I think every student going to study abroad in Italy anticipates eating their fair share of pasta, pizza, and, of course, gelato. When telling people that I was going to study in Florence, almost everyone made a comment about the food. Never having been to Italy before, my previous Italian food experiences consisted of Pizza Hut and Olive Garden. I was eager to have my first, truly authentic, Italian meal.
Now that I have been here for almost two weeks, I have fallen in love with the food of Florence. I have tried many different pastas, cheeses, gelato, and have even made my own pizza! I could write a novel about the all of the delicious food that I have been lucky enough to experience, but I thought I would highlight a few personal favorites. It is first important to point out, though, that I list them in no particular order. Rating one above another in deliciousness would be impossible; they are all unique in flavor and equally satisfying!
1. Olive Oil
I have probably consumed more olive oil in these past two weeks than I have collectively throughout my entire 21 years of life. At every restaurant that I have gone to so far, there has been a bottle of olive oil sitting at each table. Most meals are preceded by a basket of bread slices that are meant to be dipped in a small puddle of olive oil before being eaten. Though the oil itself is not bursting with flavor, in allowing it to soak into the bread, it moistens the dry surface and compliments its natural flavors. I have come to love olive oil’s ability to add a bit of flavor without being too substantial; one can easily keep room in her stomach for the delicious meal to come.
2. Mozzarella di Bufala
As a born and raised Wisconsinite, I am a lover of cheese. I have eaten copious amounts of high quality cheese in my lifetime, so I am very critical when it comes to cheese from anywhere else. Though I will always love a fresh batch of Wisconsin cheese curds, I have enjoyed getting to try a few Italian cheeses in a variety of different forms (spreads, slices, etc.) A new favorite of mine is Buffalo Mozzarella, or Mozzarella di Bufala, in Italian. This cheese is made from the milk of an Italian water buffalo, and has a little bit of a salty flavor, which, in my opinion is much better than the more bland mozzarella made from cow’s milk. Eaten fresh, the cheese is moist and the texture is soft and spongy. Initially, all mozzarella was made with buffalo milk, but because using cow’s milk was cheaper, that soon became more common. When you’re tired of eating pasta (never, right? Believe me, it’s possible), a Caprese Salad with mozzarella di bufala, drizzled in balsamic vinegar, is the perfect, lighter option.
Bruschetta is a very common appetizer, even in the States, but in Italy, it just seems so much better. How it is all put together is similar everywhere: grilled bread covered with garlic, topped with small slices of tomato, olive oil, and pepper. I think what makes true Italian bruschetta so much better is the freshness of the ingredients. In general, all of the tomatoes I have had here are perfectly ripe- they are slightly crisp and sweeter than any I have had before. With the addition of the delicious olive oil (which I raved about earlier) and a little bit of pepper, you get the most flavorful topping on a crisp slice of bread. Aside from the traditional tomato bruschetta, in Italy bruschetta refers to grilled bread with any number of toppings. They had a mushroom spread, avocado spread, artichoke spread, and a typical tomato one. It was very interesting to try each kind, and the flavors blended well together. I very much enjoyed it, as a whole, and would recommend it to any other bruschetta-loving foodies.
After finishing dinner, it is an Italian tradition to have biscotti and a glass of Vin Santo (holy wine) to dip it in. I was lucky enough to attend the famous Biscottificio Antonio Mattei in Prato, where they have been making their own biscotti since 1858. They make a fresh batch of their many different kinds every morning to be sold that day. Right when we walked into the store, I was overwhelmed with the sweet aroma of honey and almonds, which make up their original biscotti flavor. We got to try some that were just made, still warm from baking. They were amazing, to say the least; it was impossible to just eat one. Like all classic biscotti, it was crisp, but because they were so fresh, the center was a little softer. The balance of honey and almond flavors was perfectly matched -neither one outshined the other. If you get the chance to go to Prato, which is only about 25 minutes outside of Florence, you should most definitely stop into this adorable shop for a sample and buy a bag to bring home.
5. Nutella Gelato
It is impossible to leave out gelato when talking about Italian food. This Italian version of ice cream is more dense than the American version, and contains all natural ingredients. I have had gelato almost every day since I have been here, and have enjoyed every single kind I have tried. With a seemingly endless variety of flavors, ranging from lavender to banana to dark chocolate, it is hard to pick a favorite. However, I must admit that, for me personally, one flavor has stood out from the rest. One afternoon, as I was stopping by another gelato shop, I spotted Nutella flavored gelato. I had to try it, as I am a huge Nutella enthusiast. I was not at all disappointed with what I received: vanilla gelato swirled with large scoops of Nutella, each bite the ideal combination of both. My only regret now is having tried it and having to compare it to ice cream back in the States!