ImportantFacts Flag of Italy Capital: Rome Population: 58,147,733 (July 2007 est.)
Borders • Austria, France, Holy City (Vatican City), San Marino, Slovenia, Switzerland • Mediterranean Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Ionian Sea, Adriatic Sea
Agriculture Production of major agricultural products includes: sugar beets, wheat, corn, tomatoes, barley, rice, and soybeans. Italy is also a big producer of wine grapes (#1), olives, and olive oil.
People & Language Ethnic Groups: Italian (includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south) Religion: Roman Catholic 90%, other 10% includes Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)
Food Briefs Although Italians are known throughout the world for pizza, pasta, and tomato sauce, The national diet of Italy has traditionally differed greatly by region. Prior to the blending of cooking practices among different regions, it was possible to distinguish Italian cooking simply by the type of cooking fat used: butter was used in the north, pork fat in the center of the country, and olive oil in the south. Northern Dishes: Staple dishes in the north are rice and polenta. Pasta is more likely to be served with a white cheese sauce. Southern Dishes: The staple dish in the south is pasta. Pasta is more likely to be served with a tomato-based sauce in the south. Italians are known for their use of herbs in cooking, especially oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and sage. Cheese also plays an important role in Italian cuisine. There are more than 400 types of cheese made in Italy, with Parmesan, mozzarella, and asiago among the best known worldwide. Prosciutto ham, the most popular ingredient of the Italian antipasto (first course) was first made in Parma, a city that also gave its name to Parmesan cheese.
Dining Italians take food seriously. They prefer to dine in a leisurely fashion, savoring their meals over a bottle of wine and conversation. Wine and bread are always served during main meals. Breakfast: light, caffellatte (coffee with milk) or cappuccino with bread, butter, and jam, or cake. Main Meals: consist of an antipasto, a pasta or rice dish (depending on the region) such as risotto, a main meat or fish course, a salad, and cheese and fruit. Lunch (il pranza or la seconda colazione) is the main meal of the day and is eaten between noon and 2 p.m. In southern Italy, where people take a long break during the hottest part of the day, dinner (la cena) is served later than in the north, often after 7:30 p.m. Snacks: Italians have two traditional snack times. Spuntini (midmorning snacks) and the mid-afternoon merende. Both usually serve a type of bread dough with toppings. Some typical merende are bruschetta (usually a long loaf of bread, cut into slices and topped with seasonings), focaccio (an Italian flatbread), and crostini (fried slices of polenta). Espresso is a standard beverage throughout Italy. Customers at the country's numerous espresso bars can often be heard ordering customized versions such as lungo (diluted), macchiato (with milk), or freddo (iced).