It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Italians are mad. No, not angry. They are a people that consume and proliferate sensory pleasure with such unique ferocity that to some they may seemed possessed -- entranced by earthly delights. After all, this is the culture that invented la dolce vita (the sweet life) and dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). They have given the world Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi, Giacomo Puccini, Miuccia Prada, Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren, Gianni Versace, Andrea Boccelli and Chiara Ferragni; they created and shared the art and architecture of the Renaissance, opera music, pizza, Ferrari sports cars, high fashion, the Carrara marble quarries and Murano glass. The entire country is only 3/4 the size of California, and yet they dominate in their contributions of beauty to the world, across both history and modern times. If they've given us music for our ears, art for our eyes and textiles for our hands, they've given us wine and food culture for our soul.
Though it's shaped like a boot, Italy hardly fits into a box. The country is a Republic comprised of 20 different regions, yet it seems the only thing that unites them all are the triumphs and tortures of the Azzurri, their national football squad. But, outside of Euro and World Cup years, Italians live and die by their regionality. Visit any one region and a swath of locals will emphatically educate you on why theirs is the best and the most "Italian." It's not that they have a problem getting along; their long history of various city-states, papal states, kingdoms, invasions and still more invasions have led to an ethos of campanilisimo -- loyalty to (and pride in) the local bell tower. This has solidified the importance of traditions within local communities, making the abundance of cultural norms simply mad -- you know, that beautiful mad.
So, what does this mean for wine and food? Well, you certainly can't paint it with a broad brush. And, you can't definie it in simple terms. You can spend your entire life steeped in Italian wine and food and still uncover something new. Geographically, the country's landscape is as diverse as the regions -- mountains, volcanoes, coastlines. There are about as many crops as their are local bell towers. That makes Italian flavors endlessly wonderful, if also drastically confusing.
The Registro Nazionale (the official governing document of wine grape varieties) lists 605, of which about 500 are considered to be indigenous to Italy. The wine DOP system (Protected Designation of Origin, of which there are 329) was created to preserve and protect regionality, and to set a standard of quality upon which consumers around the world can rely. There are more than 165 DOP foods, ranging from cheeses to meats to vegetables and fruits. Wine and food is the heartbeat of Italy, and even the national government is committed to ensuring each region's identity has a vein back to the center of it all. It's confusing. It's eccentric. It's mad.
So, here, on this tiny corner of the internet, I'll break down the soul of Italian wine and food. It's a treasure they offer to us so we don't miss out on the aspects of life meant to be enjoyed; it's the kind of artistry we need in our fast-paced lives. From they who have mastered the ability to appreciate the beauty of the moment to those of us who feel like we're constantly struggling to keep up -- may we pause to quench and feed our spirits with recipes of Italian hands. May we find all that we need in the madness.