Parmigiano Reggiano has existed since ancient times, and is made from the milk of cows of Emilia-Romagna. It is sold by weight, and purists prefer to buy it cut in thin slices rather than grated. Reggiano should not be confused with industrially-produced variety, the padano, or with the prcorino romano, a slightly spiced and very salty goat’s cheese.
Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic Vinegar)
Quite expensive type of vinegar with a distinctive and attractive brown color and a very strong taste. It is a specialty of the Modena city (Emilia Region) and is made from the most of Trebbiano grapes, a vine of the Latium region, kept for a long time and matured for several yearsin gradually smaller barrels made of different woods (oak, chesnut, cherry, ash and mulberry). Balsamic vinegar is good for sore throats and the heart, and goes well with salads, meat, risottos, and even strawberries.
Italy’s 180 million olive trees produce 624,200 tonnes of olive oil every year. These are graded into different categories, according to EU regulation. The best oil is calles ‘extra virgin’ (olio extra vergine di oliva) and is pressed out of the olives at room temperature, just like a fruit juice; to be refined, it needs to be heated. If added to olive oils, it becomes plain olive oil. Italian extra virgin olive oil is also reputed for its extensive health benefits.
The mozzarella produced in most dairies today is made with cow’s milk and has little taste. By far the best type of mozzarella is the mozzarella di Bufala (made from buffalo milk), which owes its taste to the briny nature of Agro Pontino, an area of marchland to the south of Rome. This delicate cheese can’t be kept long, and is delicious on pizzas, or eaten with tomatoes, or prosciutto.
Prosciutto crudo is an Italian seasoned ham specialty. Norcia prosciutto is a salted mountain ham, which is matured over six to eight months, during which time it’s washed in red wine and spiced with garlic. Parma ham on the other hand is slightly salted and matured over ten months. It’s usually served thinly sliced, even if some prefer thick hand cut slices. The most sought after and expensive hams are Parma and San Daniele.
Rather like the plant world, which is divided into families, genera and species, pasta can be devided into frech pasta, dry pasta or filled pasta, with or without eggs. Parmesan is never used on some types of pasta, usually with fish or lots of garlic. If the waiter does not bring the Parmesan cheese, it probably does not go with your pasta.
Romans like their pizza thin and light, unlike napilotans and Americans. The best pizza restaurants will always cook with wood and fire, and will use fresh ingredients. Napolitans claim to have the best pizza, but many connaisseurs prefer the delicate taste and composition of a good Roman pizza.
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