In this section you will find the basics about shopping in Italy for groceries.
Bread - Pane
Italy has many kinds of bread. You can get everything from Baguettes to flat bread. The main bread of Tuscany is salt free. This was because of taxes imposed on salt in the old days. If you do not want pane Toscana (nostrale), a great bread is pane pugliese. It has a nice hard crust and has salt in the bread. You can also find ciaccino or schiacciata which are like focaccia. Ciaccino can also be a type of pizza. It is a pizza without tomato sauce also known as a white pizza.
Salumi e Affettati - Cold Cuts
Prosciutto To begin, there are 2 different items that are considered prosciutto:
- Prosciutto cotto, which is, boiled ham and
- Prosciutto crudo which is what is translated into English as just prosciutto or Parma Ham. Crudo comes in 2 main variations, sweet or salty. Sweet is Prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele. Salty are the ones labeled Nostrale in Tuscany. Nostrale means ours by the way.
Speck is like smoked prosciutto crudo. It is wonderful in cooking and on ciaccino.
Pancetta is like bacon but not smoked (we do have smoked style and they call it bacon or pancetta affumicata). Wonderful as a base with soffritto in many Tuscan treats.
Bresaola, is dry cured beef. Most times you will find it listed as Carpaccio di Bresaola on a menu.
Salame. There are so many different types that it would take forever to list. Ones that are Calabrese or Napolitano are spicy and normally are a little red. Finocchiona is covered with fennel seeds. Toscana or nostrale is has large bits of fat and whole pepper kernels, Milanese is ground much finer so there are no big nuggets and it is also much larger.
Capocolla is what is referred to as coppa in the States. Lovely with a hint of fennel and a lot of pepper.
Mortadella di Bologna The Oscar Meyer stuff was a take off on mortadella. Finally, the real stuff is legal in the US so you might have already had some. You can buy little ones but the best are the huge 10 foot long ones that are about 2 feet in diameter. If you happen on a store when they are having a special, get a wedge. Cubed up it is great in salads, on pizza, etc.
Formaggio - Cheese
Pecorino is the Tuscan specialty. There are 3 main types. New, normally with a yellow or cream colored rind, aged which normally has a red rind and very aged which is black. The more aged the drier the cheese.
Parmigiano, well that is self explanatory but make sure you grate it or shave it yourself.
Pecorino Romano is a peppery aged cheese that is the main cheese in Carbonara and can be substituted with Parmigiano.
Taleggio is a wonderful soft cheese used on crackers or in cooking. Finish off a risotto with this.
Mozzarella. There are 3 main types:
- Mozzarella di bufala is the traditional mozzarella. It is wonderful and should not be missed. Drizzled with olive oil and served with tomatoes and basil or kalamata olives, oh bliss.
- Fior di Latte or what most people just call (although incorrectly) mozzarella. This is made from cow milk.
- mozzarella per pizza which is less watery and so the pizza doesn’t get soggy
Stracchino is a very runny fresh cheese. Great in pasta, risotto, on bread and of course on pizza and ciaccino.
Scamorza is a firmer cheese and it is wonderful grilled. You can also find scamorza affumicata (smoked).
Ricotta. Italians love ricotta and are notorious for getting it and adding marmalade (marmalata) to it and eating it like that. It is not cottage cheese. You can either get the fresh sheep or cow type.
When ordering meats and cheeses at a deli counter, they are ordered by the etto (1 etto is 100 grams or a little less than a ¼ pound). So quattro etti (4 etti) is almost a pound.
Latte - Milk
There is fresh or UHT (ultra high temperature). UHT is easier to keep around. As they do not need to be refrigerated until they have been opened. They sell fresh milk too; latte fresco. The 3 types of milk are:
intero which is whole milk,
parzialmente scremato which is low fat and
scremato which is non fat.
Panna - Cream
Again, more than one type. Here you also have fresh and UHT. Fresh is panna fresca and is kept in the refrigerator section. UHT is either Panna da cucina for cooking or Panna da dolce or da montare for whipping cream. The UHT panna da cucina is much thicker, about twice as thick as whipping cream. To use, cut the top off and stir it first as the water separates out, then adjust with a bit of milk to thin it if needed.
Burro – Butter
Normal butter here is sweet not salty. If you prefer salted butter, Lurpack is a great butter made in Denmark and sold at most larger grocery chains.
Olio d’Oliva - Olive Oil
Extra vergine or extra virgin is the first cold press and the best If you can find the first cold press that is released in November (called olio nuovo) then get as much as you can. It stays good for 1 year and should be kept away from heat or light but do not store it in the refrigerator please. First cold press unfiltered should be used to drizzle on foods and bread.
Olio di oliva normal is great for cooking.
Zucchero - Sugar
Zucchero semolato is granulated. It is a courser grind than US sugar so if making sweets you may want to grind it finer (that is if you have a cuisinart type machine which is called a robot with a silent t).
Zucchero al velo is powdered sugar. Main problem here is that it is normally vaniglato which means vanilla has been added to it.
Dolcificante - Sugar Substitute
Dietor is what we use instead of Sweet & Low and Equal. Some places do have Sweet and Low but it isn't the same.
Bicarbinato di Sodio - Baking soda
Seems the same as stateside.
Lievito in Polvere - Baking Powder
Be careful here as some have vanilla added.
Sale - Salt
grosso is like kosher salt
fino is normal salt
marino is sea salt
Fagioli - Beans
ceci which are chick peas or garbanzo beans,
borlotti which are used mainly for soups (almost like kidney beans) and
cannelini beans or white beans
Verdure – Vegetables
Almost everything here is seasonal. You cannot for example always find Artichokes year round but that is okay because you only get them when they are ripe and ready to eat. Of course some places are importing items from other countries to change this but try to buy just seasonal items. You will notice the difference. Look to the mini dictionary for translations.
When purchasing veggies at supermarkets, you will need to first put on a glove (provided next to the bags) and then bag and weigh each item. When you weigh them you will have a machine and you will need to select the correct item from the screen. Then a tape will be printed with the item’s name, the weight, per kilo price and the total amount. Stick this to the bag and continue on. To see these machines and further details, please read this section at SlowTrav
Helpful info -
Peperoni are not the sliced sausage that you put on pizza.
They are instead bell peppers or capsicum.
Mini Grocery Dictionary
Besides the brief descriptions above, here are some other translations that you may find helpful.
Balsamo – Conditioner
Dentifricio – Toothpaste
Deodorante – Deodorant
Grassi – for oily hair
Lacca – Hair Spray
Shampoo or Sciampoo – Shampoo
Trattati –for treated hair
Rasoi – Razors
Schiuma da Barba – Shaving Cream
MEAT & POULTRY (types and cuts):
Agnello – Lamb
Ali – Wings
Anatra or Anitra – Duck
Coscia – Leg
Fegato – Liver
Manzo – Beef
Oca – Goose
Petto - Breast
Pollo – Chicken
Sovracoscia – Thigh
Tacchino – Turkey
Vitello – Calf
Vitellone – Beef
FRUITS & VEGETABLES:
Aglio – Garlic
Albicocca – Apricot
Arancia – Orange
Barbabietola – Beets
Bietola – Swiss Chard
Carciofi – Artcichokes
Carote – Carrots
Cavolfiore - Cauliflower
Cavolo – Cabbage
Cavolo di Broccoli – Broccoli
Cipolla – Onion
Clementina – Seedless Tangerine
Funghi – Mushrooms
Limone – Lemon
Mandarina – Tangerine
Mela - Apple
Melanzana – Eggplant
Peperoncini – Spicy peppers
Peperoni – Bell Peppers
Pesca – Peach
Pomi – Persimmon
Pomodori – Tomatoes
Prezzemolo – Parsley
Rucola – Arugula
Sedano – Celery
Spinaci – Spinach
Uva – Grapes
Acciughe – Anchovies
Aceto – Vinegar
Aceto Bianco – White Wine Vinegar
Amido di Mais – Corn Starch
Bicarbinato di Sodio – Baking Soda
Capperi – Capers
Farina “0” – Bread flour
Farina “00” – A/P Flour
Lievito di Birra – Yeast for Breads
Lievito in Polvere – Baking Powder
Maionese – Mayonaise
Mais – Corn
Miele – Honey
Olio di Arachidi – Peanut Oil
Olio di Mais – Corn Oil
Olio di Semi – Seed Oil
Senape – Mustard
Tonno – Tuna
Uova – Eggs
Bacche di Ginepro – Juniper Berries
Dragoncello – Tarragon
Maggiorana – Marjoram
Raffano – Horseradish
Rosmarino – Rosemary
Salvia – Sage
Timo – Thyme
Ammorbidente – Fabric Softener
Candeggina – Bleach
Carta da Cucina – Paper Towels
Carta Igenica – Toilet Paper
Guanti – Gloves
Sacchi per spazzatura – Garbage Bags
Sapone per Lavastoviglie – Dishwasher Soap
Sapone per Lavatrice – Washing Machine Soap
Sapone per Piatti – Dish Soap
Spugna – Sponge
aluminium or carta stagnolo – tin foil
pellicola – plastic wrap
pellicola per il micronde – plastic wrap for the microwave
carta da forno – parchment paper