Europe and the Mediterranean
The cuisine of France is a deeply embedded cultural tradition rich with history. French cooking began its ascent during the Renaissance movement of the 16th century when Caterina de Medici married the future king of France and brought her Italian chefs and the traditions of fine food and dining to the royal courts. By the 17th century Pierre Francois de la Varenne, presiding over the kitchens of Louis XIV, established haute cuisine (high cooking), which rejected heavily spiced foods popular during medieval times in favor of natural flavors and fresh foods. In Le Cuisinier François, the first book written on French cuisine, la Varenne introduced Béchamel sauce, bouquet garni, and the use of roux for thickening soups and sauce. In the late 18th century Marie-Antoine Careme, known as the “king of cooks and the cook of kings”, established classical cuisine that built on the traditions of royal chefs before him. He was known for elaborate pastry sculptures and wrote several cookbooks that brought order and detail to recipes and culinary techniques. Auguste Escoffier, who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, organized the professional kitchen into stations thereby establishing the brigade system. He introduced the tradition of serving food in courses, simplified menus, and wrote the authoritative book, Le Guide Culinaire, that codified French cuisine and is still in use by chefs today. Fernand Point, an influential chef in the mid-20th century and owner of La Pyramide restaurant, is considered the father of modern French cuisine. He trained many chefs including Paul Bocuse, one of the founders of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement that emphasized a lighter style of cooking based on seasonally available foods. French cuisine is the foundation for professional cooking around the world. The French culinary terminology and techniques are the standard for professional training in the foodservice industry. France is also known for cuisine bourgeoisie, or simple home-style cooking that emphasizes high quality ingredients.
France is a diverse country with rich farmlands, fertile river valleys, and seacoasts that provide fresh fish and seafood. It shares its borders with Spain to the southwest, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium to the east, and Italy to the southeast. The coastal region of Brittany in the northwest centers on fishing (lobster, mussels, oysters, monkfish) and agriculture including vegetables (artichokes, beans, tomatoes), and pig and poultry breeding. It’s coastal neighbor to the east, Normandy, also known for seafood, has rich pastures that produce lamb, dairy (butter and cheese), and apple orchards that yield cider and Calvados (apple brandy). Paris, the capitol of France, is located in the north central part of the country. It is home to the second highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world and provides a diverse mix of foods from all regions of the country. Situated to the southeast of Paris, the wine-producing region of Burgundy is known for classic dishes that include escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails in garlic butter), Coq au vin (chicken in red wine), and boeuf bourguignon (beef in red wine). The Champagne region, bordering Belgium, is celebrated for its world famous sparkling wine, along with mushrooms, game, and cheeses including Brie. The eastern provinces of Alsace-Lorraine are influenced by German cuisine, and known for Chou croute (sauerkraut with sausage), quiche Lorraine (custard tart with cheese, bacon and onions), and foie gras (fattened goose liver). The Loire River Valley in the center of France is recognized for white wines including sauvignon blanc, muscadet, and chenin blanc, along with fresh goat cheeses, fruits (melons and strawberries), and freshwater fish. Beurre blanc sauce, a white wine and butter sauce served with fish, originated in this region.
Aquitaine, situated along the Atlantic Ocean includes the Pyrenees Mountains and the Basque region bordering Spain. Peppers are found in many dishes including Basque chicken with tomatoes and onions, and a pepper dip called piperade. The region specializes in rillettes and confits; pork, duck, and geese produced by curing and preserving in fats. Other specialties include Bayonne ham, and pates and terrines prepared with Perigord truffles and foie gras. Chestnuts, prunes, and mushrooms are some of the locally harvested produce. Aquitaine also includes the world famous wine region of Bordeaux that produces crisp white wines. The Provence-Cote d’Azur region is situated along the Mediterranean coastal areas adjacent to Italy is rich with seafood (the fishing port of Marseille is the birthplace of Bouillabaisse fish stew). Here olives and olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic influence the cuisine. Truffles, lavender, and Pastis, an anise flavored liquor, are consumed by the locals. Fresh citrus and herbs, along with goat cheeses, air-dried sausages, lamb, beef, and chicken are popular too. Tapenade, an olive paste, Salade nicoise (salad of lettuce, fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs, tuna, Nicoise olives and anchovies), Ratatouille (vegetable stew of tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, onions, and zucchini), aioli (garlic mayonnaise made with olive oil), and daube (red wine beef stew) are signature dishes from this region. The Alpes-Rhone region north of Provencal is a mountainous area situated next to Switzerland and Italy. Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France and the regions largest city, is known for bouchon restaurants that serve traditional pork dishes, andouillette (pork intestine sausages), and duck pates. Two famous wine growing regions, Beaujolais and Côte du Rhône, are located near Lyon, and agriculture includes cattle, lamb, poulet de Bresse (considered the best chicken in the world), chestnuts, and walnuts. Dishes from the area include Salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croutons and a poached egg), gratin dauphinoise (potato casserole with garlic, cream, and gruyere cheese), and pike quenelles (fish dumplings). The Mediterranean island of Corsica, located southeast of mainland France is mountainous with long coastal areas. Seafood, goats, sheep, and wild boar are popular here. Cheeses (prepared exclusively from sheep and goat milk), charcuterie of sausages and pates, and olive oil are some of the local products. The Italian influence is visible in popular dishes prepared with pasta, gnocchi, and polenta.
Characteristics of French Cuisine
Soupe à l'oignon (onion soup) Boeuf bourguignon, Confit de canard (duck confit) Salade nicoise Ratatouille, Tarte tatin (apple tart)
- Seafood, duck, lamb, veal, rabbit, and beef
- Dairy, cheese, crème fraîche, milk, yogurt
- Chestnuts, plums, pears, lemons, strawberries
- Shallots, leeks, artichokes, haricot verte (green beans), Lentilles de Puy (green lentils)
- Herbs de Provence, tarragon, chives, parsley, mustard
Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England
Italy boasts a rich and diverse geographic climate that stretches from mountainous Alpine regions in the north bordered by France, Austria and Switzerland, to Tuscan wine growing regions in the center of the country, down a long boot-shaped peninsula to the warm Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia. It is a country steeped in history, architecture, and art that includes remnants from the ancient Roman Empire, Vatican City, and the magnificent Renaissance art movement of the 15th century. Italy is influenced by many cultures including Arabs and Greeks in Sicily, Austria in the north and central parts of the country, along with Spanish and French rule. The various regions of Italy were united into modern day Italy in the 19th century.
Today Italian cooking is known throughout the world as easily accessible, yet for the more adventurous there are endless regional specialties to discover. Italian cooking is also known for its peasant diet of pasta, grains and legumes as well as the Alta Cucina or aristocratic food of the upper classes.
Geographically Italy can be divided into the north, central, and southern regions. In the far northern mountainous terrain the food is heartier and more reliant on dairy and meats. The central region including Rome and Tuscany is a fertile farmland known for fresh pastas and wine, while the Mediterranean climate of the south is especially suitable for tomatoes, olive oil, dried pasta and fish.
The northern areas of Italy include Valle d'Aosta where heartier fare including potatoes, polenta and cheese (Fontina is their most famous), meat and rye bread are served. The Lombardy region is home to Italy’s second largest city Milan, a major industrial, commercial and financial center. Well known food in this region includes osso buco, cross-cut veal shanks braised with tomato, white wine, vegetables and stock that is garnished with gremolata, an herb mix of lemon zest, garlic, parsley, and anchovy. Osso buco is often accompanied by risotto alla milanese, aborio rice flavored with saffron. Another classic dish from the Lombardy area is cotoletta alla milanese, a fried bone-in veal cutlet.
Piemonte, bordered on three sides by the Alps, is an agricultural area known as the birth place of the Slow Food movement. White truffles are harvested from this region and popular wines include Barolo and Barbaresco. Along the northeast is Veneto, home to the port city of Venice, where fish and seafood are consumed. Polenta, porcini mushrooms, radicchio and rapini are common ingredients here. Pasta fagioli (beans and pasta) and risi bisi (rice and peas) are typical dishes. Farther from the coast grilled pork and chicken, gnocchi and ravioli are savored. Mascarpone and asiago are two well-known regional cheeses. Wines from this locality include Prosecco, a popular sparkling wine, Soave, and Valpolicello.
In the center of Italy, Tuscany is the home of renowned red wines, fresh pasta, and bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak). From the Emilia-Romagna region comes Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar produced in Modena, and from the city of Parma, Proscuitto ham and pancetta (cured, unsmoked bacon) are produced. Bologna, the largest city in Emelia-Romana is known for tortellini, lasagna, and ragu alla Bolognese, a meat and tomato sauce. Wines from the region include Lambrusco and Sangoivese. Lazio is home to the capitol city of Rome. Carbonara, a pasta dish based on eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), guanciale (jowl bacon) or pancetta, and black pepper is a classic Roman dish.
Mediterranean influences are prominent in southern Italy. Spicy dishes prepared with tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes, and olives are traditional. Seafood, lamb and pork are common too. The city of Naples in the Campagna region is considered the birthplace of pizza dating back to the 16th century. The two most authentic pizzas from Naples are the marinara and the margherita. The Campagna region is also known for spaghetti dishes. The Apulia region is the largest producer of olive oil in Italy. Other crops produced in this region include wheat, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, eggplants and fennel. Sicily is characterized by its Greek, Arab and Spanish influences. Popular fish include tuna, swordfish and sea bass. Traditional dishes include arancini, deep-fried rice croquettes and pasta alla norma, prepared with tomatoes, fried eggplant, grated ricotta salata cheese, and basil. Marsala, a fortified wine, is a Sicilian classic.
Characteristics of Italian Cucina
Simple cooking – 4-8 basic ingredients
Pasta, pizza, risotto, gnocchi, polenta
- Tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, broccoli rabe (rapini), white truffles, porcini mushrooms, pinenuts
- Pork, veal, beef, rabbit, chicken
- Basil, rosemary, sage parsley
- Olives, olive oil (south)
- Butter and lard (lardo) (north)
- Cured meats, proscuitto, pancetta, salumi
- Cheeses – mozzarella, provolone, mascarpone, parmesan
Austria, Arabia, Africa, Greece, Germany, France
The countries that make up the Nordic territory in northwest Europe, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, are linked not just geographically but also by their history, political alliance, and culture. The region, also recognized as Scandinavia, shares a common Viking heritage, is predominantly Christian, and uses languages of Northern Germanic roots. The climate is influenced by their proximity to the Arctic Circle and a reliance on fishing, forestry, and mining. Norway, literally the “North Way” is located on the west facing the Atlantic Ocean, Sweden, its neighbor to the east, is surrounded by the Baltic Sea on its southern shores. Finland, bordered to the northwest by Sweden and Norway, faces the Baltic Sea to the west, and Russia to the east. Denmark, the most southern of the countries, shares a border with Germany to the south, and is surrounded by North and Baltic Sea to the north, west, and east. Also known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun”, the territory experiences long days of summer sunshine followed by equally long dark winter nights.
The Nordic countries have large fishing industries and harvest both wild and farmed fish and seafood, including wild catches of herring, cod, mackerel, and lobster. Fish farming includes salmon (Norway is the leader), trout, cod, and shellfish including crayfish, mussels, and oysters. Farming is limited by the climate and lack of fertile land. Crops include grains, cabbages, potatoes, and other roots. Greenhouse crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, and potted lettuce and herbs produced around the year. Wild berries including blueberries, cranberries, and cloudberries, are abundant and generally free for the picking. Livestock farming includes dairy cows (Sweden is a leading dairy producer), pork, poultry, and venison.
These countries not surprisingly share similar culinary traditions including the Smörgåsbord, a type of buffet originating in Sweden but found in the other Nordic countries. Typical items on the buffet include pickled, smoked or fresh fish and seafood, meatballs, sausages, and ham, sauces, salads, and potatoes. Swedish food customs include lingonberries, sill (pickled herring), knackebrod (a crisp rye cracker), and smorgas (open-faced sandwiches). Other traditional foods include köttbullar (meatballs), prinskorvar (mini sausages), gravad lax (cured salmon) and ärtsoppa och pannkakor (pea soup and pancakes). Foods of Finland include Perunarieska (potato flatbread), Mustikkapiirakka (blueberry pie), Lohikeitto (salmon soup), Kaalikääryleet (cabbage rolls), Hernekeitto (pea soup), and Rosolli (beetroot salad). Foods of Denmark include smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches), frikadekker (meatballs), Flaeskestag (roast pork) and kogt torsk (poached cod). Foods of Norway include Fenalår (cured lamb), lutefisk (dried stockfish softened in lye and grilled), Norwegian salmon, and gravlaks (cured salmon).
New Nordic Cuisine
In many regions of the world, local foods and cooking traditions are making a comeback with both the chefs who prepare them and the dining public. New Nordic Cuisine, led by Danish chefs René Redzepi and Claus Meyer, have created regionally inspired menus at their world-class restaurant, Noma, by using wild foods foraged in proximity to the restaurant. The Nordic Council, a cooperative of these countries, has been promoting production and consumption of traditional food products including slow-growing Limfjord oysters, wild reindeer, Greenland flounder, moorland grouse, crayfish from Sweden’s Gulf of Bothnia and lumpfish caviar, to name but a few. The Nordic diet of fish, root vegetables, grainy bread, nuts, and wild game, is considered as healthy and flavorful as the Mediterranean diet among chefs and devotees. The Scandinavian national culinary teams regularly compete in world competitions, as a means to highlight the New Nordic Cuisine, winning awards at Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (known as the culinary Olympics) held every four years in Germany, and prestigious Bocuse d’or held in France.
Greece is a Mediterranean country located in southeastern Europe, geographically comprised of long coastlines, extensive mountain regions, and thousands of islands. Regional cuisines vary from the north Balkan areas, where sheep and goat farming produces meats and dairy products including butter and cheese, to the southern Peloponnese and the island of Crete which produce olives, and olive oil, grapes and wines, plus citrus fruits, figs, artichokes, and tomatoes. Wheat is an important tradition in Greece which is credited as being the birthplace of bread and during ancient times the country was said to have over 60 varieties.
The cuisine is influenced by their Middle Eastern neighbors, Turkey in particular which ruled Greece for 400 years, as well as Persia, and Arabia. Many of the traditional dishes have Turkish names. Herbs and spices include oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary. Greece has a strong tradition of roasting and grilling meats, poultry, fish, and seafood over charcoal.
Souvlaki, a popular fast food, consists of skewers meats and vegetables grilled on skewers. Marinades of olive oil, lemon, garlic, and oregano and other herbs are often used to flavor foods before cooking. A typical Greek salad includes lettuces, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives, and feta cheese. Sauces are simple preparations used to accompany foods and include Ladelemono (a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette with mustard, garlic, and oregano), Tzatziki (yogurt and grated cucumber), and Avgolemono (lemon, egg, and stock emulsion). Meze, served in Greece and throughout much of the Middle East, are small appetizer plates served with drinks before meals.
Spain and Portugal - The Iberian Peninsula
Spain and Portugal constitute the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the northwest, west, and southwest coasts, and the Mediterranean Sea on the east and southeast. The northern reaches of Spain share a border with France, and to the south the Strait of Gibraltar separates the country from Morocco and the African continent. Because of their proximity, Spain and Portugal are often grouped together, but their geography, climates, and cuisines do have their differences.
Although the Romans and Visigoths ruled the Iberian Peninsula into the 7th century, the biggest influence in the region was felt by the domination of the Moors, Arabs from northern Africa, from about 700-1500 AD. During this time Christians, Jews, and Muslims contributed to the cuisine and culture of both countries. Spain’s influence extended across the globe, when Christopher Columbus and other explorers traveled to the Americas, Mexico, and the Caribbean, creating settlements and exploiting the land, people, and resources. They brought back many indigenous ingredients from their conquests including, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and chocolate that are found in Spanish and European cuisines today. Similar to Spain, Portugal’s reach extended around the globe including Africa, Canada, India, and Brazil, its largest colony where Portuguese culture and cuisine is still prominent today. In contemporary times, the Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, one of the originators of the molecular gastronomy movement, operated El Bulli restaurant along the Catalonia coast that was named the top restaurant in the world five times from 2002-2009 (the restaurant has since closed).
Spain is a country of coasts, mountains, deserts, and islands (Canary Islands in the Atlantic and Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean). The major mountain ranges include the Pyrenees in the north, in the west the Cantabrian Mountains straddle the northern coast along the Atlantic Ocean, the Sierra Nevada range is located to the southeast, and the Catalan Pre-Coastal Mountain range in the northeast near the city of Barcelona. The Spanish landscape varies from green and fertile areas along long coastal regions to desert-like land towards the interior where the soil is poor and difficult to farm.
Spain is a large exporter of citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons, limes) grown in the Mediterranean coastal provinces. Other fruits include apples, bananas, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, figs, and nuts grown primarily in the Levante and Catalonia regions. Vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cabbages, peppers, and string beans. Spain is the leading exporter of olives and olive oil with a majority produced in Andalusia to the south. The Meseta, a broad central plateau in the interior of the country, is devoted to cattle ranching and grain farming. Spanish wines include Rioja, a red wine produced in northern area of the same name, Cava a sparkling wine produced in the Andalusia region in the south, and Sherry, a fortified wine also produced in the same region. Spain has more than 100 different varieties of cow, sheep, and goat cheeses produced in regions all over the country, the most famous being Manchego, a firm and buttery sheep’s milk cheese. Because of Spain’s vast coastal regions, seafood abounds throughout the country including octopus, shrimp, lobster, squid, mussels, and salt cod. Other Spanish ingredients of importance include saffron, used in the preparation of paella, Boquerón (white anchovies), capers, piquillo peppers, and bitter Seville oranges.
The cuisine of Spain includes salt-cured Serrano hams and dry cured chorizo sausage, gazpacho, a cold vegetable soup from the southern area of Andalusia that often includes tomatoes and peppers, and paella, a rice dish originating in the Valencia region along the eastern coast and widely regarded as the national dish of Spain. Other foods include churros (pastries), croqueta (croquettes), albondigas (meatballs), tortilla Española (Spanish omelets with potato and onion), and empanadas (savory turnovers). The Basque region in the north shares cultures and traditions with France including bacalao al pil pil, a dish of salt cod, garlic, peppers, and olive oil. Tapas, a Spanish tradition that has been exported around the world, are small dishes served in bars.
Portugal, located on the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, faces the Atlantic coast to the west and south, and Spain on its east and northern borders. In the mountainous north, conditions are generally cooler and wetter with regular snowfall in winter. Along the coast towards the city of Lisbon, a Mediterranean climate including long, hot summers prevails. The volcanic islands of the Azores and Madeira, autonomous regions located in the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal, have moderate Mediterranean climates as well.
Agriculture products of Portugal include rice, a staple in most meals, kale and turnip greens, corn, barley, olives and olive oil, nuts, cherries, grapes, and mushrooms. Because of the country’s long coastal regions fish and seafood are popular, including fresh sardines, octopus, squid, crabs, prawns, salt cod, and sea bass. Meats include pork, lamb, goat, and beef. Cured meats include Presunto, a dry cured ham similar to Spanish Serrano, chouriço, a spicy pork sausage with piri piri peppers and garlic, and linguica, a dry-cured pork sausage with garlic and paprika. Popular herbs and spices include cilantro, cinnamon, bay, paprika, and parsley. Wine making is spread throughout the country with white wines produced in the northwest coastal region of Vinho Verde, down to the southern Peninsula de Setubal where Castelão red wine production is concentrated. Two of the most popular wine exports include Port, produced near the city of Porto in the north, and Madeira produced on the island of the same name. These wines are fortified through the addition of high alcohol grape spirits in a variety of styles from dry to sweet.
Popular soups in Portugal include caldo verde, (potato and onion soup with kale and sausage), gaspacho (similar to the Spanish gazpacho but usually more coarse in texture) and sopa de castanhas piladas (chestnut soup). Meat and poultry dishes include almôndegas (pork or beef meatballs), frango no churrasco (crisp grilled chicken) often served with a hot piri piri pepper sauce, and Feijoada (a stew of kidney beans and pork). Lisbon, Portugal’s largest city and a major port, fish and shellfish are popular including sopa de mariscos (seafood stew) and mejillones con liguica y tomate (mussels with sausage and tomatoes) and pastéis de bacanhau (salt cod fritters). Rice and beans are popular side dishes with many meals.
Paella, gazpacho, salt cod fritters, churros, meatballs
- Seafood beef, lamb, pork, goat, salt cod, dry cured sausages, and ham
- Peppers, almonds, garlic, olives and olive oil, tomatoes, parsley, dry legumes, figs, rice, wheat, artichokes, eggplant, marzipan, chocolate
- Saffron, paprika, cilantro (Portugal), parsley
Greece, Romans, Moors (North Africa), the Caribbean, Mexico, India, The Americas