The Italian culinary experience is one that is envied all over the world. People travel from miles around to enjoy the seasonal dishes created by some of the great Italian chefs, whether they be some of the biggest names in the industry or local chefs who have gained renown for the quality of their work.
Now we would be remiss to claim that Italian cooking revolves around three core ingredients. However, it would also be true to say that Italy has built up something of a reputation for the production of the three things that we will be looking at today.
We are, of course, talking about wine, olive oil, and tomatoes. All three play pivotal roles in the Italian culinary experience and at least one of them will often serve as the base of most of the dishes you will enjoy during your time in Italy. Further, people from all over the world happily import all three things as it is universally recognized that Italy stands at the top of the mountain when it comes to production of all three.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at each item individually and discuss how each influences Italian culture.
Let’s start with our bread and butter, because by now you already know just how important the wine industry is to Italy. It is absolutely huge. There are thousands of producers dotted throughout the country, all of whom pour their efforts into making amazing drinks for you to consume. There is enormous variety, thanks to each region having its own grapes and types of wine, which means you can ever be stuck for choice with Italian wine.
The industry itself dates back before Italy was even recognized as a country. The Byzantine Empire was make wine during its occupation of the territory, as too were the Greeks and Romans. The point is that wine has been in the land since before the era when the land was Italy.
The industry really came to the fore once Italy became something more of a concept. During the Medieval and Middle Age periods, Italy was not so much a country as it was a fractured group of kingdoms, all of which vied for supremacy with one another. Even during this period, wine was important. It was during this time that the Antinori family started making a name for itself and wines such as Bolero, the wine of kings, became popular. Wine was an important import to the rest of Europe and that trend has only continued to grow in the centuries since Italy has united.
In the modern age, Italy competes with France and a few other countries to become the largest purveyor of wine. For us, that means even more great drinks and food combinations that all define what it is to be Italian. It is no overstatement to say that Italy would not be the country it is today if it were not for the wine industry.
You may not see olive oil as being immediately important. After all, it’s just an ingredient you use during cooking, right? That is not the viewpoint held in Italy. Olive oil has almost as rich a history as the Italian wine industry and there are many producers of the oil throughout the country.
Historians generally agree that the practice of pressing olives for their oils dates all the way back to about 3,000 B.C. As with many other innovations, it was the Greeks who first saw the potential for olive oil and their use of it spread throughout the Mediterranean regions in the years that followed.
The Romans happily adopted olive oil, with ancient author Cato going into great detail about the process of creating olive oil in his writings. This practice has endured to the modern age and olive oil is now one of the primary markets in Italy.
Did you know that olive oil has its own set of classifications in much the same way as the wine industry has the DOC? The DOP oversees olive oil production throughout the country and is responsible for handing out grades to each product so you know how good it is. The top grade is “Extra Virgin”, which shows that the oil is as pure as pure can be. On top of that, the DOP also oversees the various regions where olive oil is produced in much the same way as the DOC does for wine.
The fact that the DOP even exists should tell you everything you need to know about the importance of olive oil to the Italians. It is an industry that rivals any other in the country and you will find many an olive oil producer taking great pride in their work.
All you need to do to realise how important a role tomatoes play in Italian cuisine is to think about some of your favourite Italian dishes. From the sauces used in pizza and for pasta through to more traditional Italian dishes, tomatoes are integral to the Italian food experience so it should come as no surprise that the country plays host to a ton of farms dedicated to growing the fruit (and it is a fruit, even though many people see it as a vegetable).
Italy respects its tomato industry so much that it has even requested protection from the European Union to help it ensure its tomatoes continue to be recognized as some of the best in the world. These efforts have paid off too. You will usually see plenty of imported Italian tomatoes in your local supermarket, alongside the many canned varieties that people often use in creating their sauces.
Much like with wine and olive oil, tomatoes hold an indelible place in the Italian economy. As a single foodstuff, it is perhaps the most important to come out of the country. Beyond that, Italian tomatoes are crucial in the creation of so many different dishes, making them one of the country’s most important culinary cornerstones.