I never imagined that I could possibly go into pizza and mozzarella withdrawals while living in Italy. I guess what I didn’t realize until living here was how completely divided each region is by its cuisine, landscape and history. Of course as tourists, we come to understand that the food in Calabria has a bit more kick, or that Reggio Emilia is a haven for cured meats of all sorts. In the same vain, pizza and mozzarella are elements key to the typical Italian gastronomic tradition, right? Well, yes, but truly they belong specifically to Lazio and Campania – particularly Napoli. These items are not simply specialties or preferences of the regions, but rooted deeply in the landscape’s evolution. Cows are less common in the Apennine and the heel of the boot, so milk, butter and cream are not typical ingredients of Roman cuisine. Instead, there is a bounty of mozzarella from buffalo milk and pecorino cheese from the sheep that graze the countryside. Because of the drier climate, homemade pasta is much less common as you travel south, but tomatoes are featured in nearly every dish – a stark contrast to the colder north. Formaggio and pomodori come together in the Margherita pizza typical of Napoli, a dish that originated as a poor man’s street food and is now recreated in every city around the globe.
Ultimately, my time in Italy has made me realize how spoiled Americans are by globalization – in New York I can hunt down virtually any ingredient imaginable whereas within Italy I have to take a four-hour train ride for a slab of guanciale. As inconvenient as that is, the latter certainly makes you appreciate the history of regional specialties, and perhaps more importantly, the value of knowing how far the food you eat daily may have traveled.