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Food Shopping

There are certain key ingredients in an Italian kitchen which you will meet again and again when shopping in supermarkets, delicatessens or markets. I thought it might be useful to list these.

Balsamic vinegar
This is made from fermented Trebbiano grapes aged in oak casks for four years or more. It is rich and sweet.

Olive oil
An essential feature of Italian cuisine which is regarded by many experts as having health-giving properties. Olive trees are an integral part of the quintessential Tuscan landscape, although the oil is produced throughout Italy. The crop harvest begins in November, when the olives are not yet ripe – this is supposed to give a better oil – and carries on over several weeks. The finest oil is Cold Pressed Extra Virgin, followed by Soprafino Virgin, Fine Virgin and Virgin. The best quality oils are used for dressing salads and dribbling over food, the lighter oils are for cooking and baking.



Used on pizzas because of its stringiness when melted.
Parmigiano Grated over pasta etc. or eaten in slices on bread.
A thick cheese made from cream used in sweet dishes.
A sweet white whey cheese used for stuffing pasta etc.

Mushrooms and Truffles
Porcini mushrooms are picked wild and sold fresh or dried. They are expensive but highly regarded. Truffles (tartufi) are equally prized. Their location beneath the earth is discovered by sniffer dogs who then dig them up. They are often used sparingly, grated over pasta etc.

Hams and bacon
Prosciutto crudo is a cured ham often served as an antipasto (starter). A good example is Parma ham. Prosciutto cotto is the more traditional cooked ham we are used to here. Pancetta is unsmoked Italian bacon.

Bread (Pane)
This is usually drier than we are used to in the UK. “Pane senza sale” is an unsalted bread which is eaten with the stronger cheeses and saltier hams. The flat slipper-shaped ciabatta bread has found its way into mainstream British supermarkets now, as has the pizza bread focaccia.

Metric system
The metric system is used in shops etc.

1 Kg (un chilo)

1000 grams (mille grammi) : about 2.2 lbs.
500g (mezzo chilo) just over 1 lb.
100g (un etto)
just under 4 oz.


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