We have all heard about the ingredients of the Italian cuisine like olive oil, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, dried tomatoes, Italian Prosciutto, but do we really know what are these products made from and how to distinguish the best quality products from the rest? We have explained some ingredients that are very common in the Italian cuisine with a scope to allow you to better understand the tastes, the culture and the importance of quality.
Italian olive oil
Olive oil is a typical ingredient of all Mediterranean dishes. It is safe to say that in Italy it is one of the ingredients in almost all dishes. Olive oil is used to denominate all varieties of oil that come from processing the olives, but there are many other characteristics that define the quality of the product, and thus are important to get acquainted with.
Olio extravergine (extra virgin olive oil)
Extra virgin olive oil is the olive oil of highest quality. It is extracted mechanically from the fruits, without any chemical additives and excessive use of heat, with the presence of oleic acid less than 0.8 g per 100 g. It is a pure olive fruit juice.
There are different quality levels even within this category, while the taste varies from delicate to quite bitter. The most appreciated olive oil is the “olio extravergine estratto a freddo” or extra virgin olive oil extracted “at cold”. This means that in the process of the extraction the temperature of the olives and the oil did not exceed 27 degrees Celsius. By keeping the temperature this low, it is guaranteed that the smell of the oil is much better as well that the antioxidants are not destroyed during the process. If there is not the label estratto a freddo, this means that the temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius have been reached, which is much more effective in terms of the quantity of the oil produced, but the oil loses the taste, the smell and some of the important ingredients.
Olio vergine (Virgin olive oil)
It is the olive oil obtained from the fruits only mechanically. The presence of the oleic acid is less than 2g per 100g.
Refined olive oil
It is a type of olive oil that has been mechanically extracted from what had remained from the process of the previous oil extractions. This is the oil of the lowest quality.
Mozzarella cheese originates from southern Italy and it is strictly made from the milk of Italian Mediterranean buffalo and thus called “mozzarella di buffala”. Because of long isolation and lack of contact with other animals, Italian buffalo was officially recognized in 2000 as a bread on its own and depending on the breed, milk of Italian buffalo has a higher percentage of milk fat 6-9% in comparison to that of a cow.
Even the cow milk has been used in making mozzarella cheese, with the same process of preparation but under a different name “Fior di latte”.
It is a soft cheese that is usually consumed within a few days after production. Mozzarella is the main ingredient of many Italian dishes, but often it is consumed by itself with olive oil, depending on the tastes.
There are many types of Parmesan cheese produced in Italy. It is a main ingredient of many Italian cuisine dishes; usually it is grated over all kinds of pasta, risotto, even soups. It is made from semi fat cow milk which is cooked and then left to age for at least 9 months.
Two most well-known varieties of this cheese in Italy are:
Grana Padano- the name comes from the noun grana (grain) referring to the grainy texture, and Padano which comes from the name of the valley Pianura Padana. It was created some 900 years ago by Cistercian monks.
Parmigiano Reggiano- The name of this cheese comes from area where it is produced:Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emillia, Bologna, Modena etc.
There are two types of Prosciutto in Italy: Prosciutto crudo and Prosciutto cotto. Crudo is a dried version while cotto is the cooked variety. Outside of Italy the name exclusively represents the Prosciutto crudo version.
Prosciutto crudo- Certainly it is one of the most well-known products of Italy. The specific high quality of Italian prosciutto is renowned all over the world. It is made from pig’s ham in a process of aging that lasts anywhere from 9 months to 2 years. It is renowned for its fine unsalted taste, color and softness.
The most appreciated prosciutto comes from central and northern Italy, Parma (prosciutto di Parma), and San Daniele.
Prosciuttocotto-is what is known around the world as ham. Traditionally it is made from hind pork legs, which are processed and cooked. This is why it is called “cotto” which in Italian means cooked.
Dried tomatoes (pomodori secchi)
It is an important and delicious ingredient of the Mediterranean cuisine. Dried tomatoes are used as an ingredient or consumed on its own all across Italy. Tomatoes are dried in the sun and then preserved in olive oil, in order to preserve their healthy ingredients for the colder periods of the year.
Nowadays, the tomatoes are dried in industrial ovens, which is why some tomatoes can be too chewy and dry due to the excessive exposure to heat.
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