Whether it’s extra-virgin olive oil from Italian olive trees or Parmigiano Reggiano from a single region in Italy, the best Italian ingredients can take your pasta, salad or appetizer dish to the next level. But wait — isn’t Parmigiano Reggiano just a fancy word for parmesan? And aren’t all olive oils created equal? Not quite. To break down favorite Italian ingredients you can find in our aisles, many of which are imported right from Italy, we gathered a group of our experts to share their top tips.
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Cathy Strange: Cheese Expert
If I want a really special cheese, it’s Parmigiano Reggiano, no question. It’s no ordinary parm — and here’s why. Not only is it the true King of Cheese, but it’s also a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). What does that mean, exactly? The animals that produce the milk and the feed they eat have to be from a certain place. The milk itself has to meet certain criteria and the cheese has to be made in a copper vat.
How to enjoy: Cut a wedge into smaller pieces and serve on a cheese plate with prosciutto, olives, dried fruit or fig jam. Or make Parmigiano Reggiano Crisps to add cheesy crunch to salads and soups.
How to buy: Look for our Parmigiano Reggiano, which is aged to a minimum of 24 months, in the Cheese department. What’s more, every wheel is hand-selected from Italy and hand-cracked in our stores for the freshest flavor. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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Doug Bell: Adult Beverage Innovation
Capturing Italy in a glass is something really special. From Barbera d’Alba to Soave, you can’t go wrong with our Italian wines that span Italy’s wine-growing regions. Curated by our team of wine professionals, you’ll find more than the usual chiantis and pinot grigios (don’t worry, we have those too).*
How to enjoy: By the glass, with dinner — or, of course, with Italian cheeses like savory Parmigiano Reggiano, pungent Taleggio or creamy Burrata.
How to buy: In every Wine department, Italian wines are organized to mirror the geography of Italy. On the left, you have wines from the north, a cooler region that produces lighter, higher acidity wines. On the right, you have wines from the south, a warmer region with darker, spicier wines.
Prosciutto di Parma
Prosciutto di Parma consists of only two ingredients: Italian-born and -bred pigs and sea salt. This truly unique ham is made in Emilia Romagna, the same home of Parmigiano Reggiano and traditional balsamic vinegar, and gets its trademark sweet flavor from the breezes that flow from the Adriatic Sea to the Italian Alps. Like some of the best specialty products from Italy, it’s about great ingredients, traditional techniques and letting time and a specific environment do their thing.
How to enjoy: It’s best enjoyed in paper-thin slices so that the flavors and fat almost seem to melt on your tongue. Enjoy on an antipasto plate or make Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus for an easy yet elevated side dish.
How to buy: Look for the gold Parma crown opens in a new tab on packaging, which tells you it’s imported from Emilia Romagna. Stop by the deli in your store, where we’ll happily slice Principe Prosciutto di Parma for you to order. We also offer it pre-sliced.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil from Italy
Morgan Drummond: Senior Category Merchant and Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savante
Extra-virgin Italian olive oil starts with Italian olive trees. Juicy Italian olives are harvested at peak ripeness starting in October through December (depending on the olive varietal and region where they’re grown). Extra-virgin olive oil is cold-processed to gently separate the oil from the pulp. Carefully grinding the olive fruits helps to preserve the oil’s inherent flavor characteristics and fragrance.
How to enjoy: With crusty Italian bread, drizzled over Caprese Salad or with homemade Tomato Bruschetta. For dressing vegetables and finished dishes, try an unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil — the oil’s cloudy look is made up of olive particles leftover from skipping the last round of filtering.
How to buy: I look for extra-virgin olive oils with flavor profiles that vary from fruity, bitter and pungent. Our 365 by Whole Foods Market Italian extra-virgin olive oils, which are imported from Italy, offer incredible value for their flavor.
Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional aged balsamic vinegar is made in Modena, Italy, with nothing but the concentrated juice of grapes. The magic happens over time, and it just can’t be rushed. It takes years to get to the final product. As the syrupy juice ages, it evaporates, and the liquid is moved to progressively smaller wooden barrels. The results are dark, syrupy and rich, with a balance of sweetness and acidity.
How to enjoy: A drizzle of traditional aged balsamic vinegar is perfect for topping ripe fruit or finishing grilled vegetables or meats. For a special treat, spoon berries and aged balsamic vinegar on top of gelato — try Casa Forcello Strawberry Balsamic Compote.
How to buy: Check the label — you're looking for the words "aged balsamic vinegar of Modena" and an acidity level of at least 6%. You may also see a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) opens in a new tab seal, which ensures that the balsamic vinegar was produced through traditional methods in Modena, Italy.
Visit our stores to discover even more Italian favorites in our aisles, like pastas, gelato, imported Italian sodas and more!
*Must be 21+ to purchase. Please drink responsibly.