchio), allowing Parmigiano Reggiano to gain its characteristic granular structure. It is made from raw cow’s milk (not pasteurized; there are 245,000 cows in the production area registered to make Parmigiano Reggiano) only grass and hay, not silage. After primary creation, the cheese is put into a brine bath of Mediterranean sea salt for about 22 days and then aged. At twelve months, each cheese is inspected by an expert grader who uses a hammer to tap the cheese and by sound detect undesirable cracks and voids. Cheeses that pass inspection are branded on the rind with an inspector logo. To guarantee each cheese and catalogue quality, each cheese wheel (40 kg) is stenciled by hand with:

  • The Parmigiano Reggiano DOP acronym and consorzio seal;
  • Identification number of dairy (there are 363 certified Parmigiano Reggiano dairies);
  • Production month and year;
  • An alphanumeric code identifying every single wheel.
Rounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Rounds of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
[Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0]
Every cheese is inspected by the consorzio, to verify if they are worthy of the Parmigiano Reggiano title, then fire branded when PDO standards are satisfied. There is a well-documented 800-year history of production, as it was first made by Benedictine monks in the same hilly areas. The processes are fiercely controlled by the consorzio, and every cheese is crafted with care, for excellence.

The cultural meaning for this cheese is also economic: in 2018, 149,000 tons (3.65 million wheels) of it was made by 50,000 Italians in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua (to the right of the Po river), and Bologna to the left of the Reno river). In the same year, the cheese had a €2.2 billion estimated turnover at consumption (51,900 tons of it being exported). This is a meaningful cheese! It is easy to understand how such powerful food would have imitators. The name, alone, is sacred to the Italian people.

In 2003, the EU responded to a complaint filed by the Parmigiano Reggiano consorzio concerning the improper use by certain German companies of the name “Parmesan” as a generic name, on cheeses that neither exhibited the peculiarities of Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO, nor came from the area of origin—thus manipulating consumers and damaging reputation. German authorities refused to intervene, and thus the case was taken before the European Court of Justice. However, the case was ultimately dismissed, as the EU court did not have enough evidence to demonstrate German misuse of the generic name.

However, problems arise when deciding which phrases to protect as GIs. For example, although “Parmigiano Reggiano” is a protected GI under U.S. law (in an agreement made with Italian authorities and the cheese consorzio), the name “parmesan” is not protected—and this term is ubiquitous in American grocery markets on products that Italians would find abhorrent and embarrassing. Shoppers might even see Parmesan Reggianito, a hard Argentinean cheese invented by Italian immigrants who left Italy for South America after the Wars. They wanted to make something that would remind them of their native Parmigiano Reggiano.

Every few years, the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano consorzio tries to file legal action against a company in North America, regarding “Parmesan,” but an outright purge of all such cheese products would be impossible, and expensive. The issue comes down to labeling, but mostly, quality.

In 2012, American FDA agents investigated a cheese factory in Pennsylvania, called “Castle Cheese.” They were making goods sold as “100% real Parmesan” across the country; the cheese was found to contain cut-rate substitutes, chemicals, and fillers, such as wood pulp and cellulose. The Castle Cheese president pled guilty and was spent one year in prison, with a fine of one hundred thousand dollars, but the case was made on health standards—not Parmigiano Reggiano GI name protection. Kraft, America’s well-known mass pasteurized cheese mass brand, has argued that their parmesan cheeses actually promote and encourage the Parmigiano Reggiano product, rather than compete with or mock it.

Thoughts on the TableThis is why a podcast like “Thoughts on the Table” is so important: there is a tremendous need for a cross-cultural conversation about Italian food, by Italians and non-Italians, in the name of taste, access, affordability, and integrity. I can only imagine what it was like for Paolo, experiencing his first visit to a Canadian grocery store. It would be like showing him a roller skate and trying to convince him it was a car. Food is passionate and evocative; what happens when it is reduced to a transaction? We want to talk about grandmother’s soothing pasta dishes, not packaging standards.

Place Matters

Food is grown, traded, prepared, and shared according to geographical context. What you eat, for most of human history, depends on where you live. This is a field of study known as the GEOGRAPHY OF FOOD, which includes complex patterns and relationships between “space” and “place.” Taste transforms during stages of preparation. Quality means safe and wholesome ingredients, and consistency. This is where Italy excels. It has a vast range of topography, proximity to water, varieties of microclimates, and brilliant, creative farmers and chefs. As one of my friends reminds me, “our government is terrible, jobs are hard to get, and our soccer team fails in the World Cup, but we have the best eating in the entire world to console these pains.” The Mediterranean hits the Alpine ranges, and leave centuries of collaboration, giving this nation gastronomical and agricultural superiority. Science proves this, as well as our own opinions. And while so many things did not “originate” in this country, they are respected and perfected here: tomatoes, wines, pastas, coffee, and chocolate.

Place does matter—very much. In terms of food and wine, terra is the philosophical combination of physical and spiritual “place” that gives flavor. By flavor, I mean “memory,” the kind of meal we remember years after the dishes have been washed.

Geographic Indication is a legally recognized certification of quality for place-driven taste. It happens by tradition–meaning what is produced, how, and by whom. The Italian government is very serious about protection and recognition. History is, in my opinion, based in agriculture, and agriculture reveals identity. GI status strives to keep identity, while preserving the taste of memory.

In the name of authenticity, GI hopes to maintain marketplace clarity. Every protected food is traced, tracked, and guaranteed. There are major efforts by law enforcement agencies to uphold the legitimacy of food products. Olive oil, wine, balsamic vinegar, cheese, and prosciutto are some of the Italian products that are most copied and sold by fraud, or produced in sub-standard ways. Livestock are RFID tagged, and documented from conception to market shelf, and full records of genetic breeding are kept by the consorzio. A vegetable, a cheese, or a grape can be tracked by DNA testing, to assure the place it has come from. Italy has 822 registered GI products, more than any other nation, of the worldwide total 3,036 (2018 ISMEA). “Made in Italy” is very big business.

Of course, the Geographical Indications are quite general, and work with ideals. It is basically a package of economic safeguards—copyright schemes made in a non-capitalistic system. The European Union oversees each country’s regulations, and promotes communication across the board. Italy does not always enjoy being a part of the Union, though it gains considerably from the Geographical Indication projects. Aside from the spiritual and cultural lauds from economic protection, the PDO and PGI symbols are basically there to pay people to make good raw materials (beans, sardines, and kiwis). Italy must also realize that certification means Italians competing with Italians, long before the rest of the world. As Italians are hungry for creative and economic innovation, they are, more than ever, hungry to strengthen the core of their traditions.

Cultural Meaning

Nostalgia is everything to an Italian palate. So are relationships. Although larger food chains and grocery stores are trending, there is still a strong and regular desire to shop locally. How do GI products interact with everyday eating? How can we trust that the story behind the label is true? Some Italians do not support the GI system; there are many barriers to entry (certification costs, registration, legal oversight, documentation, North versus South quarrels) that prevent many from participating. Others detest the European Union. In a conversation with my elderly neighbors, Don Donato and his wife, Luciana, I asked their view on Italian Geographical Indications. Don Donato was quick to answer: “We do it because France did it, and we always have to compete with France. We have Italian food in a French system. Even the supermarkets are from France (Carrefour, Auchan in Veneto)… the problem is that Italians are very bad organizers. We have the good food, and the government doesn’t trust us with it.

His wife does the food shopping, and said she never really noticed the food labels until last year, when she read about it in the paper. She generally keeps to the butcher, bakery, and produce shop in our small village, but goes to the shopping centers once or twice every month with her children’s families. Two things regularly astonish her: the amounts of products in the aisles, and the prices. Having choices, she told me, is very expensive. “If I want lentils from Umbria, we will go there. I am not about to pay so much for a bag of lentils. These are things that are made very well in my own area.” She told me that food is only as good as the person making it, and she can make any lentil taste Italian.

GI advertisement
GI brands advertisement in Italy.

Can you taste the difference between a GI product and a non-GI product When it is late in the evening, and someone has prepared a beautiful Italian meal, simple and warm—what is the role of Geographical Indications for regional foods?

If my Swedish friend had known, at the least, to look for red and blue symbols on olive oil labels, his search would have been much simplified. He was looking for the best representation of an Italian olive oil, and those certification marks would have spoken for the people, processes, and places that make the oil authentic—as so the label would ideally have us believe. Later, I curiously asked which bottle he had selected from the large Roman grocery store. He laughed when he told me, “I don’t remember the name, but I bought an expensive one.” He continued, “But when I got home, I went to use it and saw, written right there on the backside: 100% California Olives.”

These contradictions make Italian food fascinating. The conversation continues…

Top 15 highest value (by production numbers) Italian Geographical Indications, 2018 (source: ISMEA—Qualivita)

Product Minimum value 2016 Minimum value 2017 % Change
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP €1.123 €1.343 +19,5%
Grana Padano DOP 1.293 1.293 0,0%
Prosciutto di Parma DOP 816 850 +4,1%
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP 372 391 +5,0%
Aceto balsamico di Modena IGP 381 390 +2,5%
Gorgonzola DOP 316 356 +12,8%
Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP 293 304 +3,8%
Mortadella Bologna IGP 326 301 -7,4%
Bresaola della Valtellina IGP 220 224 +2,2%
Pecorino Romano DOP 251 155 -38,0%
Pasta di Gragnano IGP 107 115 +7,2%
Speck Alto Adige IGP 100 109 +9,4%
Asiago DOP 95 98 +2,8%
Mela Alto Adige IGP 132 88 -33,2%
Mela Val di Non DOP 75 65 -14,0%

Wine

Product Minimum value 2016 Minimum value 2017 % Change
Prosecco DOP €629 €631 +0,3%
Conegliano Valdobbiadene – Prosecco DOP 161 184 +14,0%
Delle Venezie IGP 169 114 -32,7%
Asti DOP 103 107 +4,0%
Terre Siciliane IGP 82 107 +29,9%
Amarone della Valpolicella DOP 83 103 +23,4%
Alto Adige DOP 82 100 +22,3%
Chianti Classico DOP 112 98 -12,6%
Barolo DOP 79 89 +12,3%
Valpolicella Ripasso DOP 63 86 +35,9%
Chianti DOP 87 81 -6,7%
Veneto IGP 101 79 -21,9%
Brunello di Montalcino DOP 61 72 +18,3%
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP 67 63 -6,0%
Trentino DOP 50 51 +1,7%

Source References

Recommended Further Reading

NOTE: This article’s featured image is a view of Govone, Cuneo, from its castle. [Photo by Paolo Rigiroli].

[Thoughts on the Table – 66] Introducing Giuseppe D’Angelo from Pizza Dixit

This episode’s guest is Giuseppe D’Angelo, the author of Pizza Dixit, the blog on Neapolitan pizza in the world. Born and raised in Naples, Giuseppe made a mission for himself to discover the best Neapolitan pizzerias around the world. In doing so, he investigates how pizza makers outside of Naples can obtain an excellent product by operating on the variables they still can control, such as the dough, the oven, and the choice of ingredients, starting of course from tomato sauce and mozzarella.

During the episode, Giuseppe tries to define what Neapolitan pizza *is*, a controversial topic even within Naples itself, by stating what Neapolitan pizza definitely is not! He also describes how modern pizza ovens can approximate the results of traditional wood-burning ovens while helping pizza makers comply with city regulations.

You can follow Pizza Dixit in both English and Italian on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

   

[Thoughts on the Table Transcript] Frank Fariello from Memorie di Angelina

Back in March 2014, I had the pleasure of having Frank Fariello (Memorie di Angelina) on a podcast. In the episode, we discussed the differences between Italian-American cooking and the food of Italy, a topic on which Frank is remarkably insightful, being a third generation Italian-American who lived in Rome for 10 years.

This post presents the same interview in textual form as an enjoyable read, and as a searchable reference.

 

Listen to the original episode

 

Paolo Rigiroli
Hello, and welcome to the audioblog. Paolo here again for another episode. Today I have a special guest with me, Frank Fariello from the fantastic blog, Memorie di Angelina. Hi, Frank. Good morning.
Frank Fariello
Hey Paolo, how are you doing?
Paolo Rigiroli
Good. Thanks so much for accepting to connect with me. It’s an honor.
Frank Fariello
Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Paolo Rigiroli
Frank accepted to be interviewed, and I have prepared a lot of questions. I’m sure, like me, you’ll be very interested to know his answers. We want to know a lot more about you, Frank.
Frank Fariello
Uh oh…
Paolo Rigiroli
So let’s start from, of course, from you. Do you want to introduce yourself to our listeners?
Frank Fariello
Sure, why not? My name is Frank, as you know. I’ve got an Italian last name, Fariello. I am from New York originally. I was born in New York City actually, but lived in the suburban part of New York for most of my childhood. I am a lawyer by training and by profession, and still continue to practice law, but I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life outside of the United States. I actually took some time off [from the profession]. I was thinking about leaving the law at a certain point in my life. I had about ten years under my belt as a corporate lawyer in New York and was kind of tired of the rat race.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see.
Frank Fariello
So I took some time off. I was thinking about becoming a professional chef. Cooking has always been my passion. I went and lived for a few years in Paris. There are great hotel schools, as you probably know, in Switzerland, in the French speaking part of the country. So my plan was to go to France, perfect my French, and then go on to [the Hotel School in] Lausanne. As you know, that was [where] one of the great Italian chefs of the time… a Milanese, named Gualtiero Marchesi [had been trained].
Paolo Rigiroli
Oh yeah, of course. Super famous.
Frank Fariello
Do remember him? Very famous. A little bit controversial, I understand, among some Italians. They called him “Il Francese” because he had a certain different way of approaching Italian cooking, but I had studied his work and found him quite inspiring. I knew that he had gone to Lausanne, to the [hotel] school there and wanted to kind of follow in his footsteps.
Frank Fariello
In any event, [I never made it to Lausanne.] I was [in Paris] for a couple years, then lived in Vienna for a couple more years. At that point, I had returned to the practice of law. Some old colleagues from New York had convinced me to get back into the profession, and they were based in Vienna and Moscow, so I was doing some work there. Then, in about 1995, so this is going back a few years, I saw an ad in the paper for an international organization based on Rome. Of course, I’m an international lawyer by trade, [but my practice had been in private international law]. I had always been interested in [practicing public international law] in an international organization. I applied [for the job] and “only” 9 months later, I was hired. I went down there and spent 10 years living in Rome.
Paolo Rigiroli
In Rome, in the city.
Frank Fariello
Yeah. That was a fantastic thing. I had always kind of wanted to… It sounds like a cliché of course, but wanted to sort of discover my roots. Actually, my roots are not in Rome, they’re farther south in Campania and Puglia. But still, it was a great opportunity. So I took it.
Paolo Rigiroli
Very interesting that you were at one point pursuing the career of becoming a chef, and considered changing [job] entirely. You know, it takes a lot of courage to do that. I’m not surprised that you were pulled back…
Frank Fariello
Yeah, well it takes a lot of courage, and maybe that’s why I didn’t do it ultimately!
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, but you did do something else. You started writing this blog that has become the most popular blog about Italian food today. So it is a fantastic achievement, and it obviously speaks to the quality of your work. I’m not surprised to see that your interest went as far as to bring you to Paris. So that really makes a lot of sense now.
Frank Fariello
Yeah. Thanks. Yeah, it is a great… That’s one of the great things about the blog. It allows me to enjoy the [culinary] world without, of course, the back breaking work and the horrendous hours of actually being a restaurateur.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see. Well, I’m sure it takes up a lot of time anyway, but certainly it is a different activity. Yes, I can see that. So when did you start Memorie di Angelina?
Frank Fariello
Well, it actually started out when I joined Facebook.
Paolo Rigiroli
Oh.
Frank Fariello
I didn’t set out to be a blogger, to be honest. I joined Facebook and, like a lot of people on Facebook, I started discovering old friends from high school and college and law school and all the rest of it. I decided I wanted to share some recipes with my friends, so I started posting recipes to my profile. That was a lot of fun and people were enjoying the recipes, but I was frustrated by the platform. It wasn’t really as flexible as I wanted it to be, so I cast around [for ideas] and decided to start a blog. Just for my friends, initially. That was the only ambition I had was to continue sharing those recipes, but to do it in a way that was easier to get the point across. And… the rest is history. The blog got some attention and, next thing I know, 5 years later I’m still blogging!
Paolo Rigiroli
Yes, and thank you for that. It’s a great resource for me as a cook, and of course a great point of reference (that I often quote) to talk about what I talk about, which is authenticity and Italian food of Italy today, which is something that has become sort of my battle – so to speak – to try and fix Italian food in North America. As you know, my battle is against the type of Italian-American food that is not advertised as such. I have respect for Italian-American cuisine, but I really think it should be called for what it is. I’m all for certification as well to try and, whenever possible, certify Italian food – continental Italian food of Italy today – as such. And I applaud any kind of certification like Pizza Verace, which is a great association based in Naples that certifies around the world, and Tuscanicious, which by the way you were just recently awarded. Congratulations.
Frank Fariello
Yes. Well thank you. That was a tremendous honor for me. It’s a great validation of the work I’m doing… My blog is about Italian cooking of all kinds, not really focused on Tuscan cooking in particular, so the award was, in a sense, a surprise. But a wonderful one.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, it is a great honor, and you deserve so much. So yeah, authenticity is important, but I also find that many of those self-proclaimed Italian restaurants simply serve food that is just plain bad food. That is really sad to me. I really think that there is such thing as good food and bad food in general, and in fact a lot of my friends who actually have been to Italy told me that they really liked the real Italian food so much better. Which may signify that there is an absolute value to flavor. I don’t know how you feel about that.
Frank Fariello
I certainly agree. All kinds of cooking can be good, and I enjoy all different kinds of cooking. But I firmly believe there is such a thing as good food and bad food. Even as a kid, I remember comparing the Italian food that you might have in a restaurant with the food that my grandmother made, and I knew liked my grandmother’s food a lot better! To some extent, Italian food is a victim of its own popularity. And unfortunately restaurateurs-some of them who should know better, others who perhaps don’t-take advantage of that popularity to frankly make a buck on the cheap. I hate to put it that harshly, but I think in some cases that’s what it is.
Paolo Rigiroli
It’s marketing.
Frank Fariello
Yeah.
Paolo Rigiroli
Following a popular trend. When you say “Italian,” it seems to sell more. Right now they’re starting to say “Tuscan” or you know, “Sicilian,” trying to go down to the region which makes it [sound] even more authentic.
Frank Fariello
Yes, indeed. I don’t know if you know Nicoletta Tavella – she’s a fellow blogger. She also has a cooking school in Amsterdam, and I heard an interview with her with an Italian radio or TV… I can’t remember which. She was talking about some of the funny products that they sell in Holland, like “Tuscan pesto”, whatever that might be! So this is not just North America where this kind of thing happens. As you say, “Tuscan” has that caché. Never mind that there is no such thing as Tuscan pesto. But anyway…
Paolo Rigiroli
So Frank, speaking of authentic food, I would like to go back a little bit to your grandmother. Because you’re a third generation Italian-American, but yet you seem to have such a precise image of Italian food. Yours is not distorted at all. I’m Italian born and raised there. I spent my first 30 years there. I read you… I really cannot detect any difference in how I would describe it. You just describe it better than I would. It’s true.
Frank Fariello
That’s very kind of you to say. I think I have two advantages maybe over other Americans or other foreigners who are pursuing [the study of Italian cuisine]. One is I actually grew up with Italian cooking. My grandmother is the reason why my blog is called the way it is. It’s a tribute to her, because she really imprinted those flavors on my palate, if I can put it that way.
Paolo Rigiroli
That’s a good way [to put it].
Frank Fariello
At a very tender age, it’s so natural. She was special because she did not [compromise on authenticity]. Of course, she was first generation, and there’s a big difference as the generations proceed, in terms of assimilation and adaptation. She made her dishes just as she learned them growing up in Italy, in that small town in Campania. I verified that when I went to Italy and ate those same dishes, some of which I didn’t realize existed outside of my grandmother’s kitchen, by the way. I was almost shocked to see them on menus, in store windows. I remember once, it was around Christmas time, and we went down to the Amalfi coast for a vacation to get away from Rome for a bit, and I looked in a pastry shop window and found my grandmother’s honey balls: Truffoli! I had no idea they actually existed other than as an invention my grandmother had made. But she recreated all of those things, and quite well, I think, given what she had to work with. Of course she had to make some compromises, because not all ingredients were available in the US, especially back in those days. The other thing, of course, is that I spent 10 years living in Italy. That’s irreplaceable, too.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yes.
Frank Fariello
You know, getting to know Italian cooking, especially Rome because that’s where I was. But I liked to travel a lot, all throughout the country. And being a foodie, the first thing I wanted to do was try the local dishes. I used to ask people, “What should I try?” and “How do you make this?” And I’m an avid collector of cookbooks.
Paolo Rigiroli
Oh, I see.
Frank Fariello
Anywhere I went, I always bought a little local cookbook to find out what the local dishes were and try to recreate them when I get home and all of that.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, and I love how you put these cookbooks as reference in your blog posts whenever you can, because… you can quote them, and use the collective knowledge that they accumulated into themselves. So we were talking about adaptation and the fact that Italian food sometimes, as generations go by, changes. Evolves. Why do you think this is happening? Is it a matter of adapting to the local palate, or is it more the fact that the ingredients are not available, or that the ingredients are different?
Frank Fariello
That’s a good question. I think originally, of course, it was about availability of ingredients. I think if you look at first generation, Italian Americans in particular, that was a big thing. [And then some differences reflect an expression of the diaspora community.] I sometimes talk about Italian American cooking as a sort of celebration of plenty. This is immigrant cooking, so it was made by people who came from very humble backgrounds. Certainly in my family that was the case. [They celebrated] the fact that they now could afford to have meat any time they wanted. So Sunday dinners were often kind of “meat fests”: We’d have the pasta dish, dressed with Neapolitan ragu`, with sausages and beef and all these other things… And then yet another meat course would come after that, usually roast chicken or something of this kind. So it’s a lot about just kind of enjoying the fact you can afford to have all of this food that perhaps back home you couldn’t. That’s of course the first generation.
Frank Fariello
I think the second generation is a bit different. And I saw this also, by the way, in reverse when I was living in Italy. Children of immigrants put a huge premium on fitting in and assimilating, and feeling that they were part of the country they were born in. Sometimes even almost in opposition to their parents’ generation.
Paolo Rigiroli
Oh yeah.
Frank Fariello
You’ve seen this probably–
Paolo Rigiroli
I have seen this. I know a lot of Italians. They have Italian last names so I approach them in the workplace, and often they actually… reject their origins. They don’t speak Italian, pretty much by choice. Yeah. It’s strange, but in a way, it’s assimilation. It is forcing yourself to stop being typecast, because I suppose it happens.
Frank Fariello
Absolutely. I think that that goes for the cooking as well, and eating habits and the rest. You kind of, you want to be kind of more American than the Americans.
Paolo Rigiroli
Right.
Frank Fariello
Of course, when you try to go back and recreate the dishes, that’s going to have an influence. And then there’s the third generation… I’m third generation – I think there’s a bifurcation here, because there’s some, like myself, who kind of want to recapture something.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Frank Fariello
Then there are others who just kind of keep on going and proceed with further Americanization, to the point where basically, other than the name, they are more or less indistinguishable from any other Americans.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, absolutely. The problem is that some of them own a restaurant…
Frank Fariello
Yeah. Yes. That’s when things go awry!
Paolo Rigiroli
I saw this thing just yesterday. We were in this Italian café, I’m not going to say the name, and they had “Italian burgers”, okay? (You don’t see Frank, but he’s shocked!) With a side of pasta, of course (!) And I really like the place, actually. I go back there because they make really good omelettes, actually. They cook something that is not really an Italian dish, but they do it really well, and I really like them. But then they do these things… Just because they call themselves Italian, I think.
Frank Fariello
Yeah, that’s the marketing thing again. You sprinkle a little oregano on top of it or a little melted mozzarella or whatever, and suddenly it’s Italian this or that.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, I know. What’s even worse is when you throw in ingredients that totally don’t fit in with a dish. You just posted today your carbonara, and you talk about cream as a common addition in North America, into carbonara. Obviously, that does not belong in the dish. It’s totally unnecessary, it changes it entirely. You know, in this case, the addition of ingredients is done in the attempt to… I don’t know, make the dish more rich. To make it more flavorful. I don’t know. What do you think?
Frank Fariello
Well… I think that’s often very true, and I agree about the cream. I think it actually, if anything, takes flavor away. But yeah, it’s probably meant to make the dish richer and more [appealing]. Again, this celebration of plenty that I talk about, and it can go a bit too far. It becomes almost an overdoing- extravagant. That’s true for example, in the use of herbs and spices and so on, which in fact is, as of course you know very well, not at all typical of good Italian cooking. Just the opposite. It’s all about discretion and balance.
Paolo Rigiroli
And balance. And I think, you know, the problem probably is that the fewer ingredients you have, the more they have to be right. They have to be flavorful, and they have to have the correct flavor. So maybe I’m thinking it could be that sometimes one adds more ingredients to try and compensate for the lack of flavor of local produce, which… wasn’t grown in the same sunny lands of Italy. I’m thinking tomatoes, as an example.
Frank Fariello
That’s the classic example, of course. It’s the bane of any Italians I talk to who come to the States, and I’m sure Canada is the same way… They always ask me: “Where are the good tomatoes?” It’s an endless search. Of course, you can find them if you go to a farmer’s market, but you have to really make an effort. The great thing about Italy is any old supermarket will offer you wonderful produce. Of course, it’s even better if you’re growing your own… I was very lucky because although I spent most of my stay in downtown Rome, for the last three years, we lived outside of town.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see.
Frank Fariello
In a kind of a rural area. I grew my own vegetables, my own tomatoes, my own zucchine. We even had hens, a hen house, and we got the eggs. If you’ve ever eaten eggs right from the hen, it’s just something incredible.
Paolo Rigiroli
And I have. My grandmother had eggs from her chickens. You’re right. It was incredible.
Frank Fariello
And we had peach trees, too. The peaches off the tree were something else. Of course, if you have a peach like that that’s dripping and sweet and lovely, you don’t need sugar on it. You don’t need anything on it. It’s just beautiful the way it is. I think you’re quite correct about how best quality ingredients makes lots of different extraneous flavors unnecessary. But if you don’t have that kind of quality ingredients, then of course, the temptation is to make up for it in other ways.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah. I can see that. Frank, I wanted to also talk a little more about you as a food blogger and the food blogging activity itself, and becoming as popular as you have become. The question that I have for you is, did popularity change you? Do you feel the pressure of having so many viewers to keep up and produce always more interesting [posts] and continue the volume of production?
Frank Fariello
Well, yes and no. I do try to blog once a week, [although lately I’ve been so busy it’s been more like once every two weeks]. I try to keep to that rhythm and not go beyond it, in part because I don’t want to raise expectations of people. In the middle of the week, or on off weeks, I will post old posts on my Facebook page. The great thing about cooking is, of course, nothing goes out of date. You can take a post from two years ago and send it out there, and people who haven’t seen it before will enjoy it. This posting schedule is realistic for me. I have a day job, like many bloggers. I kind of envy those who are dedicated full-time to the food business. That would be fantastic, but I’m not, so this is kind of a hobby for me. But I do try to stick to this schedule because I know that there are people who occasionally, if I slip, will send me messages like, “What happened? Where is this week’s installment?” Of course, I feel awfully guilty about that!
Paolo Rigiroli
I’m hungry. What happens?
Frank Fariello
Yeah. Right? But I try to keep it realistic. So you know, once a week is a realistic level [of commitment] for me.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you get a lot of requests? Do people ask you for a certain dish?
Frank Fariello
Yes. Yes. I do get requests from time to time. I try to put them on my list but I have a blog plan, so it can be a while until I get around to them. I’m trying to hit all the major dishes in the various regions. The vision I have for Memorie di Angelina is, more than a blog, as kind of an online cookbook.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Frank Fariello
So I am trying to be, if not comprehensive-because that’s practically impossible when you’re talking about a subject as vast as this one-but as complete as I can make it over time. So I do have a plan that I’m following, and if a request falls well within the plan, I’ll do it. Occasionally, it’ll be a request for something that’s actually Italian-American rather than Italian. That’s the other thing.
Paolo Rigiroli
Right.
Frank Fariello
I keep those requests on the “back burner”, because once in a while, usually on Columbus Day, I do like to feature an Italian-American dish.
Paolo Rigiroli
So you have a plan. Do you think you can just go on forever, just because it’s such a vast world?
Frank Fariello
Yes. Well, forever, perhaps not. But I won’t live forever, either, unfortunately. I think it’ll be a while until I run out of [dishes to write about]. I don’t really need “ideas” in the sense that, unlike other bloggers, I don’t really try to do creative things too much. But occasionally, I’ll feature my own take on a classic dish. Dishes generally have lots of variations, especially the more famous ones, so I’ll express my preference.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see.
Frank Fariello
I bring that much of my own personality to the dish, but I try to be faithful to the classic recipes. That makes it easy in a way. I don’t feel the need to invent things.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see, I see, I see.
Frank Fariello
Of course the repertoire of Italian dishes is so enormous that it’ll be awhile until I run out of recipes.
Paolo Rigiroli
Which is really fantastic. I guess there are also many other ways to present your work. I saw you have a Flipboard, I think it’s called, now.
Frank Fariello
Yes. Yes, my Memorie di Angelina Flipboard has become quite popular. It’s really taken off, and I’m pleasantly surprised. It was kind of a lark. We had a snow day once, and I said, “Let me put one together.” And the response has been excellent.
Paolo Rigiroli
Fantastic. I saw it. It’s really nice. It’s like a digital cookbook, a recipe book. I love the format. It’s awesome. Yeah.
Frank Fariello
I’m quite pleased with it.
Paolo Rigiroli
Have you ever thought about publishing an actual book?
Frank Fariello
I get that question quite a bit. I guess my answer is I’d love to, but when would I possibly find the time? This is the thing. Again, having a day job makes it difficult. But if I ever feel like I can take a couple months off, sabbatical, maybe. Why not?
Paolo Rigiroli
Why not? Looking forward to that. I just want to end this interview – thanks so much, Frank, it was amazing, of course – with one last question about your time spent in Italy.
Frank Fariello
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paolo Rigiroli
If I were to ask you now, you’ve been back for a few years now, what do you miss the most?
Frank Fariello
Wow. That’s an interesting question. I guess, I mean… the food, I guess, would be one big thing. Probably the biggest, I mean, from the point of view of someone who is so obsessed with eating and food as I am. As we were talking about, the excellent quality of the raw ingredients you have to work with. It makes cooking so… In a way, almost too easy. You know?
Paolo Rigiroli
I know. I do know.
Frank Fariello
There’s so little you have to do to those ingredients to make them taste good. It’s fantastic. And beyond the food, of course the beauty of the country. And the warmth of the people. That’s a cliché, but I think it’s true. Well, Romans can be rough, too. But they’re always honest. I think the thing is that they may not always be polite, but they’re always themselves, and I appreciate that.
Paolo Rigiroli
Fantastic. Thanks, Frank. It was a great pleasure having you here. Well, we’ll keep in touch, and–
Frank Fariello
Absolutely.
Paolo Rigiroli
Maybe later on, we’ll have another chat together.
Frank Fariello
Look forward to it. Take care, now.
Paolo Rigiroli
Fantastic. Thanks so much again. Bye-bye.
Frank Fariello
Bye-bye.

Mediterranean Pasta with Capers, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

This is a summer dish, but if you can find ripe cherry tomatoes, then it can be made every season. And it’s one of those pasta dishes where the sauce is so quick it can be made as the pasta cooks – my favorites when I don’t have time to plan ahead. Despite its disarming simplicity, this dish is very complete and balanced – the acidity of the tomato is countered by the creaminess of the mozzarella, and the sweetness of the tomato-mozzarella base is countered by the savoriness of capers and olives. I called it “Mediterranean Pasta”, let’s dive into it!

Mediterranean Pasta with Capers, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 15 minutes

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Mediterranean Pasta with Capers, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

Ingredients

  • 5 oz (140 g) dried linguine or spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons capers (brine-pickled)
  • 3 tablespoons green olives (pitted and sliced, brine-pickled)
  • 9 oz (250 g) cherry tomatoes, each cut lengthwise in four
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 4 oz (115 g) fresh mozzarella (e.g. 2 medium bocconcini), diced
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Toss the pasta in salted boiling water. In a pan, sauté capers and olives in the oil.
  2. Add the tomatoes and oregano to the pan, maintaining medium heat. Roast for 3-4 minutes.
  3. While the pasta cooks, cover the pan with a lid and cook at low heat until the tomatoes wilt (about 5 minutes). Adjust salt and pepper.
  4. Rapidly drain the pasta and finish cooking it in the sauce until al dente.
  5. Take the pan off the heat, add the mozzarella, stir briefly. Serve immediately.
https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2014/10/mediterranean-pasta-with-capers-olives.html

Home-Style Pizza Competition

An unusual post for this blog, today. Three friends of mine have just competed in a pizza cook-off, and I had the honor to be the head judge 🙂

The contestants were responsible for bringing their own ingredients, including their pizza dough (which they made beforehand). To cook the pizzas, they all used the same oven, set at its maximum temperature (550 °F), with the same pizza stone.

We had two challenges: the first was on ingredients and technique; the second on the choice of the toppings.

For the first challenge, everyone made their best Margherita. Here is what each did.

The first contestant, Stefano, brought a slowly-leavened pizza dough which he had raising in his fridge for 2 full days (see below for his recipe). He used canned, peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes (which he seasoned with salt and olive oil), and fresh “bocconcini” mozzarella. The pizza was assembled and cooked for 7 minutes (until the mozzarella started to become bubbly).

The second contestant, Sandro, used his 1-day leavened dough. He blanched and strained fresh Roma tomatoes, which he then seasoned with herbs, salt, and olive oil. He also used fresh “bocconcini” mozzarella, but he adopted the strategy to add it to the pizza only during the last 2 minutes of cooking (out of the 8 minutes total). He then finished the pizza with basil leaves.

The third contestant, Samuele, also made a 1-day leavened dough. He used canned Molisana strained tomatoes, with some added salt. He used “bocconcini” mozzarella, added at the beginning of cooking, like Stefano’s. He finished his pizza with basil, a hint of Parmigiano, and a generous amount of olive oil.

Here is how this challenge went.

All three contestants used a bit too much tomato sauce. Stefano had the best dough of all three. Sandro’s dough was a close second. Stefano’s tomatoes were good but slightly under-seasoned. Sandro’s tomatoes had the most flavor but were a bit watery (possibly because he used fresh tomatoes). Samuele’s tomatoes were the best of all three, although he put a little too much salt on them. Overall, Sandro’s mozzarella tasted best: being it cooked just slightly, it kept its milkiness, tasting more authentic. Overall, Sandro won this challenge.

For the second challenge, the contestants were asked to show off their best toppings.

Stefano went with a proven combination: speck and fontina. He prepared his Margherita base, with fontina mixed in with the mozzarella. Half-way through the cooking, he topped up the pizza with slices of speck.

Sandro also used his Margherita base, to which he added sautéed onions and gorgonzola cheese. After the pizza was cooked, he topped it off with raw prosciutto.

At this point, we were all too full, and Samuele decided to drop out of the competition 🙂

Overall Sandro’s toppings were considered more creative and with a more distinct flavor then Stefano’s; also because Stefano’s fontina was too mild and we couldn’t really taste it. Sandro also won the second competition!

Stefano's Pizza Dough

#Stefano's Pizza Dough

Ingredients

     Quantities per person.

    • 200 g all purpose flour
    • 125 g cold water
    • 5 g salt
    • 1.5 g fresh yeast (or 0.7 g dry yeast)

    Preparation

    1. I mix water and yeast until the yeast is fully melted. I then add half of the flour. I mix well, then add the salt. Finally, I slowly incorporate the rest of the flour, a bit at a time (it needs to be kneaded well, I use Kitchen Aid for at least 15 minutes).
    2. I then store it in the fridge for 2 days in a sealed container. I add a film of olive oil to keep the dough from developing a crust.
    3. The day of the pizza, I take it out of the fridge. I let it rest for another hour, then I divide it in equal portions, one per person. I put each portion in a different container to do the final leavening at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours.
    https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2013/10/home-style-pizza-competition.html

    Tomatoes and Pomodori – Differences Between Italy and North America

    Everyone who has visited Italy agrees – Italian tomatoes are much more than a condiment for burgers or a colorful decoration! They are indisputably full of flavor, a fundamental part of the diet of the Italians, and a defining ingredient in their cuisine.

    Originally domesticated in Mexico and only brought to Europe by the Spanish traders in the 1700’s, similar tomato varieties are found in both North America and Italy. Why is the flavor so much different then? The composition of the soil and the exposure to sunlight are certainly involved, but the determining factor in the difference of flavor is that most tomatoes found in North America have been cut while still green to facilitate distribution. In Italy, instead, they are generally grown locally and allowed to ripen on the vine. Note that tomatoes sold “on the vine” in North America may still have been separated from the plant well before ripening.

    Ethylene.
    Ethylene.

    For the fruit and vegetable industry, the advantage of unripe distribution is enormous. Green produce is easier to handle – it doesn’t bruise as easily and doesn’t need to be delivered as promptly. However, only climacteric fruits(1) (of which tomatoes are part) have the ability to ripen after they have been cut. During their development, climacteric fruits store sugar in the form of starch. When they are fully grown, the plant starts producing ethylene, a colorless gas that operates as a phytohormone in organizing the ripening process. When exposed to ethylene, fruits increase their respiration and the accumulated starch is converted back into sugar. During this process, the fruits themselves start producing ethylene, which in turn creates a ripening cycle that affects the entire plant and the ones nearby.

    Ethylene can also be artificially supplied to picked unripe produce with a similar ripening effect. This allows the fruit distributors to maintain the produce green until it’s about to reach the shelves, and then gas it to cause it to ripen. Unfortunately, despite their mature appearance, fruits that have been cut too early severely lack flavor. Moreover, these fruits tend to have a shorter shelf life than their naturally ripened counterparts.

    Among climacteric fruits, bananas, avocados, kiwis, and pears can fully ripen after being picked – there is no particular advantage to allow these fruits to ripen on their trees. On the other hand, tomatoes, apples, apricots, peaches, plums, mangoes, figs, cantaloupe, and nectarines keep on improving the longer they stay attached to their plants.

    Non-climacteric fruits like citrus, pineapples, strawberries, and melons don’t store sugars in the form of starch and, when cut off their vines, they arrest their development and only start to degrade, rather than ripen(2).

    Tomatoes had a very slow diffusion in Italy. In addition to their late introduction, they encountered a strong resistance due to their resemblance to the botanically related and highly poisonous nightshade. It took until the beginning of the 20th century for tomatoes to become popular. At that point, however, they became so deeply intertwined with Italian cuisine, that they changed it forever. They brought a depth of flavor that never before was found in a vegetable, and it’s nowadays impossible to imagine Italian food without tomatoes.

    The remarkable complexity of tomatoes is well represented by their distinct parts, each contributing in different ways to the flavor.

    Cuticle(1); outer fruit wall(2); central pith (3); seeds and semi-liquid jelly and juice (4).
    Cuticle(1); outer fruit wall(2); central pith (3); seeds and semi-liquid jelly and juice (4).

    Most of the tomato flavor lies in the outer wall (the sweetest part) and in the cuticle (the thin and resistant skin). The jelly and juice surrounding the seeds are instead acidic. As a result, seeded and peeled tomatoes lack flavor and acidity. In cooking, it’s recommended to keep all parts of the tomato fruit together(2), and then strain the resulting product to eliminate any unwanted seeds and skins.

    The proportions of skin, walls, jelly, and seeds vary across the different cultivars. Therefore, each of them has different culinary uses. Here are some of the most common Italian preparations that are normally associated with the main tomato varieties. To be noted that tomato juice as a drink is not listed since it isn’t popular in Italy.

    Standard globe tomatoes

    (Round, smooth, and flattened at the top and bottom. Generally 4-celled, with plenty of juice and seeds.)

    Tomatoes are healthy, both raw and cooked. While raw tomatoes contain higher levels of Vitamin C, the antioxidant lycopene (the carotenoid responsible for the red coloring) is boosted by the cooking process and protects the human body from the cell and tissue damage caused by free radicals.

    Partly or barely ripe globe tomatoes are used in salads, either by themselves, cut into slices or wedges, or with other veggies (e.g.; cucumbers and bell peppers). Salt, vinegar, and oil are normally used as a dressing. Globe tomatoes are also excellent when paired up with fresh cheese, such as mozzarella, bocconcini, fior di latte, cottage cheese, or burrata. Caprese salad, for instance, consists of tomato and mozzarella, with olive oil and optional basil or oregano. Green globe tomatoes are pickled in vinegar and oil and had as a side.

    Coeur de Boeuf (or Beefsteak)

    (Big and irregularly shaped, wider than tall. Multi-celled, moderately rich in juice and seeds.)
    The stupendously flavorful coeur the boeuf is used in big slices in salads or in sandwiches.

    Beefsteak tomato with burrata, olive oil, and oregano.
    Beefsteak tomato with burrata, olive oil, and oregano.

    Cherry or Campari tomatoes

    (Small and 2-celled.)
    Also used in salads, whole or halved, fully ripe Campari or cherry tomatoes are added to meat or fish stews.

    Campari tomatoes on the vine.
    Campari tomatoes on the vine.

    Plum tomatoes, e.g.: Roma or San Marzano

    (Oblong and smooth, more “mealy” and with fewer seed compartments.)
    Strained raw plum tomatoes are used on pizza. Their mealy texture makes them not as appealing to be eaten raw, but they are the preferred choice for all tomato sauces, generally flavored with onion, or with garlic (as in ‘marinara’), or with chili pepper (as in ‘ arrabbiata’, which also has garlic). Plum tomatoes are also best for canning, either strained, chopped or whole (usually peeled, as in the typical “pelati”). In the south of Italy, where in the summer the production of tomatoes often exceeds the consumption needs, canning of strained tomatoes (“passata”) is a common family activity.

    Grape tomatoes

    (Small plum tomatoes, the size of cherry tomatoes but oblong and mealier.)
    Grape tomatoes are generally used in salads, usually whole.

    (1) Tomatoes are fruits, being the development of the flowers’ ovaries and containing the plant’s seeds.
    (2) Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2nd edition (2004).

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    Home-Style Pizza

    Unless you have a brick oven in your backyard, you can’t quite make pizzeria-style pizza at home; the regular kitchen oven simply can’t reach high enough temperatures. It is, however, possible to approximate the flavors of a pizzeria-style pizza by using a few expedients.

    There is more than one way to make home-style pizza. A pizza stone, for instance, can work really well but it requires time and practice.  The method that I am about to describe makes use of a perforated pizza tray. I find it easier and quicker and the results, in my opinion, are comparable.

    As usual with Italian cuisine, quality and simplicity of the ingredients are essential. Pre-made bread shells, pizza sauce, and pizza mozzarella must be avoided! Here is what you need:

    Home-Style Pizza

    Yield: 2 servings

    Total Time: 30 minutes

    Prep Time: 15 minutes

    Cook Time: 15 minutes

    Home-Style Pizza

    Ingredients

    • 1 perforated pizza pan
    • 450 g bread dough (from a bakery or bought frozen)
    • ¾ cup uncooked strained tomatoes (fresh or from a quality brand, e.g: Mutti, Pomì, Molisana)
    • 300 g fresh bocconcini mozzarella
    • some extra-virgin olive oil
    • one pinch of salt
    • one pinch of dried oregano (optional)
    • some fresh basil leaves (optional)
    • moderate amounts of your favorite toppings (I used capers and onions)

    Preparation

    1. First, warm up the oven to 450 °F (240 °C). Allow 15 minutes for the oven to fully reach its temperature.
    2. Flatten the bread dough into a disc that fits the pan. The dough should feel fluffy and slightly elastic. If it's too elastic, give it some time to relax its gluten strands.
    3. Unless you are using a non-stick pan, coat the pan very lightly with some olive oil, then transfer the dough onto it (1).
    4. Add the strained tomatoes, a pinch of salt, the oregano and any toppings that need to be fully cooked, e.g.: onions, fresh mushrooms, peppers (2).
    5. Half-bake the pizza base for 7 minutes. This allows the dough to cook through, without the weight and moisture of the cheese.
    6. While the base cooks, chop the mozzarella in small bites and prepare any additional toppings that don't need to be fully cooked, e.g.: capers, olives, ham.
    7. Remove the pan from the oven (3) and quickly add the cheese and the remaining toppings. Put the pan back in the oven.
    8. When the cheese is completely bubbly and starting to brown in some spots (after about 7-8 minutes), the pizza is ready (4).
    9. Add a drizzle of olive oil or of chili oil (if desired) and the basil leaves, serve immediately.

    Notes

    The perforated pizza pan is essential to allow the dough to cook evenly without becoming crunchy. Its holes allow excess moisture and the CO2 produced by the leavening process to escape so that the dough can cook rapidly without forming bubbles. The thin aluminum allows the pan to match the temperature of the dough that lays on it, preventing any hardening.

    https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2011/07/home-style-pizza.html

    Formaggio – An Introduction to the Many Varieties of Italian Cheese

    Even though Italy is a pretty small place, its regions are quite different from one another. And cheese (formaggio , in Italian) is one of the products that changes the most across the territories. Since the area of origin is a big part of what defines each cheese’s properties, many Italian cheeses have a protected denomination under European Union law (PDO – “Protected Designtrecciation of Origin”, or DOP – “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” in Italian). For a cheese to be labeled as PDO, every step of its production needs to happen in a specified geographic area: from local cows eating local hay, through production happening entirely in local facilities, to aging (or, for fresh cheeses, just packing) occurring rigorously in place.

    Since Italian cheese names are so representative, in Italy they are never used as adjectives. For instance, you just say Mozzarella , not formaggio Mozzarella. And this even when the cheese name is indeed an adjective (for instance in the case of Parmesan which means ‘from the city of Parma’ – in Italian you just say Parmigiano , in English Parmesan cheese is instead more common). It has to be noted, however, that the name alone doesn’t guarantee the origin. For instance, “Mozzarella” isn’t a PDO cheese per se, while Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is (http://www.mozzarelladop.it/).

    Specialized cheese stores in North America can provide a good sampling of the most important cheeses found all around Italy. However, even the best stores are incapable of handling fresh cheeses (some need to be consumed within 3-4 days from their preparation), and locally made equivalents are sometimes sold instead (although, generally, they don’t compare with the originals).

    Cheese is considered very highly in Italy. Italians are very proud of and take their cheeses very seriously. They use them in their cuisine, but mostly eat them on their own, just with some bread or accompanied by fruit (pears, grapes), by compotes (figs), or kinds of honey. All aged cheeses go very well with wine. Often, cheese is a course on its own (served at the end of the meal, before fruit or dessert). Eating Italian cheese is a true multi-sensorial experience, from the look, to the aroma, to the deeply multi-faced flavor. And, with the many varieties found from north to south, cheese is also a fascinating journey, both geographically and historically.

    Let’s go over the main Italian cheeses, classifying them by the process used to make them.

    Formaggi a Pasta Cruda (Uncooked Cheeses)

    Fast ripening (less than 30 days):

    • Caciotta (e.g. Caciotta Toscana DOP) –usually a blend of ewe (70%) and cow (30%)– traditional creamy farmhouse cheese.
    • Mascarpone cow– one of the main ingredients of Tiramisù , also used in other preparations as an alternative to heavy cream or butter.
    • Stracchinocow– gets its name from the word ‘tired’ (in Lombard dialect: stracco), referring to the fact that used to be made from the milk of cows who were tired because of the transhumance to the valley after the alpine summer.
    • Caprinogoat– an aged version also exists.

    Medium ripening (1-6 months):

    • Bel Paese (trademark) –cow-.
    • Taleggio (PDO, Taleggio Valley, Lombardy) –cow– [pronounced “ta’leddʒo”, not “ta’lejeeo”!] when very young, tastes similar to Bel Paese.
    • Gorgonzola (PDO, Lombardy) –normally, cow– soft and creamy if is less than 2 months aged, crumbly and spicy-hot when aged for longer.

    Formaggi a Pasta Semicotta (Semi-cooked Cheeses)

    Medium ripening (1-6 months):

    • Fontina (PDO, Aosta Valley) –cow– soft when younger, harder and more pungent when aged. Differs from Danish fontina which has a red wax rind.
    • Asiago (PDO, Veneto region) –cow– great on its own as a table cheese, can be used on pasta (grated or in slivers).
    • Montasio (PDO, Friuli and Veneto regions) –cow– also consumed on its own or added as an ingredient to several dishes.
    • Piave (trademark, Veneto region) –cow– mostly a table cheese, three varieties are produced: mezzano (medium aged), vecchio (old), and stravecchio (extra-old).

    Formaggi a Pasta Cotta (Cooked Cheeses)

    Slow ripening (more than 9 months):

    • Grana Padano (PDO, northen Italy) –cow– considered inferior to Parmigiano Reggiano because aged less (9 months minimum) and produced with less strict quality regulations.
    • Parmigiano Reggiano (PDO, Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Mantua) –cow-, one of the most representative Italian cheeses in the world – its origins can be traced back to the middle ages and the recipe hasn’t changed substantially (this cheese is aged at least 12 months and up to 30). It’s eaten on its own or used as a complement to hundreds of recipes, most pasta dishes, and risottos.
    • Aged Pecorino – (4 varieties of PDO: Sardo, Romano, Toscano, Siciliano from the corresponding regions) –sheep– a mildly aged variety also exists.

    Formaggi a Pasta Filata (Spun Paste Cheeses)

    Fast ripening:

    • Mozzarellacow, water buffalo– can be made of cow milk, but the one made of water buffalo milk is more renowned and “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” is PDO. Small sized mozzarellas, usually with high water content are called bocconcini. Similar products are fior di latte and Treccia.
    • Scamorza (from the Naples area) –cow– both smoked and mild varieties are used for instance on pizza and with pasta.
    • Burrata (also from southern Italy) –cow or water buffalo- mozzarella on the outside and cream plus mozzarella on the inside. Eaten as is at room temperature is a true delicacy.

    Medium ripening (1 month):

    • Caciocavallo (southern Italy, e.g. PDO Caciocavallo Silano) –sheep, cow– a smoked variety also exists.
    • Provolone (e.g. PDO “Provolone Val Padana”) –cow– [pronounced provolone-eh!] originated in the south but is now produced mostly in northern Italy.

    One characteristic of Italian cheeses that definitely stands out in North America is that they often have some kind of moldy rinds. In general, the rinds are not meant to be eaten (with a few exceptions, e.g. scamorza and provola which have edible rinds), but they are essential for the aging process. Italian stores, whenever possible, try to keep the cheese wheels whole and only slice them to order (this is especially true for fresh or medium ripened cheese; aged cheese gets more “stable” and better maintains its properties when stored).

    Even though Italy is a big producer of cheese, a few foreign brands managed to make their way into the Italian cheese market, with moderate success. For instance, in 1971 the American Kraft introduced Philadelphia, a pre-packed cream cheese, and in 1975 a type of cottage cheese (sold under the brand name “Jocca”). Kraft also introduced a kind of processed cheese slices called “Sottilette” (Italian for “thins”). It has to be noted that the words “cottage cheese” and “cream cheese” don’t even exist in Italian, let alone “processed cheese” – these products are exclusively known by their brand names (to Kraft’s advantage).

    Pizza

    Everybody knows pizza, in a form or another, and so does for sure every Italian.

    In Italy, a ‘pizzeria’ (a restaurant specialized in serving pizzas) is the default for low-commitment dining, a place for every time Italians don’t feel like cooking (especially -for some reason- on Sunday nights). A traditional pizza is an affordable and reliable delicacy, and it’s something that can’t easily be made at home.

    Most people when going out for pizza, just get one pizza (usually with a beer or a coke) and they’re done. There could be appetizers, especially if the wait is going to be long, and desserts at the end. Typical pizzeria appetizers are: bruschetta grilled scamorza, calamari fritti (deep-fried squid). Typical desserts are: profiterol, tiramisù , millefoglie . Espresso coffee is almost a must when ending the meal, often accompanied by a liquor, such as limoncello , grappa , amaro.

    Delivery service exists, especially in the big cities, whereas in small towns pick-up is probably more frequent. Regardless, pick-up and delivery only represent a small percentage of the Italian pizza business (pizza degrades quickly when not eaten right away, especially in the cardboard box – when it comes to pizza most Italians prefer to eat out).

    There is, however, one type of pizza that Italians may take home and reheat, or get to go and eat right away as street food: it’s Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). This type of pizza (“bakery-style”, thicker, cooked in rectangular trays and sold in squares) can be a real treat but doesn’t compare with traditional pizzeria pizza.

    So, let’s talk some more about traditional pizza. Other than being thin crust, traditional pizza has to be cooked very quickly (in about 90 seconds), traditionally on the stone of a wood-fired brick oven (at 485 °C or 900 °F), and has to be made with high quality toppings such as fresh strained tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (also known as bocconcini) – the base of 95% of Italian pizzas. The other toppings depend on the style, and every pizzeria chooses what to put on the menu – some pizzerias may have more than a hundred types of pizza. Pretty much every pizzeria, however, also serves a number of traditional pizzas, which are always a big hit. The most important are:

    • Marinara (Sailor’s): tomato, garlic, oregano, oil.
    • Margherita (Margaret, named after Margherita of Savoy): tomato, mozzarella, basil, oil.
    • Capricciosa (Capricious): tomato, mozzarella, grated Parmigiano, basil, mushrooms, pickled artichokes, prosciutto cotto (not proscuitto! – Italian ham), olives, oil.
    • Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons): normally the same ingredients of ‘Capricciosa’, placed each one in one of the four quadrants.
    • Quattro Formaggi (not Quatro Fromaggio! – Four Cheeses): tomato (optional), mozzarella, other cheeses (such as gorgonzola , ricotta, fontina), basil.
    • Napoletana (Neapolitan): tomato, mozzarella, anchovies, oregano, capers (optional), oil.
    • Regina (Queen): tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms.
    • Vegetariana (Vegetarian): tomato, mozzarella, grilled vegetables, oil.
    • Calzone : usually a Margherita, Regina or Capricciosa pizza folded in half, sealed and baked more slowly than a regular pizza.

    Most Italians simply pick one of the many pizzas on the menu, or just make slight variations (e.g. double mozzarella, added fresh tomato slices, or added oregano). Some order a Margherita with an added topping or two, effectively making their own. This, however, is not very popular because Italians are very careful in combining ingredients – if two or three toppings go well together, chances are that their combination has a name and is already on the menu.

    In any case, the number of toppings should always be moderate. Italians don’t feel cheated if the toppings layer isn’t much thicker than the crust itself – the crust is not a tray that has to be filled up as much as it can hold! And if there’s meat, it should never be more than one kind (there is no meat lovers pizza in Italy).

    One last important thing to consider with toppings like cold cuts (e.g. prosciutto crudo), or greens (e.g. basil o arugula), is that they have to be added at the end as they shouldn’t be cooked.

    Which leads to a Top Five list of the most common mistakes made in North America when imitating traditional-style pizza:

    • #5: Using too many toppings or too much of each.
    • #4: Having an oily crust – the crust should be dry, either fluffy or crunchy depending on the style.
    • #3: Using rich tomato sauces instead of simple uncooked strained tomatoes.
    • #2: Using some processed cheese other than mozzarella.
    • #1: Using non-traditional toppings, such as chicken, ground beef, or -worse- exotic preparations (e.g. curry, teriyaki, Thai).