Gastronomic Gold

by Danilo Brunetti

The bel paese is praised for its DOP products, begging to be drizzled, grated, and stirred. Federico Schiaffino counts down the top Made in Italy edibles


Hands down the queen of Mediterranean cuisine, buffalo mozzarella is nicknamed “the pearl of the table” for its brilliant white color and delicacy. To earn the prestigious stamp of Made in Italy, the cheese must be produced with fresh whole Italian water buffalo’s milk. The name mozzarella derives from the word “mozzatura,” or to lop off , a nod to how the cheese is separated from the curd and hand-cut into separate pieces, then shaped into small bite-sized morsels (bocconcini), crisscrossed into plaits (trecce), or packaged and sold as a gluttonous glossy sphere. Mozzarella di bufala, a product of the Campania region, is eaten as is, melted over pizza, or stuffed inside fried zucchini blossoms.


If the Emilia Romagna region had a taste, it would undoubtedly be the sweet and sour DOP balsamic vinegar from Modena. The vinegar’s base is grape must, which is cooked for 24 hours, brought to a boil, reduced to half, and left to rest and mature in wooden barrels. In the following 12 years, the balsamic is repeatedly decanted into smaller and smaller barrels of different woods, each leaving a characteristic flavor to the bouquet of the final product. At the end of the process, 350 kilos of grapes produce 15 liters of balsamic vinegar, a dark, dense, syrupy liquid ideal on salads, cheeses, berries, ice cream, and more.


A precious culinary gem, Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP cheese, made with raw cow’s milk, and free of additives or preservatives. This type of parmigiano, produced in the Reggio Emilia region, is concocted only with the best milk, and undergoes a lengthy aging process and artisanal techniques that respect the rhythm of nature and tradition. Even the most famous chefs, Massimo Bottura among them, sing the praises of this humble cheese, capable of transforming any dish into a delectable masterpiece.


This celebrated thistle is the heart of Roman cuisine, best known for its preparation alla giudia, fried whole and served like a golden flower; or alla romana, steamed with herbs. It’s one of the oldest recorded ingredients in Italian cooking, traced back all the way to the Etruscan era and captured in frescoes found in Etruscan stronghold Tarquinia. Today, it’s a fundamental element of the Mediterranean diet, and perfectly marries with both meat or fish dishes.


This cheese can trace its roots back to Ancient Rome, when it was praised in De Re Rustica by Columnella. Roman legionaries are said to have brought it on long spells at sea, as its high salt content kept it fresh and edible for months. Nowadays, the savory hard cheese (aged anywhere from eight months to an astounding ve years) is truly the Eternal City’s formaggio of choice, and is used in traditional Roman pasta dishes like carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana, and gricia.


Whether grown “round” like in Chioggia or “long” as in Treviso, radicchio is a treasure of Venetian soil. The lettuce is red and violet in color, shot through with streaks of alabaster white. It’s found in supermarkets and green grocers from June to October, but the November harvest is when radicchio is at its peak. Veneto’s abundant water supply results in lovely radicchio, crisp and bitter in flavor. Typically, this veg is eaten raw, mixed into risottos, or paired with cheese—ricotta in particular.


The truffle’s nickname as the “diamond of the kitchen” is no exaggeration—its price on the market can spike as high as the exclusive gem. Luckily, only a few grates of the sharp and potent truffle are enough to add flavor to a dish. These precious tubers grow underground and originally pigs were employed to find them. The various types of tartufi include white, black, winter, summer, and more. Truffles are typically used to garnish eggs, risotto, gnocchi, and game.


This yellow spice is extracted from the stigmas of plants and dried to become a colorful condiment. Because saffron is gathered painstakingly by hand—and because it is extremely light—it’s rather pricey by weight: a kilo can go for €12,000. The most sought-after saffron comes from Navelli, in the province of Aquila, and San Gimignano. It’s most commonly mixed into risotto.


Vialone Nano Veronese is a prized variety of medium-grain Italian rice with Japanese origins, typical of southern Verona. It’s cultivated in clay- and water-rich ground, and is mostly commonly used in risotto. Top chefs consider Vialone the best rice in the world for its high starch content (ideal for creamy risottos) and its ability to maintain its shape and absorb liquid during cooking.


Is there anything more symbolic of Italian cuisine than the tomato? The pomodoro plays a starring role at the table, fundamental to the preparation of meat, seafood, and, naturally, pasta. It’s particularly vibrant and flavorful in the summertime, and among the numerous varieties of tomato available, those that inspire chefs the most are the pachino from Ragusa, Sicily, sweet and brilliant in color, and the piennolo from Vesuvius, with an almost smoky aftertaste, reminiscent of the volcanic soil where it is grown.


Known as “green gold,” this variety of pistachio (grown in the Bronte region of Catania, Sicily) has a vivid emerald color and slightly sweet flavor that makes it ideal in both savory and sugary recipes. You can find it in pestos, gelato, chocolates, and more. It is arguably most at home, however, in the Sicilian bakery, sprinkled on cannoli, and cooked into cakes, cookies, and other tempting desserts.


The success of this famed pasta is the favorable climate of Gragnano, in the province of Naples, which results in the perfect drying conditions. Gragnano pasta is made with a dough of durum wheat semolina and water from the local aquifer. It is yellow in color with a smooth exterior, without fissures or air bubbles. It’s without a doubt the most commonly used pasta in the kitchen of great chefs.