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Bagna Cauda from Piedmont: the ultimate guide

To Charly

It’s winter, it’s cold, what better than a good dish to warm the soul?

Maybe you lost track of where it came from, or maybe your nonna told you that bagna cauda comes from the wonderful Piedmont area of Italy.

Whatever the case, this dish is as unique as its origin, with its garlic and anchovy flavour, perfect for the autumn season.

But if you have no idea what I’m talking about when you hear bagna cauda, here it is.

Bagna Cauda (in standard Italian and in Piedmontese bagna càuda – pronunciation: ‘baña cáuda’) is the typical dish par excellence of Piedmont. It is a winter dish, a starter or main course, a speciality of ancient Piedmont, similar to a fondue, because the base is a sauce, and you can dip things in it.

If you make this recipe, you can accompany it at the end with my traditional recipe of Limoncello! In this article you will find

  1. The origin of the name Bagna Cauda
  2. Bagna Cauda is a widespread and multifaceted recipe
  3. The Piedmontese version of Bagna Cauda and its historical origins
    1. A ‘poor man’s dish’ and therefore ignored by international cuisine for a long time
  4. The role of the ”anciué”
  5. How to prepare bagna cauda according to the traditional Piedmontese recipe
    1. Ingredients for 12 people
    2. Procedure
  6. What should the ingredients of bagna cauda piamontesa be like?
  7. Limoncello, nonna’s lemon liqueur
  8. Leave a Reply Cancel reply
  9. Foodie Stories
  10. Foodie Recipes
  11. Traditional Food

The origin of the name

We know that bagna caoda derives from the two terms ‘bagna’, which in Piedmontese means sauce or broth, and ‘caoda’, which means hot: hence hot sauce.

Bagna Cauda is a widespread and multifaceted recipe

The interesting thing about this recipe is that although it is of Italian origin, with the colonisation of territories such as Argentina, Brazil or the United States, the recipe also arrived. And as the people had other types of vegetables and food, they created their own versions of the dish.

The Piedmontese version of Bagna Cauda and its historical origins

In Piedmont, it is prepared with anchovies, oil and garlic and is used as a sauce for fresh vegetables in the autumn season. As it is a hearty dish, it is usually considered as a main course, but sometimes it can also be served as an appetizer at a dinner with friends… In fact, in ancient times, it was during gatherings and dinners with friends that this dish was prepared, and over time it has become a symbol of friendship and joy. In reality, the origins of bagna caoda are shrouded in mystery, as it is not known exactly when, where and by whom this dish was invented, and it does not even have a city of residence, but it is known that the winemakers of the late Middle Ages adopted this recipe to celebrate a very important event such as the gleaning of the new wine.

A ‘poor man’s dish’ and therefore ignored by international cuisine for a long time

For a long time, bagna caoda remained the dish only of the poor and peasants, as the aristocrats abhorred it because of the abundance of garlic. With the passage of time, this dish has been revalued and, today, many trattorias and restaurants, especially in Piedmont, offer bagna caoda on their menus.

The role of the ”anciué”

Giovanni Del Puy and his wife Giovanna Girardi, historic anchovy sellers from Asti. The ancioé ( anchoé), until not so long ago, systematically travelled the countryside to sell “door to door”.

Anchovies, thanks to the itinerant anciués who transported them in barrels or in the large multicoloured tins of 10 or more kilos, could be bought by the peasant families in small weekly quantities. 

In the past, salt was a very precious good and sometimes more expensive than other foodstuffs, so families preferred to obtain salt from salted fish, rather than buying salt directly.

How to prepare bagna cauda according to the traditional Piedmontese recipe

The Asti Delegation of the Italian Cooking Academy, on February 7, 2005, registered this recipe as the one to be considered the most reliable.

Ingredients for 12 people
  • 12 cloves of garlic,
  • 6 glasses of extra virgin olive oil and, if possible, a small glass of walnut oil,
  • 600 grams of red anchovies from Spain.
  1. Cut the garlic cloves, previously stripped of their shoots.
  2. Put the garlic in an earthenware casserole, add a glass of oil and start cooking over very low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon and taking care that they do not brown.
  3. Then add the desalted and de-boned anchovies, washed in red wine and dried, stirring gently.
  4. Cover with the remaining oil and cook the sauce over low heat for half an hour, making sure that the sauce does not get cold.
  5. At the end of cooking, if a milder flavor is desired, you can add a small piece of very fresh butter.
  6. Pour the bagna into the corresponding “fujot”, small earthenware or terracotta ovens, and accompany it with the following vegetables: raw cardoons from Nice, Jerusalem artichokes, white cabbage hearts, endive and chicory, fresh peppers and peppers with tail, raw onions pickled and bathed in Barbera wine; cooked red beets, boiled potatoes, roasted onions, fried pumpkin, roasted peppers.
  7. It is traditional to collect the “thick bagna” at the end by scrambling an egg in it.

What should the ingredients of bagna cauda piamontesa be like?

bagna cauda
Bagna Cauda piamontesa en un fujol
  • Anchovies should preferably be “Spanish red anchovies”, so called because of their origin and the colour that their flesh acquires after perfect and prolonged salting, seasoned for at least one year. Avoid using anchovies in fillets in jars.
  • The oil should be extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Liguria.
  • Bagna Cauda should be kept at a high temperature, but should not be fried or smoked. It is eaten by dipping raw autumn vegetables in it, among which the coveted white thistle, the “gobbo” of Nizza Monferrato and raw or roasted peppers are protagonists.
  • Then raw cabbage, baked red beet, topinabò – Jerusalem artichoke -, boiled potato, cabbage, endive or chicory hearts, spring onion, boiled cauliflower and any other vegetable you want to try. All fall vegetables are fine, but many gourmets avoid the more aromatic ones such as celery or fennel.
  • Peppers can be eaten fresh, “cut into ribs”, or pickled in the smujà version.
  • Some people also add spicy or chilli, to give an extra touch to the Bagna Cauda.

Enjoy your bagna cauda!

Parmigiano Reggiano VS Parmesan

Probably the most famous of all cheeses and an emblem of world cuisine. In Italy, they call it The King of Cheeses. But, like for every famous product, it has copycats, which in this case, we know as Parmesan.

However, since ancient times that fame has brought producers of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO more than one headache.

Parmigiano Reggiano is the most imitated cheese in the world. 

Today it is said that the production of imitation cheese has already surpassed that of the original PDO cheese. This means the equivalent of about 200 million tons per year in the world.

In this article you will learn:

Parmigiano Reggiano VS Parmesan: What is imitation cheese?

What is the difference between Italian Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Parmesan?

How to recognize a Parmigiano Reggiano PDO?

Why is it important to consume the original product?

How was imitation Parmigiano Reggiano born?

Is Parmigiano Reggiano PDO better than Parmesan?

Does Parmesan cheese harm or benefit the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO market?

Parmigiano Reggiano imitation cheese

Coldiretti, an organization that defends the interests of agriculture in Italy, denounces that the market of false Italian cheeses is stealing market space from ‘Made in Italy’ products.

For instance, in the cheese market of allegedly ‘Italian brands’ in the United States, only one per cent actually comes from Italy. This market is constantly expanding: in the last decade, it has grown by about 70 per cent.

parmigiano reggiano dop

In recent years, the phenomenon of imitating Parmigiano Reggiano PDO has also taken hold on the Internet. To give an example, on the online sales platform Alibaba, a 5 thousand ton of imitation Parmigiano Reggiano was stopped in 2017. This amount is equal to half of the monthly production of the authentic product.

What is the difference between Italian Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Parmesan?

Parmesan, Parmesano, Reggianito and Parmesão are generic names, not protected by intellectual property law with a Protected Designation of Origin. So they do not have a regulation or a specific production region like Parmigiano Reggiano PDO. 

Parmigiano Reggiano PDO can only be produced in the defined production region, following strict production regulations. These regulations determine the ingredients, do not allow the addition of additives or preservatives, describe the tools to be used in the process, and define the maturation times. This is done to obtain a cheese that is the same as it was nine centuries ago. 

Parmesan, Reggianito and Parmesano don’t have a production standard

In the case of the generic name ‘Parmesan’, ‘Reggianito’ or ‘Parmesan’, as there are no standards of production, it is all up to the producer. So, a Parmesan producer in the United States can choose whether to add additives or preservatives to their cheese, how long it will age and even the type of milk they will use.

It is not that an ordinary producer cannot make cheese the way he likes, even in the same way as Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese is made. Hence, the problem lies in the use of the name Parmigiano Reggiano or any name that alludes to it or remembers it. Or even misleads the consumer into thinking that it is that product. In such cases, it is a usurpation of the name.

But before we can recognize the imitation Parmesan cheese, we must first know the original.

Therefore, if you want to know about the history and production of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO, read this article.

And if you want to know more about what it is and the different types of Parmigiano, read this article.

How to recognize a Parmigiano Reggiano PDO?

It’s very easy.

We know that it is forbidden to sell the wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO cheese, therefore the original cheese is sold in pieces generally heat-sealed. This plastic must have logos printed on its surface. Look for the logos of the Denomination of Origin and of the Consorzio di Tutela, if it is original it must have them.

On an organoleptic level, it is more difficult to recognize Parmigiano Reggiano PDO. Also, depending on the maturation of the cheese, the flavours and aromas change a lot. However, it is possible to try to recognize the characteristic straw yellow colour and the calcium crystals when cutting the cheese. This could be done by a cheese taster or sensory analyst specialized in cheese.

If we are an average consumer it is better to look for the logos. 

And if the logos are not there, be suspicious that it is probably not an original Parmigiano Reggiano PDO.

Why is it important to consume the original product?

Parmigiano Reggiano has a unique taste, like milk, nuts, grass from the Padana plain, and a history that few traditional products can demonstrate. By consuming a product with a Protected Designation of Origin, we help producers to continue producing with that age-old excellence and we ensure the product’s permanence for future generations.

Also, we help combat the market of imitation cheeses, which take advantage of the fame of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP to promote their cheeses.

How was imitation Parmigiano Reggiano born?

The imitation was born almost at the same time as the product. 

When someone succeeds, what happens around them?

People want to copy the success formula and the imitation begins. That happened with our cheese when it started to become famous in Europe in the 15th century. Then the Duke of Parma passed a law saying that only cheese produced in his region could be called Parmesan. 

At the European level, the law was respected. But the wars and famines in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries generated waves of migration to the so-called ‘new colonies’ of Europe in the world. Millions of immigrants from Europe and other continents came to these new colonies in search of a better life.

little Italy in New York, one of the possible birthing places for Parmesan
Mulberry Street, along which is centered Little Italy in New York City. Lower East Side, 1900

And as is to be expected in every new place, one tries to replicate the living conditions in his place of origin. Hence, when the Italians from the area of Parma, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Modena arrived in American countries such as the United States, Brazil and Argentina, they began to produce cheese, like the one they knew how to make. 

Why didn’t they call it Parmigiano Reggiano?

They didn’t call it Parmigiano because Italians used to call it the cheese Parmesan at that time. Until the 19th century in Italy Parmigiano Reggiano was known as Parmesan. 

They were not going to imagine that by that simple name they were going to generate serious international problems between Europe and the United States in the next centuries.

It was not until 1938 that the Parma and Reggio Emilia regions came together to call it Parmigiano Reggiano.

Is Parmigiano Reggiano PDO better than Parmesan?

We don’t know, it is up to the consumer. One thing about Parmigiano Reggiano is that its production rules are much stricter than those of Parmesan, which has no specific standards.

In some cases, by following certain quality rules, a similar product could be obtained. 

Tip: buy and try both. Both products can be bought online and even in several Italian or regular markets.

Does imitation Parmesan harm or benefit the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP market?

Parmesan in the United States, Australia, South Africa and Russia, Parmesan in Uruguay, Reggianito in Argentina, Parmesan in Brazil, all variations of the same name. 

In fact, these countries could not use these names to designate their cheeses, since it leads the consumer to confusion as to whether or not it is the Italian product.

But by intellectual property law, the name Parmesan, Parmigiano or Reggiano is not protected, only that of the Parmigiano-Reggiano duo. Moreover, the use is deeply rooted in the culture, and for some small producers, this would be huge damage to the promotion of their products. This is why some exceptions are made.

Is it really a usurpation of the Italian market?

Or does this imitation product on the one hand damages and on the other hand serves as free advertising for the market of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP?

The numbers speak for themselves, and the fact is that the market for PDO Parmigiano Reggiano in the world does not stop growing.

Sales of PDO Parmigiano Reggiano are on the rise and it is a gourmet product with a higher margin.

Some numbers…

In 2019, Italy accounted for just under 60% of total PDO Parmigiano Reggiano consumption, compared to an export share of 41%. 

France is the main market (21% of total exports), followed by the United States (20.9%), Germany (17.8%), the United Kingdom (12.3%), and Canada (3.9%). 

The reason for this phenomenon may be because today consumers want to know more about the products they consume and prefer more original and local products 

The average consumer is more and more informed. Then it is expected that by knowing the history of real Parmigiano Reggiano, he or she will want to have a better culinary experience and will go for the original cheese.

Consumption habits are rooted in the culture 

Parmigiano Reggiano arrived in America through migratory flows and that is also how the consumption habit was born in these countries. The immigrants probably produced a very handmade imitation and far from judging it, it can be considered the way of subsistence of the newcomers.

Therefore, at first, there would not be an implicit intention to imitate the product, but the consumption habits of the society that was accustomed to the Parmesan cheese possibly facilitated the entry of the product in the international market.

But there is also a malicious imitation

One cannot defend the real and conscious usurpation and use of the name when one is already aware of its value but also of the legal problems that the use of the name for advertising purposes can bring. 

But on the other hand, Italy defends Parmigiano Reggiano PDO, even though it seems that imitations enhance its fame and indirectly increase its sales. 

How fascinating is the world of the intellectual property of food!

This story teaches us that migratory currents generate changes in food, new consumption habits, products are born and thus world gastronomy is enriched. 

Parmigiano Reggiano: History and production

In the northern Italian region of Padana, winters were harsh during most of the High Middle Ages. This usually meant food shortages, increased diseases and a daily life that involved hard work and sacrifice to survive. Humble populations struggled during the warm seasons to accumulate food that could help them survive the cold seasons. 

The Benedictine and Cistercian religious monks at that time were among the few privileged who had access to manuscripts which lead them to greater knowledge. This helped them to face and solve hunger and diseases successfully or in a more efficiently way than the rest of the population. Thus, the monks implemented conservation principles to make food more durable and nutritious. They began getting involved in raising dairy cattle among other duties.

Nine centuries ago, in this context of need and desperation to preserve nutritious food to survive terrible winters, the famous Parmigiano Reggiano was born.

Parmigiano reggiano painting
The beginnings of Parmigiano Reggiano, Il formadio or the ‘form of God’ (forma=form, dio=God). Formadio was the name by which the cheese was known at that time. It later derived into formaggio which means cheese in Italian. This painting represents the production of Parmigiano in the Middle Ages.

In this article you will find:

History of Parmigiano Reggiano

How is Parmigiano Reggiano produced?

History of Parmigiano Reggiano

The Benedictine and Cistercian cheese dairies 

It was the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries that made the first Parmigiano Reggiano about 900 years ago.

The ingredients are still the same today: 

  • Water
  • Rennet
  • Salt
  • Milk 
  • A lot of patience for preparation

The need to generate a nutritious product to eat during the winter and the presence of the Salsomaggiore saline (for salting), led to the creation of this very special product.

The name derives precisely from the place of its production: from Parma comes Parmigiano and from Reggio Emilia comes Reggiano. 

If we take a really close look at the granulated Parmigiano cheese with a very powerful magnifying glass, it will reveal not only an immutable multitude of granules associated with the fact of being cheese, but even a panorama. It is an aerial photo of Emilia taken from a position equal to that of the Eternal Father.

Giovannino Guareschi

The first mentions in history

Parmigiano Reggiano was first described in the 12th century.

A notarial act in Bibbiano (Italy) speaks of the caseus parmensis. It is mentioned in a document because it was with the production of this cheese that the monks paid the rent of the abbey to the landowners. This parchment is the oldest document to mention the cheese in the lands where Parmigiano Reggiano is produced today.

In the 14th century it was the abbeys who had a monopoly on production and marketed it throughout Italy up to the Mediterranean.

A growing reputation

In the Decameron (1344), Giovanni Boccaccio describes a world called the Country of the Bengodi, an ideal place where everything abounds: food and pleasures.

And what can abound in the ideal country of an Italian? Parmigiano Reggiano, of course.  

[…]Berlinzone, a city of the Basques, in a country called Bengodi, where the vines are tied up with sausages and a goose is to be had for a farthing and a gosling into the bargain, and that there was a mountain all of grated Parmesan cheese, whereon abode folk who did nothing but make maccaroni and ravioli and cook them in capon-broth, after which they threw them down thence and whoso got most thereof had most; and that hard by ran a rivulet of vernage, the best ever was drunk, without a drop of water therein.

Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio

Parmigiano was one of the great pleasures within the reach of people who struggled to survive in times of hunger and the Black Death.

Parmigiano Reggiano’s expansion into Europe

As time went by, the fame of this cheese increased.

This cheese was very easy to trade because of its long-lasting parked that need no refrigeration. With time, it increased its popularity tremendously.

From the 16th century onwards, it was marketed all over Europe: the “forms” reached Germany, France and Flanders (today Belgium) where it was mentioned by the most famous chefs of the time. 

Vincenzo Campi, 'Cucina' (1580). This oil painting on canvas shows a woman grating parmigiano reggiano cheese as the central character.
Vincenzo Campi, ‘Cucina’ (1580). This oil painting on canvas shows a woman grating parmesan cheese as the central character.

The beginning of a need for protection: Designation of Origin 

Although the great fame, the need for protection also increased.The imitation of the Parmigiano Reggiano was beginning to appear and to expand widely.

In fact, on August 7, 1612 the first Denomination of Origin made by the Duke of Parma became official. He established the places from which the product must come to be called by its name. However, he had to wait until 1992 to obtain protection at European level and a lot of fraud happened in between. 

Parmigiano Reggiano Protected Designation of Origin is regulated by a Consorzio di Tutela. This consortium includes all the Parmigiano Reggiano producers in the region.

It is also responsible for quality control of the production facilities and the final product, deciding whether or not a last can be called Parmigiano Reggiano. We will expand on this further on.

An interesting present

In addition to its long history, Parmigiano Reggiano has a fame that continues to grow on and a reputation that reaches all the kitchens of the world. However, there is one thing that has not changed in Parmigiano Reggiano in the last 900 years: the way it is produced.

Despite technological advances, no additives or preservatives were ever allowed to be added to this product.

It is still the same one that the monks consumed in 1200 and paid their rents with!

Parmigiano reggiano brand Bertozzi logo
A 1930’s Parmigiano Reggiano advertisement. It represents three judges, recognizable by their wigs, smelling the Parmigiano Reggiano of the Bertozzi Company of Parma, delighted. The company Bertozzi was founded in 1901.

Parmigiano Reggiano production

I will tell you a bit about how Parmigiano Reggiano PDO is produced according to the current regulations. It is important to remember that, being a Protected Designation of Origin, nothing can be changed about the product or its production so it remains always the same.

It is all ruled by the Geographical Indications’ law of intellectual property.

Let’s start with the ingredients.

Ingredients of the Parmigiano Reggiano

The production of any food takes ingredients. As I mentioned above, the ingredients you need to create Parmigiano Reggiano are Milk, Natural serum, Rennet and Salt in form of brine.

No additives, flavourings or preservatives.

Each copper boiler with a capacity of 1100 liters will result in two forms of Parmigiano Reggiano in each production. To obtain a 35-kilogram last, you need 550 liters of milk!

And it all starts before dawn.

The raw material arrives at the establishment

To start the process, milk from cows is partially skimmed and then poured into an inverted bell-shaped copper boiler. The fat obtained from the milk is used to produce butter (another creation of that time).

It usually depends on the production regulations, but the breed of cow to be used can be Friesian, Red Reggiana or Bruna. 

The milk is transformed into cheese

Then, whey obtained from the previous day’s production —rich in lactic ferments— is added to the milk and heated to 33 degrees.

We add calf rennet obtained from the stomachs of lactating calves and in about 10-15 minutes we obtain a curdled milk.

The curdled milk is broken

With a device called spino, the curd is broken into granules and then the cooking phase begins up to 55 degrees.

Obtaining the cheese mass

The final cooked mass is compact and heavy. It is lifted on a linen cloth and cut in two. Each dough is placed to rest in a wooden mould where it will take its characteristic shape.


Each form is assigned a casein plate with an unique and progressive alphanumeric code: this is the identity card that allows to identify its origin at any time and in any place.

After a few hours, a special marking strip records the month and year of production, the serial number that distinguishes the cheese and the unmistakable writing dotted around the circumference of the cheese.


The cheese is salted and immersed in a natural salt solution for about sixteen to twenty days. With this last step the cheese production cycle ends and the maturing period begins.

The importance of time

“Age is not important unless you’re a cheese

Hellen Hayes

Ripening is carried out on wooden boards in suitable rooms with controlled temperature and humidity. The history of Parmigiano Reggiano is long, but it is also slow, flowing at the natural rhythm of the seasons.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese making

The birth of a Parmigiano Reggiano PDO

Only the cheeses that pass a very strict selection are marked with the oval stamp that identifies Parmigiano Reggiano DOP at the age of twelve months. This ripening period is the longest of all the cheeses with a Protected Designation of Origin in Italy. From that moment on they will be called Parmigiano Reggiano or not.

An interesting fact is that this cheese has no maturation limit. We can find Parmigiano Reggianos of eighteen, twenty four, thirty six and even fourty months old of maturation, almost three years and a half!


A representative of the Designation of Origin Consortium  called  ‘Battitore’ visits the establishment for the selection process. He uses a special hammer to check each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano (in addition to the visual and organoleptic control with the use of a needle) to “listen” for defects inside.

The sound of the hammer hitting the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese changes with the ripening time. It becomes weaker and sounds like a solid structure. The internal structure of the cheese becomes more compact.

Sadly, there are no schools to become a battitore yet, the only way you can become one is to practice and learn from another very experienced specialist.


If it passes the hammer test but has some defects that do not allow it to be called Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, the cheese will be called formaggio nazionale or national cheese. 

We can find this type of cheese in many restaurants in Italy. There is a regulation that prohibits the sale of the whole wheel of cheese, so it’s only for sale in vacuum-packed pieces.

After selection the product can take two paths: 

  • The cheapest is going directly to supermarkets or gourmet shops within 12 months of maturation. Exception: Parmigiano Reggiano Vacca Rossa is not available until 24 months because of its different quality milk.
  • Continue its ripening until 18, 24, 30, or even 40 months and then go on sale. The classic Parmigiano Reggiano has 24 months of maturation.

There is a regulation that prohibits the sale of the whole wheel of cheese. So it’s for sale in vacuum-packed pieces.

A promising future

Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheeses, is a jewel both as a food and because of the history it carries on with it through generations.

Either as the main ingredient of the ideal country of Boccaccio or as for the years of its intact production and it different uses in history, as well as a form of payment once, it always remains as a nutritious food accompanying travelers, children and the elderly. 

Its worldwide fame will continue to grow and I hope that the uses of Parmigiano Reggiano in international cuisine will increase.

With the recent growth in sales of Parmigiano Reggiano to Middle Eastern Countries, I´m eager to witness all the culinary surprises we will experience in the future.

It is important to underline the role of the Consortium for the Protection of the Designation of Origin in the protection and promotion of the Parmigiano Reggiano terroir. Not only promoting the product but also maintaining the local customs that surround it. Its pale yellow colour, its graininess, its taste of milk, nuts, and herbs from the Padana plain…

If you ever tried it, you will know what I mean. If that is not your case, it´s never too late to step in this fascinating world of the King of Cheeses, from which there is no turning back, I must warn you.

Dive in and enjoy.

Parmigiano Reggiano, for me, is the complete cheese, the king cheese. Indeed, even as a table cheese, it has a fragrance, an aroma, that satisfies both the delicate and the strong customer. And it is always the cheese that satisfies both the competent and the poet of the table.

Louis Carnacina
parmigiano reggiano cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano, the King of cheeses

Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian cheese that is as well known as it is tasty. 

You can eat it either whole or in small pieces. You can add it to pasta, to cooking mixtures, you can eat it with jams or fruits. 

Parmigiano Reggiano is so versatile that you can find it in many Italian foods as well as international recipes.

In this article you will learn about:

What kind of cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano?

Qualities and differentiations of a Parmigiano Reggiano, what to look for when buying

  • Ripening time
  • Cow breed
  • Production place
  • Type of production

Parmigiano Reggiano tasting

Why is Parmigiano Reggiano so tasty?

What kind of cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano?

Parmigiano Reggiano PDO is a slow-maturation, semi-fatty, hard cheese produced all year round from raw and semi-skimmed cow’s milk.

It has a hard pale-golden rind and a straw-coloured interior with a rich, spicy taste. It takes at least one year to get real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmigiano Reggiano labelled as stravecchio is three years old, while stravecchiones are four or more years old.

Its complex taste and grainy texture are the results of long ageing. Parmigiano-Reggiano is the “King of Cheeses” and Italians do not put this label on any cheese. It has a very strict set of rules to follow.
It is very nutritious and digestible because of its low lactose content.

The concentration of proteins, vitamins, calcium and mineral salts, make it a cheese suitable for all ages. And in any situation, a rich source of immediate energy.

The production area is the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena. Bologna to the left of the river Reno, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. And Mantua to the right of the river Po, in the region of Lombardy.

The characteristics of the soil in the defined geographical area and the historical importance of cheese in the local economy have resulted in the traditional art of cheese making.

Over nine centuries the cheese-making art passed on under local customs from the area. It is the best table cheese because of the richness and delicacy of its taste.

What to look for when buying Parmigiano Reggiano

Of course, each consumer has a taste. There are various types of differentiation, understanding this helps us to buy the Parmigiano Reggiano.

In my professional experience, I had the opportunity to visit many Parmigiano Reggiano establishments.

I always took the chance to ask the master cheesemakers which is, according to them, the best Parmigiano Reggiano.

My wonder was to know how to buy a good Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. I hope it can also help anyone who is reading this. And also to understand more about this cheese’s versatility in the kitchen and its uses.

Cheesemakers’ responses always vary between three factors:

  • cheese ripening time, 
  • breed of cow and 
  • production site.

There are also other distinctive qualities, such as organic production, or mountain production.

Ripening time  

The ripening time is the most distinctive feature that the consumer notices. Aromas and texture change as it increases. There are three main types of ripening identified with three different labels:

  • Lobster Red Seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 18 months old. It is possible to recognize the taste of the milk. Ideal for appetizers. Make yourself a favour, accompany this wonderful cheese with a dry white wine, such as a Malvasia dei Colli di Parma, and fresh fruit, such as green apples and pears.
  • Silver seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 22 months old. It is the classic Parmigiano Reggiano. You can feel notes of melted butter and fresh fruit, with slight hints of citrus and dried fruit. It is crumbly, granulated and well-soluble, sweet and tasty. It is crumbly, granulated and well-soluble, sweet and tasty. You can use it to fill pasta like ravioli or grate it to give an extra flavour to any pasta or risotto dish. Also, on salads, with fresh fruit or vegetables, with a few drops of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The right wine? Red, with medium structure.
  • Gold seal: Parmigiano Reggiano over 30 months old, also known as ‘stravecchio‘. The taste is strong and complex: on the palate, you can feel the spicy and fruity notes. 

Cow breed

The breed of cow used for cheese production is also a distinctive feature. Currently, for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano, we use the Friesian breed. But, there are two breeds that represent a niche market. These breeds produce less, but they have particular characteristics:

  • Reggiana or ‘Vacca Rossa’ This breed was partially abandoned because of its lower yield. It produces cheese for long-aged cheeses lovers, as it maintains a sweet, delicate and persistent taste. And the organoleptic properties are different, characterized by a yellow straw colour, an elastic grain, and an intense but delicate aroma even after more than thirty months of maturation.
  • Bruna breed The high fat (about 4%) and protein content (3.5 – 3.8%) is the added value of the Bruna breed. A combination not found in other breeds and species raised in the world.

Production site

The value of Parmigiano Reggiano di Montagna PDO is the production territory. Preserving the more than 100 artisan cheese dairies located in mountainous areas. Sixty per cent of the dairy cows feed comes from the mountain areas. That gives the final product the intrinsic qualities of the territory.

parmigiano reggiano cow

By consuming Parmigiano Reggiano di Montagna PDO, we know we are preserving and enhancing a rustic and vulnerable territory.

Type of production 

The production of Parmigiano Reggiano Biologico PDO is carried out according to the principles of organic agriculture. This means that the food comes from organic agriculture, animal welfare is respected, and the rennet used is free of preservatives. Also, the production is carried out in separate boilers from other production processes especially for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano Biologico DOP. 

Parmigiano Reggiano tasting

You can eat Parmigiano-Reggiano on its own, grated or in flakes. On top of pasta or risotto, as an appetizer, or at the end of the meal, accompanied by honey, fruit or vegetable compote. With aperitifs and cocktails, it enhances the flavour of dry liqueurs and moderates the effects of alcohol.

If consumed as is, you can combine it with:

  • White wines: Quite structured, smooth, quite warm, quite aromatic, persistent, even sparkling or foamy;
  • Red wines: Harmonious, not too ripe, full-bodied, with very balanced tannins and long aromatic persistence.

Why is Parmigiano Reggiano so tasty? 

Parmigiano Reggiano has a special taste that is even associated with the ‘fifth taste’. The umami taste is a Japanese word that means something rich and tasty. Umami is due to a substance which occurs naturally in Parmigiano Reggiano as well as in other foods, such as meat and broths. 

The umami itself has no taste at all, but it has the ability to enhance any flavour it is mixed with. In the food industry, it is known as a flavour enhancer. How does a food enhancer work? When you feel that a portion of pasta is a bit bland, if you add cheese or meat it suddenly seems very tasty. That’s the umami taste.

In some imitation cheeses where you don’t get the distinctive taste, some producers add the chemical substance responsible for the umami taste which is monosodium glutamate. This is added to recreate the same conditions that occur naturally in Parmigiano Reggiano.  

The king of cheeses

Parmigiano Reggiano is indisputably the king of cheeses because of its taste, versatility, variety, history, and indisputable relationship with Italy. For this reason, it is a Denomination of Origin and thus its production is controlled and delimited.

Thanks to the Consorzio di Tutela, the recipe and the way of production remain intact, as they did 900 years ago and we hope another thousand years more.

Italian food: One day eating like an Italian

Oh Italy, the city of history, love and of course… Italian Food!

I had the chance to live in Italy since 2013 and to be honest. I must say that food-related matters occupy 90 per cent of the days in the Italian’s life.

When Italians are not eating they are talking… About food, and when they eat they talk about the food they ate yesterday and the new dish they discovered the other day or the excellent lasagna their grandmother used to cook to them when they were little.

In this article you will find:

Italianised food dishes in Italian food
Alfredo sauce
Hawaiian Pizza
A one-day real Italian traditional food diet
Italian breakfast means coffee and pastries
What do the Italians eat for breakfast?
Italian breakfast menu
Italian food meals consist of four steps
Primo piatto or the first dish
Secondo piatto is the main dish
Il dolce, the desserts
Let’s go to the menu for our Italian food lunch
Taking a snack and a coffee in a corner bar
Aperitivo? Martini anyone?
Italian food dinner
Our Italian dinner menu

Alberto Sordi Spaghetti scene, from the 1954 movie An American in Rome

Italians are the food, the food for them means warm, care, mother, la Bella vita and il dolce far niente. So food for Italians is friends gatherings and family time. Insomma: Tutto (In short: Everything).

Italians are also very proud of their gastronomic culture. They don-t like copycats and most of all they hate the Itali

Italianised dishes

In the 19th century, there was a great migration of Italians to many parts of the world: especially the United States, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
These migratory flows helped to forge the identity of these countries, and although today these countries do not speak Italian, the love for Italy as a certain homeland is present.
That maybe is why in several countries we find dishes that we can consider ‘Italianized’.
There are two cases, in particular, two recipes that the Italians themselves are averse to because they are a bad interpretation of Italian gastronomy. These are Alfredo Sauce and Hawaiian Pizza.

Alfredo sauce

Although invented in Rome, Italy in 1914 by Alfredo di Lelio, this sauce is practically unknown in Italy, so much so that many people believe it was invented in the United States.

The original Alfredo sauce has nothing to do with the one we see today, it consisted only of butter and parmesan cheese. Today it can be made with cream, onion, oregano and parsley and the first recipe is known in Italy as ‘fettuccini alla Romana’.

Hawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian pizza is a variant of pizza usually prepared with a cheese and tomato base and topped with pieces of ham and pineapple in syrup. Other versions may also include mixed peppers, mushrooms, bacon and other ingredients.

So the use of pineapple as a pizza filling generates conflicting opinions. On the one hand, it is despised and judged as a real insult to the Italian culinary tradition. On the other hand, it appears to be highly appreciated in various countries around the world. For example, in England, it leads the way in sales of delivery pizza and in Australia it is the favourite topping.

In 2017, Iceland’s president, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, joked that the filling of pizza with pineapple should be banned by law. The goliardic joke generated a real international media controversy that impacted on social networks with the viral hashtag #pineappleonpizza.

A one-day real Italian traditional food diet

Today I would like to talk about the daily Italian food diet. Have you ever wondered how a real Italian Family breakfast is?

Well, there is where we start.

Italian breakfast means coffee and pastries

What if we take a coffee? Italians love coffee and you may have heard that they have the best coffee in the world. With centuries of coffee consumption, it has become part of their culture. 

Coffee does not grow in Italy but Italians have developed the best machines to do the ‘torrefaction’ (toasting) of the coffee.

But when we are outside of Italy and take a cappuccino or an espresso, is it really an Italian coffee? Well, probably not.

Italian coffee
Espresso, macchiato, ristretto, mocha, americano, latte, capuccino

For an Italian espresso, we need 5 to 7 grams of coffee per 30 ml of water. If we add milk foam it is called caffè macchiato, which literally means stained coffee. It is a small drink, very concentrated, it can be heavy on the stomach if you are not used to it.

Italian coffee for espresso and for Moka is not the same, the size of the coffee granulate for the espresso machine is smaller. If you want to know more about Italian coffee here is my article Italian coffee, the ultimate guide.

What do the Italians eat for breakfast?

If you go to a bar and take an espresso, probably you will accompany it with a brioche in Milan and a cornetto in Rome. Cornetto is not the same as the french brioche or a croissant, it is similar to a croissant but a different recipe. If you want to learn how to bake brioche here is a recipe I recommend to you.

The cornetto or brioche can be filled or ‘vuoto’ (empty). The filling can be made of pastry cream, Nutella, or different jams. 

Italian breakfast menu

  • Cappuccino: It consists of espresso with milk and milk foam in equal parts, sprinkled with cocoa or cinnamon.
  • Cornetto. My advice: filled with pastry cream.
A typical Italian breakfast

Italian meals consist of four steps

Cosa vuole per primo? E secondo? (‘What do you want as a first dish? And second?’) A typical question a waiter will pose to you if you’re in an Italian restaurant. In Italy, there are four parts in every meal: antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce with coffee.

You might be thinking, how am I gonna finish four dishes? 

But usually, the portions are small, so it’s no problem

Il primo or the first dish

It is usually pasta (gnocchi, spaghetti, lasagna), rice (risotto), minestra (soup) or a polenta. 

It has no meat or if it does, the portions are not large. Usually served on a deep plate, the portion is quite small. This is done to make room for what is coming: ‘il secondo’ and not end up vomiting as in Roman times.

Il secondo is the main dish

It is usually composed of meat or fish. 

  • Meat dishes: Ossobuco, Steak alla Fiorentina or Vitello tonnato
  • Mushroom dishes: Boletus edulis
  • Fish dishes: Gilthead bream, prawns, swordfish

Il Contorno is a side dish that can be either salad or vegetables. In a typical menu, the salad comes after the main course.

Il dolce, the desserts

The most typical are tiramisu, gelato, pudding, zabaione, macedonia.

Let’s go to the menu for our Italian lunch

  • Vitello tonnato. The vitello tonnato (or vitel’ tonné) is a typical Piedmontese dish, served chilled, prepared from slices of veal, covered with a sauce based on tuna, egg yolks, anchovies, capers, olive oil, mixed with lemon juice. It is often eaten in summer, on the terrace.
  • Primo Risotto allo zaferano. This first course best enhances the aromatic qualities of saffron with a pleasant and captivating golden colour that makes this dish so special. A little magic that combined with the creamy touch of the mantecatura, inevitable in the preparation of risottos, will give you a risotto with a unique and unmistakable taste.
  • Secondo Cotoletta alla Milanese. A tender beef steak, covered with breadcrumbs, fried in butter, Cotoletta alla milanese is one of the iconic dishes of Milan, the capital of Italian style and design.
  • Dolce Tiramisù. It is a dessert made with ladyfingers soaked in coffee and stuffed with a cream of mascarpone egg and sugar, covered with a layer of cocoa. The Etymology of the word Tiramisu is simple and intuitive: TIRA-MI-SU’ which means it lifts, strengthens my body. The original name of this delicious dessert comes from the Venetian dialect Tiremesù, then Italianized in Tiramisù.

Taking a snack and a coffee in a corner bar

If some hours after lunch you feel like a coffee. Let’s go to a corner bar. 

In Italy, it is very typical to see very small bars with no chairs at all. People are used to taking the coffee so quickly that they don’t even sit down, it’s just a sip. 

But on our Italian day, we are going to sit down and take a caffè macchiato! 

This is a coffee with a bit of milk foam on top. So delicious that you will say Buonissimo and you will feel more Italian than ever.

And to accomany our coffee, what about a Cannoli?

We will drink our coffee with a typical pastry from Sicily, called cannoli. These sweets were among the favourites of the legendary Inspector Montalbano. 

Cannolo is a typical sweet from the Italian region of Sicily, where it originated. It consists of a dough rolled up into a tube with ingredients mixed with ricotta cheese inside. It is so popular in Sicily that it is very rare to find a pastry shop where a tray of cannoli is not displayed.

Aperitivo? Martini anyone?

Milan, the most international city in Italy has an amazing ritual called aperitivo. Since ancient times, many people used to precede their dinner with an aromatic drink, more or less alcoholic. ‘Aperitif’, which derives from the Latin ‘aperire’: to open, to begin.

Italian food: Aperitivo
Italian aperitivo
Credit By Lasagnolo9

In Milan and its surroundings, young people flock to fashionable bars and outdoor squares to sip alcoholic cocktails, often accompanied by appetizers. There are buffets of pizzas, focaccia, fried vegetables, salads, but also cold and hot pasta. 

Our Italian cocktail choice is going to be a Negroni

Before taking the first sip, it is necessary to raise the glass to the sun, so that its rays burn this liquid pomegranate that moves among the ice.

A red sea of icebergs and music by Nino Rota. 1/3 of Bombay Sapphire, 1/3 of bitter Campari and 1/3 of Martini Rosso.

In a medium-sized glass of Old Fashioned with ice, well mixed and an orange peel or in a cocktail glass cooled in a mixing glass adding a red cherry.

And to eat Pizza Margherita!

No introduction needed. Italian pizza is one of the most famous dishes in the world and with the hamburger the most widespread. Although it has been proven that the modern classic pizza (mozzarella and tomato) existed at least since the 1830s, an undocumented traditional story places the date in June 1889 when, to honour the Queen of Italy Margherita of Savoy, the chef Raffaele Esposito of Brandi Pizzeria created the Margherita pizza, whose seasonings (tomato, mozzarella and basil) represented the colours of the Italian flag.

Italian dinner

Our Italian day is coming to an end, but before this, we are going to try some novel but traditional dishes.

Our Italian dinner menu

  1. Antipasto Tagliere. The tagliere is an entry that, as you can see in the photo, consists of cuts of different Italian cured meats and cheeses. It is a good opportunity to try traditional specialities such as prosciutto di parma, copa piacentina, bresaola or culatello, and cheeses such as gorgonzola, robiola, talegio or parmigiano reggiano.
  2. Primo Spaghetti al pesto. Pesto is a typical Ligurian condiment or sauce. Its main ingredient is Genoese basil. In addition to basil, pine nuts and garlic are ground, all seasoned with parmesan and/or sheep’s cheese, and olive oil.
  3. Secondo Lasagne alla Bolognese. This is a typical second course of the Italian cuisine, especially the Bologna region. It is lasagna with two sauces: a meat sauce (the ragù) and a white sauce.
  4. Dolce Zabaione, also called zabaglione, is a basic pastry preparation based on eggs, sugar and an alcoholic beverage, which can be a wine (typically, Marsala) or a liqueur.
  5. Limoncello is the very popular liqueur made with the peel of citrus fruits from Campania, traditionally prepared with lemons typical of the Amalfi Coast.

Today we had a blast of Italian food, do you feel like more?

All the ‘primo’ and ‘secondo’ on each menu can be replaced with different specialities to explore other regions of Italy.

I have no more to say so… Buonanotte

How to be a traditional foodie?

This article is the result of many years in the world of gastronomy, observing the behaviour of many people who call themselves ‘foodies’. But they do not really correspond to the definition of the foodie, as we will see later. I would like to define a new type of foodie: the traditional foodie. Whos interest radicate on traditional food, history of gastronomy and the local and seasonal food consumption.

The definition of ‘foodie’ is controversial. This urban tribe of Instagrammers posting everything edible with the only condition of being visually acceptable.

Yet, there are many foodies that do not identify with urban tribe.

Table of content
What is a foodie?
Definition of a ‘traditional foodie’

A traditional foodie:


But first, what is a foodie?

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the definition of ‘foodie’

The term foodie was introduced in 1984 by Paul Levy, Anna Barr and Mat Sloan in their book “The Official Foodie Handbook” from 1984.

foodie noun
a person who loves food and is very interested in different types of food.
Similar words epicure, epicurean, gastronome, gourmet

Cambridge Dictionary

During the 80s and 90s, the foodie movement led to:

  • the appearance of food networks
  • specialised food tv shows took place
  • a renaissance of cookbooks and specialist magazines
  • augmentation of foodie blogs
  • the regulation of geographical indications and designations of origin for the protection of agricultural products and foodstuffs

The key motivation for the birth of foodies as a small tribe was to escape the proliferation of prefabricated food chains in the globalized culture from developed countries. But on the other hand, the chefs began to be seen as divas, belittling the lifelong cooks, sometimes more experienced.

The profile of a foodie corresponds to young people between 30 and 40 years of age, from the middle and upper-middle classes. For them, eating is more than just nourishment.

They do not usually have professional ties to the world of cooking or drinking. Their interest lies in what’s new. They know the latest restaurant, where the best wine tastings take place, where you can find the best French bread or the perfect cocktails.

The term foodie has always sounded very snob to me.

Yet, when I was studying for my master’s degree in food identity, I and my colleagues liked to call ourselves ‘foodies’.

We loved everything about traditional food: stories, territories or terroirs, food culture and intellectual property.

We were foodies of traditional food.

So I allowed myself to invent my own definition of a traditional foodie.

Definition of a ‘traditional foodie’

A traditional foodie is a person who loves traditional food in all its forms. It is someone who’s behind not the new trends on food but the old traditions of every gastronomic culture.

The Traditional Foodie

Let me describe other characteristics of a traditional foodie.

A traditional foodie is curious about the other cultures

You can learn a lot from the gastronomic traditions of a country. So every time you meet someone, ask them what is the typical food of their country. 

This answer can be surprising. Sometimes we think we know the answer to this question in some cases and we don’t. 

For example, if you ask about traditional food to a Japanese person, he will surely not tell you about sushi. Sushi is not Japanese, it was created in the third century in the Mekong River in the region where today are the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

A traditional foodie asks a local

When he or she travels, a traditional foodie does not search for food blogs or guides to find the best restaurant, he asks the locals! The locals are a great asset on a trip, they can help us find an address, but they can also tell us a good place to eat. We can ask them where to eat but also what to eat. But pay attention, not everybody knows what is traditional. Many people don’t understand that what is normal for them can be a novelty for others. Do not ask a local if he can advise you where and what to eat. He will probably send you to the most expensive and not necessarily good restaurant.

Ask a local (if he or she is nice), what is the traditional food from the city, or what their grandmothers used to cook to them when they were little. That is how you will find out about very good, local and traditional food from a place.

When you know what local food to try, you can go online and check where to eat it, or you can ask again a local.

A traditional foodie doesn’t care about aesthetics

A traditional foodie does not judge things for their envelope.

Do you have a story about the time you finished in the ugliest of the restaurants, and eating the best meal in your life? That’s what I am talking about.

I have a foodie friend that when are looking for a place to eat he says ‘look through the windows if the tablecloths of the restaurant are ugly, it means the food will be good’.

I don’t mean you have to jump in the ugliest place you find. Today, cafes and restaurants are designed around “Instagrammable” aesthetics, but that can be a trap too.

Traditional restaurants rarely change the interior decor, they are busy cooking good food. So don’t be afraid to jump in.

A traditional fodie doesn't care about aesthetics.

Los restaurantes locales antiguos suelen tener mucha experiencia, aman lo que hacen. Tuvieron buenos y malos momentos. Siguieron cocinando no sólo por su economía sino también por sus clientes históricos, que seguirán yendo pase lo que pase.

También la comida tradicional puede no ser la más bonita, pero el sabor y la historia que contiene supera cualquier tostada con aguacate y queso crema.

Si eres un turista, probablemente serás el único no local en el restaurante, y tendrás una verdadera experiencia gastronómica tradicional.

A traditional foodie knows that food is the way to overcome socially awkward situations

A traditional foodie always knows what to talk about in situations involving food. And this is, of course, food. 

Food is the most practical way to say to someone that you love him or making someone feel comfortable. A food story is something that people always love to hear. Tell someone a story and you will give him a gift. Tell someone a story about food and you will give him love.

Food stories are always a great way to break the ice in any situation involving food. Whether it’s work, family, date.

As an example, the history of port wine in my article ‘5 wines that changed the history of traditional food’ contains five small stories to discuss the history of the birth of these wines and the tradition surrounding them.

We spend an average of 40 minutes a day thinking about food. Food unites us and is in our daily lives, without it, we cannot live.

So knowing a story or two about food can often improve a situation of social discomfort. And it’s much better than telling a joke.

Nowadays we don’t know who might get offended.

A traditional foodie eats seasonal veggies

A traditional foodie knows that to maintain tradition we must take care of the environment.

And he knows that we can’t eat the same fruits and vegetables all year round. Nature is wise and at every time of the year, it provides us with the fruits and vegetables we need to be healthy. For example, vitamin C prevents colds, so it is not a coincidence that oranges grow more in winter. And watermelons which grow during summer have a lot of water to help hydrate in that period.

Eating fruits and vegetables produced out of season (oranges in summer or zucchini in winter) increases the carbon and water footprint. This is because these fruits and vegetables come from greenhouses where more resources are spent. Or they are imported from other countries where they are in season.

A traditional foodie eats local

A traditional foodie does not eat avocado if it is not in Mexico or in a producing region.

One way to respect the tradition of a society is not to forget it. Consuming local food means promoting what we have nearby and helping primary producers.

Cooking local recipes and promoting them means that traditions are maintained and valued.

It increases the love for the place where you live and the sense of belonging.

One takes over the local natural resources and turns them into a local and traditional recipe for giving love to others. And so the history of a place continues to be written, generation to generation.

What are you waiting for to become a traditional foodie?

A traditional foodie loves the timelessness of food, its soul. 

He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone so he doesn’t care about fashions and trends. He loves to know what he eats and tries to share it with others.

A traditional foodie loves the world through food.

Jamon español comida tradicional española

Traditional food: the new trend in gastronomy

No matter where we come from, we grew up eating our grandma’s food and enjoying those deliciously old recipes our whole life without giving them much importance, or maybe taking them for granted. Nowadays, the tendency in gastronomy is to give value to our traditional foods and cherish them to the fullest.
Local and Traditional food is attracting chefs attention, governments agendas and consumers whom appreciate food all around the world.
We are living changing times and people are looking for different, yet exciting ways to vary their diets. Especially we´re looking for new recipes and —why not— recipes that are typical of other countries as well. Variety is the key to the taste.

In this article you will find:

What is traditional food?

Around ten thousand years ago, the firsts sedentary societies used to take what they needed from the environment freely on a daily basics. People were hungry, so they had to invent ways to make the elements around them edible, but tasty as well.

First steps of humanity on the way to traditional food, ploughing with a yoke of horned cattle in Ancient Egypt
Ploughing with a yoke of horned cattle in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the burial chamber of Sennedjem, c. 1200 BC.

Civilizations learned some tricks on cooking and they kept developing it. The knowledge passed through generations. At the same time, populations adapted to the nutrients they received depending on where they settle. The traditional food adapts to the people, at the same time that people get acquainted to the environment. It is unprocessed, nutritious, organic and high in fats to satiate working people. Ultimately, it is the food that we find in our local community that will make the difference.

Why should we talk about traditional food?

In the 20th century, accentuated by the two World Wars, developed countries began to change their diets for many reasons, leaving aside traditional foods or make them exclusively into a private only familiar dish. The era of a so-called globalized societies’ diet started then: Fast foods, pizzas, sushi, hamburgers, high in sugar cereals for breakfast, etc. Big companies and publicity convinced people this was better for them, for health or fashion reasons, but most importantly they saved you time and money, so people were all in.

In 1935, scientists began to foreseen what was happening. They knew that if we didn’t get attention to promote and protect our products, they would soon disappear. So, they came up with the solution to back to the origins and consume local food.

Since 1975, obesity has almost tripled worldwide. How come illnesses were increasing if we were taking ¨healthier¨ products? A theory is that we are consuming meals for which our system is not well-adjusted and that brings us health problems.

7-up pub: setting up your child for a happy life (and tooth decay)
7-up: setting up your child for a happy life (and tooth decay) Credit: THELUNCHTRAY.COM

In 1955, 7-Up suggested that mixing the fizzy lemon drink in “equal parts” to a toddler’s milk was an excellent and responsible way to encourage them to drink – assuring mothers that it was a “wholesome combination”.

What makes a product traditional?

To call a food as traditional, it must certainly have an intrinsic link to the society in which it is generated. It must have a birth history, become a legend or be part of written documents that prove it.
A traditional product should also be easily obtained in the area and time of year in which it is produced because it is made with natural resources available in a particular place.

There are countless examples in the world of traditional food. However, not all of them are certified to prove it.

How do I identify a traditional product?

There are quality standards to promote and protect traditional products: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)Geographical Indication (GI) and the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). Many countries around the globe have adopted this system. These standards are only applicable to food and beverages. They serve to identify a local and traditional product.

European quality labels for traditional products
European quality labels for traditional products

To get one of the certifications, there must be a link between the product and the place where it is produced. For example, a molecule that gives a certain aroma to the product and is only found in that place. Or the microclimate of the region that gives the product its characteristics.

Examples of traditional food

Let’s take a look at some examples. Mozzarella is a cheese that we all know, it melts and it goes well with other fresh products. We usually use it on pizza or in salads. Surprisingly, Mozzarella is not a traditional food, but a generic food product. Nonetheless, there is only one type of mozzarella that is traditional.

The producers own the name of the product; we can call it like that if it is produced in the place meeting specific quality standards. For example, the Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana comes from a southern italian region called Campana.

Mozarella Protected Designation of Origin
Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana PDO

Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana is a traditional product with a Protected Designation of Origin. This certification lets us identify it as a traditional product.

The Jabugo Ham PDO or Jamón de Jabugo in Spanish is a cured ham made from black pigs of Iberian breed. These pigs live in the pastures of the provinces of Badajoz, Cáceres, Seville, Córdoba, Cádiz, Málaga and Huelva in Spain. They feed mostly on acorns, which give the meat a delicate and smooth taste.

It is easy to relate the Iberian Ham with something traditional, because of the great reputation it has. But in reality, Jamón Ibérico refers to any ham made with black pork from the Iberian breed, which may or may not be traditional. In fact, we can find several designations of origin for hams from Iberian pigs in Spain , such as Jabugo Ham DOP, Dehesa de Extremadura Ham DOP, Los Pedroches Ham DOP, Guijuelo Ham DOP.

We still have a long way to go

Traditional products will still be in the local communities and patron saint festivities, but we need to raise awareness to incorporate them back into our diets.

When we travel to a country with a bast traditional history, like Italy or Spain, the gastronomic richness amazes us, but in fact, every country has a gastronomic variety or identity, although sometimes they aren´t very valued or appreciated. Every region should be proud of their local products, protect them and enjoy them.

Over the generations, the traditional dishes and food are disappearing. It would be a pity to lose the cultural and historical richness that the gastronomy of a region offers us.

How traditional food can determine the fate of society. The history of the potato

Parmentier holding a potatoe plant, painting by François Dumont
Parmentier holding a potato plant. Painting by François Dumont CREDIT REPRODART

To conclude, I would like to tell you about the history of the potato or how food can determine the fate of a population. In South America 8000 to 5000 years ago, the Inca Empire domesticated plants of potatoes and some specialists believe this was the cause of the greatness of the empire. The potato arrived in Europe in 1579, but in that time they believed the potato was indigestible and caused leprosy. The people fed the animals and the homeless with it.

It was not until a botanist named Antoine Parmentier started to promote the benefits of the potato against famine. We all know that with famine comes looting, violence and war. Nowadays, scientists mostly agree on its importance in the decrease of violence in Europe for about 200 years, not to mention the tremendously nutritional benefits.

Not surprisingly, the term ‘parmentier potatoes‘ is now used to describe any dish made with cooked potatoes. Perhaps as a way of paying tribute to the French scientist who did so much to fight hunger in Europe.

Food becomes traditional when it modifies the course of history in our society and it contributes against hunger, wars, and hard times. Most importantly, traditional food makes any moment of life a compelling memorial celebration.

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