Fake Italian Food
It is tough to know these days what is real and what isn’t. We are bombarded with messaging that may or may not be true and so it is with what is real when it comes to Italian food products that we use most frequently. At the top of the list is cheese; specifically what is called parmesan but what the Italians refer to Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Parmigiano-Reggiano: it is sold to order cut into wedges and the pin dots on the rind spelling out the words Parmigiano-Reggiano tell you that you are purchasing the real thing; this cheese never comes in a shaker box.
Tomato Paste: Look for 100% tomato paste from Italy made from San Marzano tomatoes. So many imitation ones use leftover tomato skins and additives to make “tomato paste.”Mutti is a good brand to consider.
Olive Oil: A huge conundrum for most people because even if the bottle says product of Italy that could mean that the olives are a mix coming from other countries but processed into oil on Italian ships in Italian waters. Look instead for small producer labels that tell you the oil is coming form a specific region of Italy.
San Marzano DOP Canned Tomatoes: These plum tomatoes can only be grown in and around San Marzano and carry the DOP designation (denominazione origine protetta) meaning the product is guaranteed to come from a specific area and meets certain growing criteria. These tomatoes are low acid, pulpy and are never sold pureed, minced or diced but always whole. So if the can you are purchasing says San Marzano without the DOP designation and the seal of the EU, it is just a strain of plum tomatoes.
Pine Nuts from the stone pine tree of Italy are creamy, not dry like those coming from China often passed off as Italian pine nuts.
Dry Pasta brands are all over the place; look for those that are made in Italy with 100% semolina flour. Those made with enriched flour are not the same. The best dry pastas are extruded through bronze dies, leaving the surface of the pasta rough, not shiny. That roughness is critical to how the sauce attaches itself to the pasta; slippery, non extruded pastas are slippery and shiny and most sauce falls to the bottom of the bowl. Whereas sauce clings very well to die extruded pasta.