Mediterranean Diet is probably the healthiest diet, healthy way of living, in the world and the Italian Cuisine is probably the most popular cuisine in the world. What do the two have in in common? The Italian cuisine is one the many cuisines in the Mediterranean region and it is part of the Mediterranean Diet and heritage. You cannot be following the Med diet without including in your diet some Italian foods and be following the Italian cuisine and cooking or enjoying one of the many and great Italian foods!
Italian Cuisine has been recently voted as the most popular cuisine in the world and 5 out of the top 10 cuisines of the world are from the Mediterranean basin and are part of the Mediterranean cuisine. Let us explore some of the characteristics and differentiating factors of the Italian cuisine that would enable us to understand the real benefits and healthy attributes of the Italian food and products.
Quality of Ingredients: The ingredients used in the Italian foods by the Italian chefs are important since they define the taste of the specific food. The quality of ingredients is so important in Italian cooking and this is the reason that in most of the Italian restaurants these ingredients are picked or shopped by the chefs themselves. Italian cuisine and cooking is so simplistic, few and good quality ingredients are used so that you would understand what you are eating! So you need to pick the freshest and the best ingredients which will be used in your cooking in order to produce a high quality Italian food and for you to be successful and satisfy your customers or guests. So talking about specific ingredients let us talk about Parmigiano cheese. Parmigiano cheese is unique and if you want to get the real flavor in your Italian food then Parmigiano cheese is the right way to go. Another must ingredient in Italian food is extra virgin olive oil. There are a great number of extra virgin oil brands and even in Italy there are many extra virgin oil varieties. You need to pick the right extra virgin oil for the right recipe and food you are preparing, one which would match and blend with the other ingredients. Other produces like vegetables, which are used in Italian foods, have to do with seasonality. You would want to use the freshest which are in the market since the freshest ones are usually the ones in season and the cheapest of the vegetables you may find in the market. They are not only the most affordable and freshest but they are the tastiest ones! Once you have selected the quality ingredients the next important factor is how you pair these ingredients. In Italy and the Italian cuisine what grows in the area, locally, works and pairs best with the other ingredients of the area so you need to know a little bit about regional Italian cooking in order to put together and match the right ingredients!
Authentic Italian Products: If you want to use authentic Italian produce while cooking your favourite Italian foods or while serving your favourite Italian antipasti you need to know and understand certain labels that you may find on these products. Some of these labels are:
DOP: Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin): It is the European Union designation for the earlier Italian DOC which stands for Denominazione Di Origine Controllata (Controlled Designation of Origin). Both DOP and DOC are legal to use but these days DOC is used mostly for wines. The DOP designation indicates that the product was made in a particular area for which it is typical using traditional methods. It protects traditional foods from inferior imitations! The law protecting DOP products specifies the ingredients and production methods. It can also specify the race of the animal, the milk or meat comes from, for cheese and Salume for example, what that animal was fed on, and how the product is subsequently matured or aged! For example Parmigiano Reggiano DOP is produced in a small area from the milk of specific breed of cows in accordance with traditional methods and only cheese that meets these specific criteria can be labelled and called Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. Parmesan on the other hand, is the general term applied to other similar cheeses made outside that specific area and often outside Italy and as an imitation of the real product. So it is important to keep this distinction in mind when shopping and understand the difference in prices between the various products and also the difference in quality and taste. DOP products are products of higher quality which are been sold at higher prices. Some DOP products which can be found outside Italy include: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Pecorino Toscano, Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena and Mozzarella di Bufala.
IGP: Indicazione Geographica Protetta (Protected Geographical Indication). It applies to products that are specific to an area but can be made with ingredients from elsewhere. Some of the IGP products are: Lardo di Colonnala, the cure pork fat matured in special marble basins in Tuscany. The special microclimate of the area and the methods of production give this product unique features and the IGP designation protects it from inferior imitations. The IGP designation is often used for fruits, vegetables and other produce like: the Lemons of Sorrento, the porcino tomatoes of Sicily, the lentils of Umbria, all of which is found on the Mediterranean Diet pyramid and can be used for any Mediterranean Diet food.
There are many Italian products which are traditional of Italy and do not carry the DOP and IGP designation and yet they can be used to produce authentic and high quality Italian food. If however you are looking for authentic quality take a look for the DOP and IGP designations.
Italian Cuisine is the cuisine which can be found all over the world and in almost all the towns of the world you can find a small or a large Italian restaurant or Pizza place. Italian food is the common food not only in Italian and American homes but in homes all over the world and we are sure that you may find plenty Italian foods and recipes which can satisfy your taste and desire and keep you on track the healthy and nutritional Mediterranean diet.