To understand the wide range of Italian cuisines, it’s essential to look at the Italian cuisine history of Italy’s 20 geographical regions. Because, in a sense, you’re looking at the cuisines of 20 separate entities – populations that, over the centuries, blended the culinary influences of indigenous peoples, invaders, settlers, and neighbors, plus the introduction of foodstuffs from the Americas, to create what we now call Italian food.
We’ve divided this Italian cuisine history into three sections:
Northern Italian Cuisine
There are six regions in far northern Italy which share borders with the Alpine areas of France and Switzerland – Val D’Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino, Veneto, and Fruili-Venezia Giulia. Northern European Alpine influences are obvious in their diets and recipes, especially in the areas closest to the mountains. In the southern parts of the regions there is a wider range of foodstuffs consumed, with favorite dishes reflecting the many peoples who populated the area in various time periods.
There are two other regions that are traditionally included in the category of Northern Italy – Liguria and Emilia-Romagna. Located south of the alpine states, neither shares a border with another country, so their cuisines have fewer Northern European influences.
Central Italian Cuisine
The designation of Central Italy usually refers to four regions – Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, and Lazio. Italian cuisine history in these regions reflects the tumultuous history the Italian peninsula, from the Roman Empire through the Renaissance to the present day.
Southern Italian Cuisine
Southern Italy consists of eight regions – Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The cuisines of these areas, especially those of Campania and Sicily, have been popularized in countries across the globe, due to the large numbers of immigrants from these areas over the past 150 years.