Dec 19, 2018

Frutta secca: nuts used in Italian cuisine

Italy is a small country. Sixty million inhabitants occupy 301,338 square kilometers (think California minus 40,000 square miles). But thanks to its natural resources and historical influences, the local cuisine boasts a staggering wealth of diversity many larger countries can only envy. One constant in the Italian bounty is the use of nuts.

Frutta secca is nuts, very used in Italian cuisine

While Americans tend to enjoy nuts as snacks or with drinks, Italians tend to use them as ingredients.

Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, chestnuts and pine nuts are all typical Italian crops. Though cashews, peanuts, Brazilian nuts, macadamia nuts and pecans are not grown locally, half-a-century of market globalization has given them passport into the Italian diet.

Known as frutta secca—botanically speaking correct since a nut is indeed a dry fruit with a seed encased in a hard, woody shell—nuts appear in all manner of regional dishes.

For nut lovers, here's an alphabetized shortlist of locally grown Italian nuts with notes on how they're used.

Continue Reading In Praise of Nuts as appeared on The American in Italia Magazine

Dec 12, 2018

Cheese and wine pairing tips

Premise: There is no right and wrong cheese and wine pairing. Ultimately, it’s your palate that determines what works and what doesn’t. What follows are personal suggestions based on lots of research. Many wheels of cheese mixed and matched with different wines followed by many sleepless nights and midnight swigs of pepto-bismol. You can use this post as a starting point.

Wine and cheese have a lot in common, other than the fact that they go so well together. Cheeses vary in moisture and fat content, texture, pungency and flavor; wines too, differ in elements like acidity, sweetness, body, and structure.

Both cheese and wine require careful tending by skilled artisans. Both reach their maturation and peak flavor through aging. Although not effectively part of the actual cheese making processes, aging can make or break cheese. This is the same for wine.

Riesling grapes


So the first consideration for a good cheese and wine pairing is age.

Young, fresh cheeses have a higher moisture content and a more milky and delicate texture. As cheese ages, in a process called affinage, the moisture slowly evaporates, leaving behind fat and protein, which carry flavor. Older cheeses tend to be more rich and savory, while fresher cheeses are more delicate and mild.

In addition to drying and concentrating the cheese, time spent maturing in the cave also introduces new aromas and flavors. Bloomy-rind cheeses (think Brie) remain gooey and spreadable, but pick up earthy notes. Blue cheeses develop pungent notes from the noble mold in their veins. Older cheeses like Fontina, Parmigiano and Asiago acquire nutty accents. Stinkers, like Taleggio, own a funky, bacon-like redolence that only comes with repeated washing of the rind during aging.

Pairing wine and cheese

Like cheese, wine also can be delicate, bold and everything in between. A wine's depth and complexity often has a lot to do with age. Young wines are fresh and spirited, with lively aromatic profiles and bright notes of fruit, flowers, spices and herbs. Wines that have spent time in a cask/tank or in the bottle have had a chance to build up a bigger personality. Just like cheese, in addition to their primary flavors, wines take on secondary elements of oak, earth, minerals, umami, and more. Like cheese, older wines tend to be more complex and savory.

It's therefore clear how younger cheeses partner best with younger wines that are fruity, fresh and juicy: sparkling wines, crisp whites, dry rosés, and reds with good acidity and vibrant fruit notes.

Older cheeses need wines with bigger shoulders. The oldest cheeses, those that are the most savory and rich and nutty (think a 36 month-old Parmigiano Reggiano) pair best with wines that have even heftier body and structure.

Testure plays a big role in cheese pairings


But age is not the only factor to keep in mind when pairing cheese and wine. The texture of a cheese also influences a wine pairing. By congruity, rich, creamy cheeses pair well with similarly buttery white wines, creating a somewhat harmonious balance on the palate. But pairing by contrast is even better in creating that balance. The bubbles in sparkling wines are a nice counterpoint to rich, unctuous cheeses, scrubbing the tongue clean and causing salivation: the body's way of asking for another bite. That's why camembert and Champagne; robiola and Franciacorta and burrata and Prosecco are such perfect combinations.


Another good rule of thumb to follow when pairing cheese and wine is, "The funkier the cheese––the funkier the wine." A odoriferous cheese will do wonders when matched with a very rustic wine, so with a washed rind Taleggio I choose a natural wine from Etna or Abruzzo, whose rural backbone can hold court with the pungent cheese. In the same way smelly Taleggio finds an excellent counterpart in aromatic Riesling and perfumy Gewürztraminer.

Pungent blue cheeses pair best with sweet wine

Sweet and salty

As mentioned above, contrast is where cheese and wine pairings work magic. Sweet dessert wines like Passito beautifully balance the boldest and most savory cheeses like gorgonzola or other blue moldy soft ripened cheeses. The salt content in the cheese heightens the perception of the sweetness in the wine. By the same token, the sweetness in the wine complements the savory character of the cheese, providing balance––a perfect pairing.

tannic wine


Big reds are terrific with rich, fatty aged cheeses, because the tannins in the wine literally bind themselves to the protein and fat, and sweep the palate after each bite. Cheeses that are very soluble will benefit from tannic wines' astringency. Tannin does not work with younger, less fatty cheeses, and leaves a chalky sensation in the mouth and a slight metallic aftertaste.

country cheese spread

A word about goat cheese

Goat cheese is a sensational cheese to pair with wine: as the jack of all trades of dairy, goat cheese––depending on age and texture––can marry sparkling wine, white and red!
Sparkling Trento DOC (made like Champagne but with Chardonnay grapes) is the perfect wine for ultra-fresh goat cheese and mixed goat-sheep robiolas. Acidic, mineral-driven, and citrusy as hell Vermentino is perfect with 30-40 day-old chèvre logs. As it ages, goat cheese develops a creamline and spiciness that will match up fantastically with Sauvignon Blanc or a softer, more easy-drinking red like Dolcetto from Piemonte. Deeper, earthier and more aged goat cheeses will need a wine with bigger structure: think Nerello Mascalese from Sicily.

Italian cheeses

Pairing by terroir

Both cheese and wine ultimately flourish in specific climates and geographical conditions. Which is why when pairing wine with foods the old adage, "what grows together, goes together" is particularly appropriate when it comes to pairing wine with cheese.

Italian cheeseboard

Cheese is the product of milk, and milk is the product of an animal's diet. What the animal grazes on grows from a very specific soil, influenced by a particular climate. So where terroir influences wine, it ultimately does the same with the area’s cheese. Pastures and vineyards share the same chemical, climactic and physiological conditions.

Some examples

An ancient Roman cheese like Caciofiore della Campagna Romana, which to this day is still intrinsically part of the area where it’s produced, will pair beautifully with Cesanese wine, an indigenous grape that grows in the vicinity of Rome in the Ciociaria wine region. Likewise, Pecorino Romano––practically still made like 2,000 years ago––pairs well with a fine Frascati Superiore made in the Castelli Romani wine lands located only a few miles from the Colosseum.

Caciofiore della Campagna Romana, Slow Food Presidia

With an aromatic and pungent stinker like Puzzone di Moena I pour a ruby wine with a floral bouquet like Marzemino or Teroldego, both grape varieties indigenous of the same Alpine valleys of Trentino-Alto Adige where the cheese is made. See what I did there? I applied the concept of aromatic contrast (nose) as well as the same terroir.

For a fatty cheese like Mascarpone, I go for bubbles. The carbon dioxide concealed in the fine bubbles of Franciacorta, Lambrusco or Prosecco is capable of cleaning and balancing the creamy, adhesive mouthfeel of the triple-cream cheese. The majority of Italian bubbles have northern Italian origin, like mascarpone.

For long-aged cheeses like Provolone del Monaco DOP, a good pairing is with a fine pedigreed, well-structured red like a Aglianico, or a vivacious Gragnano or Lettere Penisola Sorrentina. These wines all grow in the same volcanic area where the cheese is made. Caciocavallo Podolico from Puglia finds its best mate in Nero di Troia and in Primitivo di Manduria.

Fresh, young cheeses like Mozzarella di Bufala, Ricotta or Burrata beg to be served with a tender and vivacious wine capable of bringing out the sweetness of the cheese. Think southern Italian Fiano di Avellino, which offers balance with acidity, creaminess and musky notes, all in one sip. Other good wines to pair with fresh, young cheeses are Moscato, unoaked Chardonnay and Champagne.

A spicy cheese like aged Castelmagno, Asiago or Comté pair well with a voluptuous, round and velvety wine: Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, or even a sweet liqueur-like wine like Barolo chinato. Here too, cheeses and wines share the same geographical characteristics.

In the Veneto region, Garganega grapes make the wines of Soave, a crisp white with a slightly bitter almond finish. The bitterness in this wine makes it a fascinating match for young Asiago, which––you guessed it––is a Veneto cheese! The more aged versions of Asiago go surprisingly well with fruity, off-dry Prosecco or Moscato d'Asti, again from the Veneto.

bubbles pair well with creamy, fatty, young cheeses

What is your go-to cheese and wine pairing?

Dec 6, 2018

Amaro, the bitter craze

It's not amaretto (a sweet Italian liqueur flavored with the pits of stone fruits) nor should it be confused with amarone––which is a rich Italian dry red wine from Valpolicella––amaro, Italian for "bitter," is a herbal liqueur gaining increasing attention overseas.

Amari in Italy - Tasting amari

Unlike bitters like angostura, that mixologists add a few drops of to season cocktails, amari (plural) are commonly consumed on their own as an after-dinner digestif.

With their bitter-sweet flavor, a texture that goes from inky to syrupy––and an alcohol content that ranges between 16% and powerhouse––bracing and often challenging amari are now widely popular with palates all over the world. But bitters are no recent trend. Historically, post-prandial bitters date back several centuries.

Amari in Italy -

Like many of the world's alcoholic beverages, amari were first created hundreds of years ago in monasteries, historically the repositories of herb lore. Intended as a way to preserve herbs and spices, these bittersweet tinctures were also consumed for their medicinal use.

Bitters are typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark, or citrus rinds in alcohol, mixing the filtered product with a sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in aromatic casks or bottles.

In the Middle Ages, thanks to the Arab domination, Italy acquired improved infusion and distillation techniques. Then in the 19th century the invention of column distillation made elixir production more efficient and which led to purer, better tasting spirits. It was at this point that the production of amaro moved out of the apothecaries and into the mainstream.

Dozens of varieties of amaro are commercially produced, the most commonly available brands are Averna, Ramazzotti, Fernet-Branca and Amaro Montenegro––all started as family businesses that later grew into acclaimed international industries. However, that homespun nature of the beverage has endured over the centuries. Many Italian families in fact still make their own homemade amaro.

Amari in Italy - Genziana bitter made with gentian root

In addition to an assortment of botanicals, alcohol and sugar, all amari contain what is known as a "bittering agent," which gives them their distinctive bitter zing. Genziana is a bitter made with gentian root, one of the most-used bittering agents in the production of amari. Gentian root, which is found in the mountains of central and southern Europe, in addition to lending intense bitterness, also aids with digestion, making it a common ingredient in after-dinner digestives. In central/southern Italy, genziana liqueur is also enjoyed on its own. Many other bittering agents include wormwood, rhubarb root, aloe, and mugwort.

Amari in Italy - Ratafià liqueur made with cherries and wine

Italian amari are closely linked to their terroir, employing local ingredients in their blends. Think Ratafià, representative of Abruzzo. This sweet, juicy and fruity liqueur is made with whole or pitted sour cherries, red wine (usually Montepulciano d'Abruzzo), alcohol and sugar. But many variations of ratafià exist across Italy, with different botanicals depending on the peasant recipes. Black cherries are used in Piedmont, for example, with grappa as a starting point. In some areas of the Lazio region (of which Rome is the capitol) it's common to serve ratafià with few drops of coffee. Another example is Centerbe, among Italy's oldest and most powerful amaro. This particular bitter is still prepared in monasteries and homes throughout Italy, and particularly in the mountainous regions of Molise and Abruzzo. The recipe, probably related to the Roman centum erbis that Pliny the Elder raved about, varies from monastery to distillery, but usually includes sage, rosemary, laurel, basil, parsley, chamomile flowers, peppermint, juniper berries, cinnamon and cloves.

Amari in Italy - Nocino liqueur made with unripe walnuts

Digestives can also be produced from single ingredients, like universally renowned limoncello. Nocino is made with unripe walnuts; Mirto, typical of Sardinia, is produced with wild myrtle berries. Another example is mandarinetto, a Sicilian specialty made much like limoncello but with mandarin orange peel instead of lemon. Amari can be made with virtually every plant, bark, root and spice.

Amari in Italy - Amaro tasting

Not properly a bitter, but equally distinctive of the country's digestivo history and culture is rosolio. This is a type of liqueur made with rose petals that became popular during the Renaissance, especially at the court of Catherine De Medici. Widespread throughout Italy, it became representative of Sicily in the 19th century, where it was customarily produced at home and offered to guests as a sign of hospitality. If you've read Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, you're surely familiar with rosolio. Over the centuries the liqueur lost its acclaim, but fortunately Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, made in Piedmont with Calabrian citrus, recently revamped its popularity.

Amari in Italy - Italicus Rosolio made with bergamot citrus

We Italians believe that digestion greatly influences a person's mood. Amari are typically enjoyed neat or on ice, poured into small shot glasses, sipped slowly after coffee at the close of the meal, offering an excellent excuse to linger at the table. This has given amari the nickname ammazza-caffè (coffee-killer). In restaurants, hosts will place a bottle of digestivo on the table of special guests for free, as a gesture of gratitude for ordering such a big meal.

A few favorite amari for you to try. The majority of these are distributed overseas.

Acqua di Cedro – Bassano del Grappa (Veneto): citron infusion. Move over, limoncello.

Amara – Misterbianco (Sicily): bitter orange and secret herbs.

Amaro Abano Luxardo – Padua (Veneto): tastes of anise, clove, cinchona, orange peel, fennel, cinnamon.

Amaro Ciociaro – Lazio: powerful orange peel and cinnamon.

Amari in Italy - Amaro dell'Erborista

Amaro dell’Erborista – Marche: aromas of smoke, honey, collard greens, dry mustard, spearmint, caramel, dust.

Amaro dell'Etna – Catania: bitter orange, vanilla, licorice, spice, smoke.

Amari in Italy - Amaro dell'Etna

Amaro del Sole – Lombardy: black pepper, rhubarb, eucalyptus, saffron, orange and lemon peel, vanilla, cardamom.

Amaro Lazzaroni – Saronno (Lombardy): burnt sugar, crème brulée, peppermint, chamomile, bitter greens.

Amaro Lucano – Matera (Basilicata): tastes of bitter orange, grapefruit, anise, fennel, cinnamon, cocoa.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia – Bassano (Lombardy): orange, rhubarb, cinnamon, licorice, tamarind.

Amaro San Marco –  Collepardo (Lazio): secret recipe with high quality spring water

Amaro Santa Maria al Monte – Genoa (Liguria): mint, jasmine, orange peel, ginseng, menthol, gentian.

Amaro Sibilla Varnelli – Macerata (Marche): honey, gentian, smoky oak, sandalwood, honey, dried chamomile flowers, cinnamon, pepper, juniper.

Amari in Italy - Amaro Tosolini
Amaro Tosolini – Udine (Friuli Venezia-Giulia): fresh fennel, roasted rhubarb, bitter orange, cinchona, cinnamon.

Averna – Caltanissetta (Sicily): licorice, citrus peels, chocolate.

Amari in Italy - Bràulio

Bràulio – Bormio (Lombardy): gentian, juniper, wormwood, yarrow, chamomile, pine, menthol.

Cynar – Milan: artichoke plus 12 other herbs and plants

Fernet-Branca – Milan: myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, saffron, menthol, eucalypthus.

Amari in Italy - Gagliardo Bitter Radicale

Gagliardo Bitter Radicale – Vicenza (Veneto): balsamic, spicy and a long, bitter aftertaste

Meletti – Ascoli Piceno (Marche): orange peel, caramelized sugar, saffron, chocolate, licorice, cardamom, cinnamon.

Rabarbaro Zucca – Milan (Lombardy): rhubarb, heavily charred wood, mint, citrus, cardamom.

Vecchio Amaro del Capo – Capo Vaticano (Calabria): fennel, licorice, peppermint, mandarin orange peel, coriander, anise, juniper, chamomile.

Interested in learning more? Casa Mia Tours offers a 3-hour Amaro Tasting in Rome. 

What's your favorite after dinner amaro?

Nov 30, 2018

What to pack for winter in Italy

While most people travel to Italy in the warmer months, savvy travelers are more likely to take advantage of the sales available during winter. I'm a big supporter of traveling to Italy in the off-season. The only issue with this is packing – bulky winter clothing takes up lots more room than sandals and T-shirts.

I am a carry-on-luggage-only kind of gal, so my travel attire must fit in my packing cubes and cabin size trolley. I have become somewhat of an expert on cabin-size packing and often help friends and family with tips on how and what to bring in their luggage when they travel. Today I’ll be sharing my advice for packing for winter trips to Italy.

You know me and my love for lists. When I travel, I work with a checklist that I keep in my luggage. The list helps me plan out outfits as well as keep track of items throughout the journey.

what to pack for winter in italy

One master packing list that will work for every Italy traveler is utopia: there are too many variables to take into consideration. What region of Italy? If traveling in the Alps, whether skiing or not, you’ll need specific snow wear. If traveling to Sicily––even during winter––you may regret not having brought your bathing suit and sunscreen. Whether you'll be visiting Italy couchsurfing or ticking off all the country's 3-Michelin star restaurants will obviously affect what you'll be packing in the suitcase.

What this is, essentially, is a set of suggestions based on the few key pieces I've found useful on my trips, and that frequent Italy travelers should never come to the Bel Paese without.

what to pack for winter in italy

The first thing to consider when packing for Italy is the winter season's climate.

Winter in Italy is mostly chilly and wet. So what you want to pack should first of all keep you warm and dry. Since cold-weather clothing is far bulkier, if you have the budget for it this may be the time to splurge on travel clothing in high-tech fabrics that keep you warm without volume, and that dry quickly. I say that because in addition to traveling light, I am also an advocate of doing laundry during travel, including hand-washing items and drying them in the apartment/hotel where I’m staying. This reduces space in your bag (I hate the fact of having a section of my luggage occupied by soiled garments as travel days progress); cuts down on weight and shortens that dreadful back-home-from-travel laundry routine. For this reason, I always pack a clothesline with pegs; and when I arrive at my destination, I make it a point to purchase liquid laundry detergent for washing shirts, or a block of Marseille soap for my unmentionables.

So with no further ado, let's get started on your Italy winter packing essentials list:

what to pack for winter in italy

Warm, waterproof coat

A coat that's both warm and water-resistant is a staple of Italian winter travel. I worked 15 years in the film industry, shooting in all weather conditions, so I am partial to Gore-tex, but having a shell jacket that will shrug off the rain as you walk from monument to museum is equally effective. Something with a hood is helpful, too. That said I would avoid a big bulky down parka: learn instead to layer with thermals, long-sleeve shirts and sweaters and have that waterproof lightweight (yet warm) jacket be your water/wind breaker. Mostly, bring a coat you love and feel confident in. Patagonia, The North Face, Dubarry and Columbia are all reliable, durable brands.

what to pack for winter in italy

Waterproof shoes

How annoying are wet socks? Imagine walking around the Roman Forum all day with wet feet? Don't let a little precipitation dampen your Italy travel plans, though. Unless you're traveling to Venice during high-tide season, I wouldn't go as far as packing rubber rain boots, but do consider investing in a reliable pair of shoes that will protect your feet from water when you're sightseeing on a wet day. I would avoid white sneakers, and rather pack only one pair of shoes that's both functional (comfortable for walking around in) and nice enough to wear to a restaurant. Properly Scotchgard-treated Blundstone ankle boots are what I wear when leading walking tours on rainy days. Feet stay warm and dry for hours. Caterpillar hiking boots are also very reliable, but chunkier. 

what to pack for winter in italy


Denim is bulky and takes forever to dry––two things that count against jeans when traveling in wet weather––but I always bring one pair of blue jeans because they’re also sturdy and fashionable. Stretchy legging-type jeans that can be tucked into boots are also a great idea. One thing I do recommend is wearing them on the plane (that way they won't take up too much room in your luggage) and bringing another pair of non-denim pants to wear while your jeans have a chance to dry out if they get soaked. These can be tech material cargo pants, a fun pair of dungarees, or Chinos. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Wrinkle reisistant

I'm not a fan of the roll-up packing method because it leaves my clothes too wrinkled. Brooks Brothers, Land's End, Nordstrom's, Talbots and Foxcroft sell button-down shirts and blouses that don't need ironing and which work well with layering. 

Cardigans vs. bulky sweaters

I highly recommend bringing long sleeve tops and cardigans rather than thick sweaters, because these take up too much space and are not good for layering. Bringing 3-4 is sufficient for a week. I also recommend bringing one thinner fleece that can be worn on its own for warmer days and double as an additional layer under your coat on colder days. 


High quality thermal underwear (long johns) base layer wear is a smart winter travel move. I pack 2-3 doubles and wash them on rotation. They dry super quickly, so you always have a warm, clean pair every day. 


Pack one set of long-sleeved comfy pyjamas. If nightgowns are more your thing, consider flannel, not fleece, which tends to cause static with often centralized the heating.

what to pack for winter in italy


Umbrella – a small, lightweight but sturdy collapsible umbrella with a protective sleeve and a loop attached to the handle is the best purchase you can make for Italy winter travel.

Handbag – The bigger my bag, the more I tend to fill it. But the Longchamp Le Pliage lightweight hold-everything purse fits everything in its roomy interior and has long handles for comfortably wearing it over your shoulder. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Scarf – I'm a scarf-lover. No matter the season, I tend to bring a pashmina-style shawl with me whenever I travel. It's perfect on planes now that every airline charges for blankets, and in the winter it doubles as a scarf to keep me warm. This is where I throw thrift to the wind and go for good quality cashmere, which is warmer and softer than anything else.

Hat – My nonna's mantra was, "If your head's warm, you'll never be cold." As soon as temperatures drop, my collection of beanies and berets gets put to good use. I prefer models that cover my ears. Again, choose non-itchy wool and avoid angora which is pretty but sheds, ending up caught in your eyelashes.

Gloves – While I encourage you to look up from your phone and take in the beauty of Italy through your eyes, phone-dependant travelers may want to invest in a pair of texting gloves that allow your fingers to still work on a touch screen.

Socks – Don't be cheap: pack a dozen pairs of warm, comfortable, snug-fitting merino wool socks. Avoid cotton (which makes your feet sweat)! 

what to pack for winter in italy

Undergarments – I normally pack 7-8 panties and 1-2 bras per week. It's good to have extras!

Noise canceling headphones – Don't underestimate the power of a good pair of headphones for air travel. Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones are comfortable and lightweight, packing 40 hours of battery life, ideal for long-haul travel, but they do come with a detachable headphone jack so I also use them for in-flight entertainment.

Adapter, power bank & lightening cable – Travel power adapters are essential for your trip, be sure to purchase ones that work in Italy for Type F power sockets. I like to sleep with my phone on my bedside, so a long cable to charge my phone is essential at rentals and hotels that don't have conveniently-placed wall sockets. To never run out of battery juice while on the go, be sure to pack (and remember to charge up) a portable power bank.

Will you be traveling to Italy this winter? Want to join me on a tasting tour in Rome?
Readers of this blog get a 10% discount on a 3-hour food tour in Rome.
When booking, use the #AOPwintertravel code, valid until February 28, 2019.

Disclaimer: I do not receive a commission on any of the items listed and linked, they are products I normally use, and that I think can be helpful to you.

Nov 16, 2018

My 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome

"There is a reciprocal relationship between cheese and its customer: every cheese waits for its client, poses in a way to attract it, with attitude and haughty grain, or on the contrary dissolving into surrendering abandon" 
In his novel Palomar, Italo Calvino describes the subtle relationship (and slight exhilaration) of finding oneself in front of an overflowing cheese counter in a Parisian cheese shop.

That same embarrassment of riches is how I feel when, disoriented, I make my way to the front of the shop and peer in the overflowing cheese display. Not only am I tugged in several directions––torn between a soft-ripened bloomy rind robiola and a voluptuous and nutty Alpine toma––I am also reminded with every bite, that cheese is the result of dedication, hard work, passion and love.

Behind each cheese there are in fact OGM-free cereals, rolling pastures, fragrant meadows, green grass and transhumance, and also sets of sturdy (and often heat-chapped) hands, obstinance and secrets handed down over the centuries, superstition, patience, tradition, prayer and for many, livelihood.

Rome has its fair share of cheese shops. The ones listed below are some of the usual places where I normally am found, lost in contemplation, tasting slices carved from old classics, or discovering new incredible products.

I like to linger and chat with the cheesemonger, ask about where the cheese was made, who the people behind each wheel are, what wine pairs well with the cheese, what bread pairs well with the cheese... The conversation often goes on for hours. I know you understand.

Here are my 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome.

Conciato di Rebibbia at ProLoco Dol

ProLoco DOL
In the Centocelle suburb, Vincenzo Mancino and his "family" of loyal Lazio food purveyors operate in the number one location for regional culinary specialties. Cheese occupies large portion of the offer, with stars like rare Caciofiore whose curds are made with soaked thistle, soft Cacio Magno, or the herb-rubbed Conciato produced by the female inmates of the Rebibbia prison. There's also a wide selection of cave-aged pecorinos, caciocavallo and buffalo cheese produced in the nearby Pontina marshland. Cured meats and cheeses can be enjoyed seated along with house pizza in teglia and a handful of succulent entrees. Reservations recommended. especially on the weekend.

Alpine cheeses at La Tradizione

La Tradizione
Owned by Roberto and Stefano and a passionate team of cheese lovers, the shop boasts one of Rome's widest cheese selections. The display case (and the caveau downstairs) conceal a vast assortment of cured meats and more than 400 kinds of cheese from Italy and abroad. Barrel-matured and cave-aged Caciocavallo, ricotta Seirass, plus Cheddar and Stilton. There's a special display reserved for only for blues, gorgonzolas and roqueforts. Shelves of goat milk cheeses, caciocavallo, taleggio, Sicilian ragusano, and the unique Conciato Romano of the Le Campestre farm that's aged with herbs, spices and wine in special terracotta anforae. All the extravagant shopping here is paper-wrapped with a ribbon and handed over with a smile.

Bloomy goat cheeses at Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
Beppe Giovale comes from a family of cheesemakers who produce, age and cure cheeses made with the milk of their own goats, cows and sheep. The spacious shop located in the Jewish Quarter sells mostly Piemonte and French raw milk regional cheeses sourced exclusively from free-range, pasteur-raised cattle farms. The cheeses can be both purchased or enjoyed at one of the tables in the back, along with a glass of wine, whole-grain breads, terrines, extra virgin olive oil, edible flowers, nuts, pomegranate berries and fruit jellies. Reservations recommended at peak aperitivo time (6-8pm).

The blue cheese display at La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti

La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti
At stall number 26 of Mercato Latino in Piazza Epiro, Francesco and Donatella carve wedges out of toothsome wheels, handing them with a smile to awe-struck customers. Conversation is followed by a glass of wine and more cheese. This is totally normal here, transactions come later. The stall sells only artisanal products sourced at small creameries and family-run dairy farms, and not usually found at farmer's markets. The goal is removing from our daily food shopping cart items commonly available in big chain grocery stores, providing instead valid, high quality alternatives, sold at totally democratic prices. The market is open Mon-Sat, 6:30am-3:00pm.

The glorious stinkers sold at Salumeria Roscioli

Salumeria Roscioli
Bread and cheese go hand in hand. It's no surprise then that Rome's leading baker should naturally expand its offer to include bread-loving foods like prime cured meats and stellar cheese. The manic selection of quality products is in the hands of brothers Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli. Gracing displays are soft discs of robiola, bloomed and washed rind cheeses, moldy blues like rare White Stilton Gold, made in only 6 creameries and containing actual flecks of gold. There's more: think rare Bitto, elastic pecorinos, or Caciocavallo Podolico made in Puglia between May and June with the milk of an endangered cow breed. Reservations mandatory.

Signor Roberto and Signora Anna at Antica Caciara Trasteverina

Antica Caciara Trasteverina
The smile on Signor Roberto and his wife Anna's face lights up with every customer that walks in the door of this historical Trastevere cheese shop. This is where Romans come for authentic Pecorino Romano DOP (made by Fulvi with Lazio milk) and sheep ricotta sourced at sustainable creameries. Other delights include oven-baked ricotta, formaggio di fossa (cheese matured in sealed 6-ft deep tufa stone pits), toma del Piemonte, variably aged regional cheeses, plus Norcia cured meats like guanciale, corallina, coglioni di mulo and other goofy-named local salumi.

Antipasto situation at Salsamenteria

Roberto Mangione runs a small deli (salsamenteria, in old Italian) and you'd be content just purchasing silken slices of prosciutto San Daniele or a precious sliver of gooey Gorgonzola, but you'd be missing out on Rome's best kept secret. After the sun goes down, Roberto pours the bubbly and serves fine cheeses and top cured meats with impromptu seating on foldable chairs and tables opposite the display cases. I come for the refined culinary delights like beer-flavored Ottavio cheese produced at Fattorie Fiandino, or Alpine Beaufort. All paired with Roberto's elegant selection of Champagne (200+ labels), Italian and French wines, craft beers and liqueurs. Given venue size, call ahead to let Roberto know you'll be stopping by.

All the French cheeses at Va Sano

Va Sano
After moving to Rome from their native Paris, David and Laurène travel back to France regularly to source their high quality French products. Think creamy Camembert Fermier, or delightful Comté aged 24 or 36 months, wines from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Languedoc and the Southwestern wine regions, plus spectacular Champagnes. In addition to the gorgeous cheese and wine selection, accoutrements include foie gras and macarons, croissants, pain au chocolat, pain d'épice and gourmet jams. Wine and cheese tastings are held weekly.

The window display at Casa dei Latticini in Rome

Casa dei Latticini
Family-run since 1898 – not a typo – Antonio Micocci's treasure trove of all things moldy, funky and crumbly continues the family tradition: providing the elegant Sallustiano neighborhood residents with top-notch cheese and dairy. Shelves are chock-full with 500 different types of Italian cheese and some French highlights. The selection of toma piemontese wheels is staggering, and the delicious mozzarella di bufala is delivered twice a day from Paestum (Barlotti, Vannulo, etc). The staff always has a small selection of tastings out on the counter for walk-in clients and devoted aficionados.

Roberto Liberati in his historical butcher shop in Rome

Bottega Liberati
Take the orange A metro line and get off at Giulio Agricola. The 1960s historically acclaimed Liberati butcher shop is now in the hands of Roberto. Sold in addition prime Maremmana, Piemontese, Chianina, Charolais and Bue Grasso di Carrù beef cuts are select herbs, bottled sauces, jarred legumes and bronze-extruded pastas. Romans also flock here for Liberati's phenomenal cheese selection. Prime quality products hail from high altitude pastures and grass fed cattle. I can't last too long without goat's milk robiola Le Ramate, Cau & Spada cheeses, and his sublime burrata. Bottega Liberati is furthermore the only place south of the Alps where I can find the delightful Eggemoa cheeses.