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Food trends, Gourmet food

STRACCHINO, A VALID ALTERNATIVE TO MOZZARELLA

30/04/2021
STRACCHINO, A VALID ALTERNATIVE TO MOZZARELLA

Famous for its mild taste, Stracchino is a fresh cheese produced in northern Italy – mainly in Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto – using whole cow’s milk and raw curd. It usually comes in square slabs, one to two inches thick, that may vary in size and it is always wrapped in paper to keep its natural moisture. Low in calories and in fat, Stracchino is rich with high-quality proteins, phosphorus and vitamins; its nutritional values – together with its enjoyable soft texture and delicate flavor of milk – make it the perfect complement in a healthy meal.

Besides its flavor, what makes this cheese one of the most sold ones is its versatility. It can be added to a risotto for a light creaminess, used on pizza instead of mozzarella or – since it is easily digestible – it can be the light filling of a tart or even a cheesecake. Italian food lovers do not miss to appreciate it on its own as a main course with a side of cooked greens or simply served with fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Its consistency makes it also the perfect spread on freshly baked bread just as much as the ideal ingredient for a lovely, Italian version of Cheese on Toast. The variant made using goat’s milk, with a more intense flavor, is excellent to prepare creative cold starters with fresh vegetables and chutneys or to fill a focaccia. True cheese lovers may even enjoy it on its own, paired with a glass of chilled, fruity Italian white wine.

Extremely popular in Italy, Stracchino is not so well-known abroad yet. Its short expiry date makes it a difficult product to be exported in faraway countries: however, since we enjoy new challenges when it comes to promoting Italian food excellences worldwide, here in Alifood we keep investing in R&D in order to implement new IQF technologies that can prolong its shelf-life while preserving all the organoleptic properties and good taste for which this product is famous for.

Thanks to the latest innovations in food preservation, in the next few years Stracchino could easily become a real alternative to other Italian cheeses even in international markets and create, together with mozzarella and burrata, a unique and unrivaled selection of fresh Italian cheeses.

Just like many other fresh cheeses, Stracchino will last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator if sealed in an airtight container; however, it is so tasty and moreish that it is likely to finish the same day it is purchased.

Food trends, Gourmet food

SO SIMILAR YET SO DIFFERENT: LEARN MORE ABOUT PROSCIUTTO AND BRESAOLA

27/04/2021
SO SIMILAR YET SO DIFFERENT: LEARN MORE ABOUT PROSCIUTTO AND BRESAOLA

Whether we are entertaining or just looking for a savory snack, cured meats always make for an easy, healthy option to us an Italy. Out of the over 700 varieties of charcuteries available in Italy, there are two that are particularly appreciated by food lovers all over the world: prosciutto and bresaola.

Prosciutto generically means ham in Italian: what is usually called prosciutto abroad is cured ham (prosciutto crudo). Although it has many regional variations – several of which are true food excellences covered by the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), such as San Daniele from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Cinta Senese from Tuscany – the most popular one is Prosciutto di Parma. The name bresaola refers only to a type of dried salted meat with an IGP trademark (Protected Geographical Indication) that limits its production only to certified master butchers in the Lombardy region, mainly located in Valtellina, an Alpine valley in Northern Italy.

Whereas prosciutto is produced by curing a leg of pork with pure sea salt in order to keep the meat as sweet-tasting and tender as possible, bresaola is one of the few cured meats made of beef therefore it is the ideal choice for those who do not eat pork but do not want to miss the opportunity to enjoy an Italian excellence either. Produced using a very lean cut of beef with almost no fat at all, bresaola gets first rubbed with a mix of salt and the right combination of spices, then air dried from two to four months.

Prosciutto is fairly high in fat but it is an excellent source of protein, potassium, and iron; being made from a single muscle, with any outer fat removed before curing, means that bresaola is leaner (only 151 calories in 100g) and – as a beef product – it is high in protein (32g in 100g), B-vitamins, zinc and iron.

What is really good about cured meats is that they do not require cooking therefore they are perfect for a quick meal without having to resort to fast food. Because of its mild, delicate taste, bresaola gives its best when served thinly sliced with fresh arugula, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano shavings. It also makes an elegant starter when each single slice is wrapped around a spoonful of Stracchino mixed with roughly chopped walnuts. As for the main course, it is typically used to prepare a Risotto together with Gorgonzola cheese. Prosciutto crudo, which in comparison has a stronger taste, pairs wonderfully with melon, chunks of Parmigiano and fresh figs. It is also the perfect topping for a typical Italian bruschetta and, cut in chunks, it is often sautéed together with sweet peas for a healthy and tasty side dish. Laying slices of prosciutto or bresaola over a pizza that has just been removed from the oven enhances the flavor of these cured meats and that of the pizza as well.

Food trends, Gourmet food

GNOCCHI, A UNIQUE ITALIAN DISH

08/03/2021
GNOCCHI, A UNIQUE ITALIAN DISH

Potatoes, flour and eggs: it only takes a few ingredients to make one of the most loved main courses in Italy, Gnocchi. Shaped like dumplings, their preparation is similar to pasta as they are cooked in boiling water and then served with the preferred sauce.

The information about the origin of their name are rather debatable: some say that the word gnocchi comes from nocca, which means knuckle in Italian; other sources claim that it derives from the ancient Lombard knohha, that used to indicate a wood knot. Although their etymology is still unclear, it is interesting to notice that all the words that are allegedly linked with this delicious preparation always refer to the small, tight, rounded shape that gnocchi still have nowadays.

Their first appearance on our tables dates back to the eighteenth century – well after the Spanish explorers brought potatoes from South America and introduced them to Italian kitchens – but other forms of gnocchi have been known since the Renaissance. In his 1570 cookbook, Bartolomeo Scappi reports a recipe for gnocchi made by pushing through the holes of a cheese grater a dough made by mixing flour, breadcrumbs and water. Eggs were officially introduced a little later to add firmness to the preparation.

Healthy and very much loved as a great alternative to pasta and soups, Gnocchi in Italy are eaten as a primo piatto. Because of their shape and texture, they are perfect when served with thick, creamy sauces like melted Gorgonzola cheese or Pesto Genovese but they are also delicious with a simple dressing of butter, sage and grated Parmigiano. Despite enjoying a rather short cooking time, their preparation may take up to an hour: for this reason, packaged gnocchi are widely available in supermarkets and deli shops, either refrigerated or frozen.

Food trends, Gourmet food

WHERE IS THE BEST PECORINO PRODUCED?

15/02/2021
WHERE IS THE BEST PECORINO PRODUCED?

Among all the Italian cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano is probably the most famous all over the world. There is another one though which may be less popular abroad but that definitely plays an important role in the cooking routine of many Italians: Pecorino.

Generally speaking, Pecorino is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from ewe’s milk; its name comes from pecora which in Italian means ewe. Specifically, it refers to three main varieties from central Italy and the island of Sardinia which enjoy the DOP* seal: Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia, Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany and Pecorino Romano from Lazio.

Pecorino Sardo DOP is made exclusively in Sardinia from pasteurized Sardinian ewe’s milk. It has a smooth, thick crust that turns brown as it ages; the paste, rather compact, is pearly white but tends to become straw yellow with the ageing process. The cheese wheels – aged for at least sixty days – weigh between seven and nine pounds. Due to the use of lamb rennet in its preparation, Pecorino Sardo has a strong flavour which goes well with fresh vegetables and fruit – especially peaches and pears – and honey (as in the famous Seadas, local deep-fried pastries filled with Pecorino and lemon zest and drizzled with honey). It is also a good appetizer, accompanied by a glass of chilled Sardinian Vermentino wine.

Pecorino Toscano DOP is also made exclusively from ewe’s milk but, unlike Pecorino Sardo, it can be produced outside Tuscany, in specific cheese factories that respect the procedural guidelines dictated by the DOP certification body. The cheese wheels – weighing on average between two and eight pounds – have a yellow crust and a compact, firm paste. Pecorino Toscano is sweet and delicate to the palate when fresh, more intense when it ages. Both these versions are perfect with dried fruit and nuts which – together with a good selection of local cold cuts and a glass of Chianti wine – make the typical Tuscan aperitivo.

Of all the DOP varieties of this cheese though, Pecorino Romano is perhaps the most popular and distinctly Italian. It is also the “oldest”, as its consumption dates back to the ancient Romans who considered it the perfect food for soldiers. Pecorino Romano is now produced in the regions of Lazio and Sardinia and in the Tuscan province of Grosseto by mixing lamb and calf rennet with fresh, whole ewe’s milk that undergoes a strictly-regulated cooking process. The crust is thin and ivory; the paste ranges from white to straw yellow and it is rather compact. Saltier and higher in acidity than the other two, Pecorino Romano is the one that gets aged for a longer time (at least five months) before being sold, thus resulting in an aromatic, slightly piquant table cheese. Often paired with mature red wines, Pecorino Romano gives its best when used grated to complete traditional pasta dishes like Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara and Amatriciana.

*Denominazione di Origine Protetta, literally Protected Designation of Origin.

Food trends, Gourmet food

TYPICAL ITALIAN PASTA SAUCES: PESTO GENOVESE

08/02/2021
TYPICAL ITALIAN PASTA SAUCES: PESTO GENOVESE

There is something about Italy that makes this country so special: it is not just the abundancy of art or the variety of landscapes, it is its food. The beauty of it is that each region has its own recipes and they are all so tasty that a trip to Italy could easily be organized as a culinary tour of the so-called Bel Paese (beautiful country) via its most traditional dishes.

Starting from the North-West of the country, one of the most popular is pasta with Pesto Genovese. Typical of the city of Genoa (Genova, in Italian), from which it takes its name, pesto sauce was first mentioned in its contemporary version by the gastronome Giovanni Battista Ratto in his book “La Cuciniera Genoese” dated 1863. Its origin, though, is still debated: some maintain that Pesto Genovese has a strong link with the agliata, a garlic-based sauce that used to be prepared in the Middle Ages to preserve food once cooked, while others are more inclined to believe in the legend of a friar who created the sauce by chance, just by crushing some basil together with a few, simple ingredients received as an offer by the local community.

Notwithstanding the controversy about its origin, the recipe for Pesto Genovese is now protected by the Consorzio Pesto Genovese that dictates its seven ingredients: Genovese DOP* basil, extra virgin olive oil (possibly the one produced in the Ligurian Riviera), Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino cheese, pine nuts, garlic and salt. As the word pesto comes from pestare, which means to pound, the authentic Pesto Genovese is prepared by using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle to crush and mix all these ingredients in order to obtain a creamy sauce that is then poured uncooked over pasta.

Since Pesto Genovese should ideally be made shortly before it is eaten, these days many people tend to reduce the preparation time by using a food processor when making pesto at home: unfortunately, the steel blades tend to oxidize the basil thus ending up with a very dark green and slightly bitter pesto. Just like for anything that concerns real Italian recipes, even with pesto it is a matter of appreciating the joys of slow food therefore there is no proper substitute for pounding by hand; likewise, since each pasta has its sauce, Pesto Genovese should be served with trofie or trenette. It is also good for adding extra taste to vegetable soups and as a heathy spread in sandwiches.

*Denominazione di Origine Protetta, literally Protected Designation of Origin.

Food trends, Gourmet food

FOCACCIA, A REAL ITALIAN EXCELLENCE

26/01/2021
FOCACCIA, A REAL ITALIAN EXCELLENCE

It is almost impossible to discuss Italian food without mentioning the three Ps that make it so popular all over the world: pasta, pizza and pane (bread). To be fair, there is a fourth element that should be added to this list as it has become more and more popular in recent years: focaccia, a delicious flatbread that looks like pizza but resembles bread in its preparation.

Despite being so up and coming worldwide both as a healthy street food and a posh substitute for bread in top-rated restaurants, the Latin origin of its name (panis focacius literally means bread baked in coals) tells us that focaccia was already well-known among the ancient Romans who used to place it on altars during their religious ceremonies as an offer to their gods. In its contemporary version, focaccia has been around since the 16th century. Legend has it that bakers in Genoa used to make focaccia early in the morning to test the temperature of the wood-fired oven before baking the loaves of bread; the result provided them with such a tasty snack that it soon became saleable to the public. Focaccia rapidly gained such a remarkable fame among the citizens of Genoa that they eventually adopted it as their favourite morning food: even nowadays the typical breakfast in town involves focaccia, which many locals love to dunk in a hot cappuccino.

The original focaccia – about 2 centimetres thick, crispy and oily on the outside and tender inside – is the one produced in Genoa and it is such an important staple in the Italian cuisine that its recipe is protected by Slow Food, the global organization founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions. Nowadays each region in Italy has its own variation of focaccia and it is not unusual to find it under different names: pizza bianca is the thin, salty one that can be found in Lazio, especially in and around Rome, while schiacciata or schiaccia indicates the taller, softer version that can be enjoyed in Tuscany; in Apulia there is the Focaccia Barese stuffed with tomatoes while the most popular flatbread in Sicily is the Schiacciata Catanese, with cheese and anchovies. Despite the differences that characterize each one of them, the ingredients always remain the same: water, yeast, extra virgin olive oil, salt and good flour.

Food trends, Gourmet food

RISOTTO: A VERSATILE DISH THAT RIVALS PASTA

14/01/2021
RISOTTO: A VERSATILE DISH THAT RIVALS PASTA

The essence of Italian food is simplicity: a few seasonal ingredients and basic cooking techniques can produce all those delicious dishes that are now famous all over the world. Risotto is one of them. Made by combining rice with a few ingredients of choice, its very first recipe originates from Northern Italy where rice – introduced by the Arabs in the Middle Ages – has been grown since the 14th century. The humidity of that area is ideal for the cultivation of those shorter-grained varieties which, after so many centuries, are still used to prepare a main course that easily rivals pasta.

Versatility is what makes risotto so popular: one could try a different recipe every single day of the year and not run out of new combinations of flavours to experiment. Staple recipes are Risotto alla Milanese (with saffron), Risotto alla Trevigiana (with radicchio), Risotto alla Parmigiana (with Parmigiano cheese) and Risotto ai Funghi (with mushrooms); however, nowadays many chefs in the world are opting for seasonal and local ingredients thus creating new versions of this dish which are just as enjoyable as the classic ones. Whatever the ingredients, the perfect Italian risotto should be all’onda, that is creamy without being runny. Cooking times may vary depending on the type of rice used; still, it always needs to be cooked to a consistency that equals al dente for pasta, with each single grain slightly firm to the bite.

With a significant 52% of the entire European rice production, our country boasts about 200 local varieties to choose from. Up until 2016 they were divided into four categories: comune, semifino, fino and superfino; then in 2017 the Ente Nazionale Risi – the national body that safeguards the quality of the rice produced in Italy – changed this classification and now Italian rice is differentiated according to the grain size. When it comes to making risotto, the best varieties are Arborio and Carnaroli. Despite the simplicity of its preparation, this dish may result time-consuming for those who have a hectic lifestyle: for this reason, the latest trend in the market is fast cooking, ready-to-eat risotto that significantly reduces the cooking time without giving up on quality.

Gourmet food

ITALIAN GELATO VS ICE CREAM: THE FOUR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEM

20/07/2017

 

Apart from the fact that gelato comes from Italy, people usually consider gelato and ice cream synonymous terms, but that is absolutely not the case. There are four main differences – let’s have a look at them.

1 – Italian gelato has much less fat. American ice creams have to contain at least 10% fat by law, while gelato usually contains an average of 3.8%. That’s because, unlike ice cream, gelato is made with fresh milk and not powdered milk or cream.

2 – Italian gelato is blended slowly, so it contains less air than industrially produced ice cream (10% air in gelato, 50% in ice cream). A balanced quantity of air is an essential step when making good gelato: it affects the consistency, smooth texture and appearance.

3 – Italian gelato is kept at a temperature of around -12°C, while industrially produced ice cream is usually kept at an average of -20°C. This makes an unmistakable difference to the product’s taste.

4 – Italian handmade ice cream is usually made in small batches that are consumed shortly afterwards. That’s why it doesn’t need the preservatives or additives that industrially produced ice cream needs to be stored for long periods of time.

A year-round market
If we analyse global consumer trends in frozen desserts (ice cream, Italian gelato and sorbet), one fact stands out: they are all products that are not influenced by the season or climate. If we look at per capita consumption per country, Business Insider’s league table surprisingly awards New Zealand the top spot, with an average of 28.4 litres per person per year, followed by the USA with 20.8, Australia with 18, Finland with 14.2, Sweden with 12, Canada with 10.6, Denmark with 9.9, Ireland with 9.4, Italy with 8 and the UK with 7. What’s even more surprising is the figure that reveals that, of all the states in the USA, Alaska – where the average temperature never rises above 19°C – consumes the most ice cream. In contrast, Texas, where the climate is decidedly warmer, only comes tenth.

The Italian gelato boom in the USA
Italian handmade gelato is increasingly popular in the USA. Thanks to the range of flavours, its nutritional balance and its ‘exotic charm’, it’s the perfect combination and a luxury that many Americans are increasingly indulging in, even if just to take in the typical atmosphere of an Italian ice cream parlour. If we look at the figures, consumption of Italian gelato in the USA has been constantly increasing since 2009, with annual sales estimated to be worth approximately $210 million. However, we should stress that although gelato accounts for a smaller share of the frozen dessert market, it is also the sector with the fastest growth (up 32% in 2016).

Food trends, Gourmet food

THE GOURMET STREET FOOD PHENOMENON

08/06/2017

It’s winning over everyone: Michelin-starred chefs, food and wine critics, food bloggers, entrepreneurs and, of course, consumers. We’re talking about gourmet street food: the modern-day reinterpretation of street food that uses top-quality ingredients. It’s still a niche market but it is rapidly growing, particularly in big cities where the number of food trucks offering sophisticated delicacies from all over the world is increasing.

Today, meal times have changed due to busy lifestyles and the lack of spare time. So-called “metro eaters” eat on their way from one appointment to another and they have two priorities: quality and speed. According to food anthropologist Lucia Galasso – who contributed to research commissioned by Sanpellegrino, a leader in the beverage industry –gourmet street food is a vehicle we use to communicate our food values to others. It’s no coincidence that every food preference is catered for in large cities. What we are dealing with is a reaction to standardised food that could end up making us lose the sense of those unmistakable details that reveal the identity of a particular cuisine. As far as this aspect is concerned, street food is a tool that allows us to explore a territory and rediscover recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next at an affordable price. And let’s not forget storytelling. Often street cooks are the repositories of an oral tradition of traditional cuisine: a pleasure that involves all the senses and wins us over through the stories they tell and their gestures.

A number of international cases demonstrate the rise of gourmet street food. The chefs at New York’s Rouge Tomate, a well-known restaurant on the Upper East Side boasting a Michelin star, have created the “Rouge Tomate Cart in the Park”, which offers a street menu at the entrance to Central Park Zoo. Italy, with its rich food tradition, is just as far ahead: Michelin-starred chefs Cristina Bowerman and Mauro Uliassi offer their specialities in the open air from an Ape Romeo three-wheel van and the “Uliassi street good gang”. The Michelin guide has also joined the fray, and in 2016 it ennobled this phenomenon by awarding a star to two landmarks of Singapore’s street food: the Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle food stall and the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles food stall.

Gourmet food

Italian Carnival rhymes with Venice

02/03/2017
italian carnival

 

Carnival has just ended, but the party atmosphere still lingers on. All of Italy celebrates Carnival, but the most popular and famous carnival is the Carnival of Venice. It’s one of the of the oldest in the world and it’s surreal because it’s set in a city that is so mouthwatering, so picturesque that no matter where you look, it looks like a postcard. Continue Reading…

Gourmet food

Italian Food: Japan’s culinary passion

16/02/2017
italian food in japan

Japan is famous for its variety of culinary delights such as sushi, sashimi, ramen or Gyoza as well as Sake and Shocho. Although traditional Japanese culinary culture remains a strong part of the national identity, Japanese consumers enjoy a more diverse and international range of food products. Continue Reading…