Postcards from Italy

Pork: Italy's Favorite White Meat

Italy's historic “cucina povera” rustic cuisine is heavily influenced by the deeply-rooted Italian tradition of rural families raising and home-butchering a pig (or two) each winter to see them through the year. Pigs are one of the easiest and most inexpensive stock animals to raise, and for centuries the symbiotic relationship between grazing pigs on acorns and chestnuts from the towering trees lining sown fields, which were in turn - ahem - fertilized by the foraging animals' passage, was essential in keeping Italy's tiny subsistence family farms productive and maintaining the picturesque patchwork countryside of fields and woods that covers much of the country.

pork-butcher-cr-brian-dore (Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though the custom of raising a family pig is gradually disappearing as the Italian population becomes increasingly urban and wealthy, the popularity and ubiquity of pork in the national diet continues. From charcuterie to grilled ribs, Italians love their excellent domestic pork and don't shy away from thick, flavorful ribbons of fat running through their *prosciutto* and lining their chops or, in the case of lardo di colonnata, served thinly sliced on toasted bread. Be sure to sample some quality local pork while visiting Italy, and you'll understand why this delicious specialty is Italy's favorite white meat.
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Driving in Italy: When You Must and When You Shouldn't

One of the biggest conundrums for travelers to Italy is whether or not to rent a car while visiting the country. Driving in this country can be tricky, and if you do decide to rent a car, we suggest you take a look at our tips in Want To Rent A Car In Italy: A Few Things To Consider. In addition, there are some excellent resources online for a quick overview of rules of the road and common road signs to brush up on before taking the wheel.

Arezzo(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though there are many destinations in Italy for which a car is both unnecessary and a nuisance, there are other situations in which you may enjoy having the freedom and flexibility of your own transportation. Here are some suggestions to help you decide about whether or not you should consider renting a car during your trip to Italy:

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A Day in Trieste

The world sees Italy as a homogenous country, united from north to south by a common language and culture, but this relatively new nation was united only in the late 1800's from a patchwork of former kingdoms and territories grouped - sometimes reluctantly - under a single flag but with vastly diverse histories and traditions. This is especially true in the case of the Italian islands, where millennia of geographic isolation has created local cultures much different from mainland Italy, and on the northern Alpine borders, where many regions were part of the neighboring empires until very recently.

Piazza Unità d'Italia(Photo by Leandro Ciuffo via Flickr)

The elegant city of Trieste is an excellent example of Italy's fascinating diversity. Located on the border between Italy and Slovenia on the Adriatic coast, this wealthy city has seen at least a dozen waves of invaders and rulers since the Romans. Most recently, Italy was granted the city after World War I and annexed the area from the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Though Trieste remained an intellectual hub and center for important literary and artistic movements, the rise of Fascism and campaign to transform this formerly heterogeneous city into a “città italianissima” led to attacks on and subsequent emigrations of the city's large ethnically Slovene population in addition to its Jewish population, which was the third largest in Italy.
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Breakfast in Italy

Though you are likely to have some of the most memorable meals in your life while traveling in Italy, breakfast will probably not be one of them. In a country where the cuisine is based on local traditions, fresh ingredients, and nutritiously sound principles, the average breakfast in most of the country is a perplexing aberration.

Alongside their cappuccino or tea, an Italian will gulp down a “cornetto” if having breakfast at the corner bar - what cafés are called in Italy - or a handful of breakfast cookies (yes, cookies) and a fruit juice or yogurt if eating at home. There is very little variety at the breakfast table, though Kellogg cereals have started to become popular over the past decade, and what little variety there is remains within the category of highly sweetened and refined processed foods.

easter-breakfast-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Of course, breakfast wasn't always like this. Most older Italians, especially those from the small towns and rural areas, remember growing up with a savory breakfast of legumes, bread and olive oil, or homemade charcuterie and cheeses. As excellently explained in this Eater article, the post-war economic prosperity and the shift away from an agricultural economy spawned both the trend of eating breakfast at the bar and the rise in commercial breakfast foods, primarily mass-produced frozen or packaged cornetti and breakfast cookies. What is considered the “traditional” morning repast in Italy now isn't traditional at all, but a cultural phenomenon that began in the 1970's.

So, what are your breakfast options in Italy? Here is an overview:

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