Just off the toe of Italy's boot lies the picturesque Italian island of Sicily, set in the glistening waters of the Mediterranean sea.
Thousands of years of history, culture and cuisine and a unique geographical setting have made it one of Italy's top tourist destinations. As they say: "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all."
And where better to get a sense of the heart of the island on a visit than through unique and plentiful Sicilian food.
On your next trip, get a taste of the real Sicily and its food with this selection of 15 of the must try authentic locally produced cheeses, bread, fruit, vegetables and meat.
1. RAGUSANO DOP
Called Cosacavaddu (caciocavallo) in Sicily, this cheese is produced in the provinces of Ragusa and Siracusa. It is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese that has a sweet taste and can become very spicy with ageing.
2. VASTEDDA DELLA VALLE DEL BELICE (Vastedda from the Belice Valley)
Photo: Slow Food Foundation
Protected by the Slow Food Presidium this is one of the few spun paste sheep cheeses. Borne out of the idea of recovering "defective" cheeses (or 'failed' cheese in local dialect), it's best consumed fresh within two to three days of making.
3. PIACENTINU ENNESE
The secret of this flavoursome cheese lies in the combination of saffron (which gives it an eye catching yellow colour) and black peppercorns. Legend has it that in the 11th century, Roger I, the Count of Altavilla, asked cheesemakers in the region to add spice to the cheese to treat his wife's depression.
4. PANE NERO DI CASTELVETRANO (Castelvetrano Black Bread)
Photo: Sicilia Online
This distinctive looking bread is baked to perfection, with a dark and hard crust sprinkled with sesame seeds, and a yellowish soft crumb inside. A mixture of two flours is used to make it, including hard wheat from Sicilia and Timilia, which are both ground with stone. Cooking in wood ovens fired by olive wood completes the bake, giving the bread its sweet and intense flavour.
5. CIOCCOLATA DI MODICA (Modica Chocolate)
Photo: Cioccolatera Bonajuto
This unique chocolate can only be produced in the Sicilian town of Modica. The chocolate interior reveals grains of sugar, still intact, which is thanks to a special production system that includes neither conching or tempering, but cold processing.
6. SALE MARINO DI TRAPANI (Trapani Sea Salt)
Photo: Slow Food Foundation
This simple sea salt is achieved by letting the seawater evaporate inside the so-called salt marshes located on the coast of Trapani. Compared to normal salt it contains more potassium and magnesium, and less sodium chloride.
7. SUINO NERO DEI NEBRODI (Black Pigs from Nebrodi)
Photo: Tipi Tosti
Thanks to breeding in the semi-wild in the forests of the Nebrodi, the meat of these pigs (most similar in appearance to wild boar) acquires both unique flavours and aromas of extraordinary intensity, lending itself particularly well to ageing and being made into salami, bacon or sausages.
8. AGLIO ROSSO DI NUBIA (Red garlic from Nubia)
Photo: Specialita di Sicilia
Besides being beautiful to look at, especially when the onions are woven in traditional braids (about 100 heads each), Nubia garlic is the main ingredient in many recipes, the most important being pesto Trapanese.
9. CARCIOFO SPINOSO DI MENFI (Spiny Artichoke from Menfi)
Photo: Il Movimento
After having been "forgotten" about for many years due to low productivity, the cultivation of the spiny artichoke has only been taken on by a few brave producers. The spiny vegetable is particularly excellent when made into oil or pâté, especially when flavoured with mint, parsley or fennel.
10. CIPOLLA DI GIARRATANA (Giarratana Onions)
Photo: It's Sicily
The two unique features of this local onion are its size and its sweetness. Countless local recipes use the onion, usually in caponata – but its sweetness means it can even be eaten raw.
11. LENTICCHIA DI USTICA (Ustica Lentils)
Photo: Slow Food Foundation
The island of Ustica grows "the smallest lentils in Italy", the cultivation of which is made possible by the lava and fertile land. Tender and easy to cook (no need to pre–soak or cook for a long time), they are easily combined with pasta or vegetables to make very tasty soups.
12. FAGIOLO COSARUCIARU DI SCICLI (Scicli Cosaruciaru Beans)
Photo: Ragusa News
Another region, another legume, this time in Scicli in the South West of Sicily, where this bean is grown. Its name means "sweet thing" and it is easily recognisable by its white colour, with dark streaks at the centre. It matches perfectly with pork rind.
13. FRAGOLINA DI SCIACCA E RIBERA (Small Wild Strawberries from Sciacca and Ribera)
Photo: Green Arrow
Delicious to both look at and devour, this wild strawberry was first brought to the island by veterans of World War I returning from alpine resorts. If you manage to save any over from eating them fresh, they can be turned into (delicious) jams or jellies, or even ice cream.
14. Mandorla di Noto (Noto Almonds)
Photo: Good Eating
Marzipan, almond milk, biscuits, nougat, cassata: the uses of almonds in Sicilian cuisine are almost infinite. In the Noto countryside a number of varieties are cultivated, including Romana, Pizzuta d'Avola and Fascionello. Each comes with its own nuances of taste and aroma.
15. Pistacchio di Bronte (Bronte Pistacchio)
The Bronte pistacchio is one of Sicily's most famous (and unfortunately imitated) foods; it's hard to find a gelateria that doesn't boast the Bronte pistacchio flavour. Protected by a PDO and the Slow Food Presidium, the nut has the ideal balance, being both sweet and savoury.
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