Of Food and Beverages in Italy

Posted June 25, 2019 by Keith Seiz

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a foodie. I write about food extensively, love to cook and I get paid to talk about the food industry. I spend a better part of my personal and professional life thinking about food.

So, when the family decided to vacation to Italy this summer, I knew food would be a big part of our journey. In fact, we centered two whole days of our vacation solely around food, and they were two of the better experiences I’ve had.

On our second day in Rome, we traveled out of the chaos of the city center and into a quieter neighborhood. There, we met a family that took us into their home and shared with us their love of their culture and food. Our day started at one of the largest food markets in Rome where we perused fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fishes looking for what we would be cooking later that day.

The market was spectacular. Bins full of beautiful squash blossoms; massive tins of salt-preserved sardines and cod open for local chefs to sample and take as needed; and organic wine from Chianti sold in plastic water bottles.

The wine was excellent and only had a three-day shelf life. I talked to the wine maker and she explained that the wine will be used as the house wine for some of the top restaurants in Rome. By packaging it in plastic bottles with no corks, they are able to deliver a quality organic wine at a low cost to restaurants, who in turn charge a fair price for a glass or liter of wine.

Could you imagine wine being sold in unlabeled plastic bottles at a farmer’s market in the United States? Americans (and the FDA) would revolt. Italians, instead, celebrate the simplicity of the solution of bringing high-quality wines to consumers at affordable prices.

I learned on my trip that this simplicity extends to every aspect of the food culture in Rome and the Tuscany region. When my family took its first cooking lesson, the focus was on Italian sauces and desserts. There were no extensive recipes to follow and laundry lists of ingredients to use. Instead, each recipe consisted of less than four ingredients.

According to Chef Piedro, who walked us through our sauces, there are few Italian recipes that require more than four ingredients. Instead, he stressed, the focus should be on the quality of the ingredients and the techniques used.

Ask my wife, I overcomplicate every meal I make, so this was a foreign concept to me, but one I gladly embraced by the end of the trip.

On our next cooking excursion, we spent the day at Chef Andrea’s house, which was a charming small home amid the Tuscan hills. While the house was cozy, his garden was expansive and filled with herbs, fruit trees, vegetables and honey bees!

Similar to Chef Piedro, Chef Andrea stressed the simplicity of cooking. He commented early in the day that my two kids (6- and 9-years old) would be able to handle all aspects of the five-course meal. He too, had us make simple foods with often no more than three ingredients.  

He was right, and my daughters jumped right in and handled all aspects of dinner preparation while my wife and I sipped on wine from the local winery. The meal was outstanding, my daughters were proud, and I can go home and make everything we cooked without following a recipe I printed out. It was all so simple that I remembered everything from the experience.

My trip to Italy has me thinking quite a bit about my approach to food as the cook in the family. It also has me rethinking the role of consumer-packaged foods and beverages in the United States. On the plus side, ingredient listings are simplifying. On the negative side, our product packaging is getting more convoluted as manufacturers try to stick as many claims on a product as possible.

Maybe instead, food manufacturers should learn from the Italian food culture. Focus on the core ingredients in your product and promote their freshness and simplicity.

Don’t overcomplicate things.

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