Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BCE. Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish. Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century.
Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, with influences abroad.
Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Ingredients and dishes vary by region.
Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, with many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, specifically espresso, has become important in Italian cuisine. Cuisine boast of magical taste and variety
Italy is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world and Italian wines are renowned worldwide both for their quality and for their broad variety. Italy shares with France the title of largest wine producer in the world, its contribution (about 45-50 million hl per year) representing about 1/3 of world production.
Italian wine is exported around the world and is also extremely popular in Italy: Italians rank fifth on the world wine consumption list by volume with 42 liters per capita consumption. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation.
Greek settlers produced wine in Italy before the Romans started their own vineyards in the 2nd century B.C. Roman grape-growing and wine making was prolific and well-organized, pioneering large-scale production and storage techniques like barrel-making and bottling.
The categories, from the bottom level to the top one, are:
- Vini (Wines - informally called 'generic wines'): These are wines that can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU; no indication of geographical origin, of the grape varieties used, or of the vintage is allowed on the label. (The label only reports the color of the wine.)
- Vini Varietali (Varietal Wines): These are generic wines that are made either mostly (at least 85%) from one kind of authorized 'international' grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah) or entirely from two or more of them. The grape(s) and the vintage can be indicated on the label. (The prohibition to indicate the geographical origin is instead maintained. These wines can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU).
- Vini IGP (Protected Geographical Indication): This category is reserved to wines produced in a specific territory within Italy and following a series of specific and precise regulations on authorized varieties, viticultural and vinification practices, organoleptic and chemico-physical characteristics, labeling instructions, etc. Currently (2013) there exist 118 IGP wines.
- Vini DOP (Protected Designation of Origin): This category includes two sub-categories, i.e. Vini DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and Vini DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin). DOC wines must have been IGP wines for at least 5 years. They generally come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP territory, that are particularly located for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality and originality of the local winemaking traditions.