Sardinian sheep cheese, paper-thin bread and other delicacies off the coast of Italy.
Sardinian and Italian cuisine, with their ancient culinary history rooted in both fertile land and sea, are some of the cornerstones of culture in Italy. Italian cuisine is widely considered to be among the best (if not the best) cuisine in the world. Although ingredients and dishes vary by region due to factors such as climate, geography and history, Italian cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and emphasis on using quality ingredients rather than cooking techniques.
The importance of quality ingredients in Italian cuisine makes Sardinia an earthly paradise for those who love fine food, as the sunny island has ideal conditions for many natural products, from both the land and surrounding sea. Endless choices of fresh fish and seafood dishes can be found on the island thanks to its rich and rugged coastlines. Despite the popularity of seafood dishes on the island today, many of Sardinia’s cherished foods are land-based, partly due to invasions that prompted Sardinians to find refuge in the mountains and away from the coasts. Fertile farmlands, vast forests, and a large population of shepherds have also allowed Sardinia to become Italy’s leading producer of organic produce. With thousands of rare species of plants and animals and local food available virtually everywhere, Sardinia remains a largely agricultural area with an eccentric cuisine that is sure to satisfy any appetite.
Sardinia is well-known for its roasted meats (e.g. suckling pig, veal lamb, goat and sheep) and for producing exceptionally lean lamb (some of the best in Italy). The island has many famed meat dishes which typically consist of veal, agnello (lamb), agnellino (younger lamb), suckling pig, goat or sheep. Carne equina, or horse meat, is also a common dish in Sardinia that is usually served in the form of a thin steak (bistecca). In addition to porcheddu (roast suckling pig), carne a carraxiu (buried meat) is an especially popular dish of the island which is made by placing a calf (or other meat) in a hole and covering it with myrtle leaves; firewood is later laid on top of the hole which cures the meat.
Bread is a staple in Sardinia and the island is admired for the quality and variety of its bread. Traditional breads may be made with white flour, semolina (hard wheat), bran or sprout. Sardinia also has breads that are usually prepared for special occasions and can be found in certain shapes (e.g. nativity scenes). The best-known bread on the island, and a base for many other Sardinian dishes, is the Pane Carasau, or carta di musica (music paper). Made with hard wheat flower and kneaded with yeast, Pane Carasau is a dry handmade bread that consists of crispy, thinly sliced layers of dough. Pane Carasau also has many variations, such as pane frattau which is made by combining tomato sauce and egg to the bread.
With about half of Italy’s sheep milk produced in Sardinia, it’s no surprise that cheese is abundantly used in Sardinian cuisine and that the island is a major exporter of various types of cheese. The quality of cheese on the island can be attributed to the proximity of the mountains. An especially well-known cheese is the sharp and spicy Fiore Sardo, which is a smoked and aged over a long period. Other traditional cheeses made in the region include pecorino sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano, and casu marzu (containing live insect larvae and now illegal in Italy).