The centre of Italy is perhaps the gastronomic heart of Italy, after all some of the country's most famous ingredients come from the region of Emilia Romagna and its environs. Think balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and Mortadella and you have an idea of the region's contribution to Italian cuisine.
Pasta, of course, figures prominently and the Bolognan's take their tortelloni very seriously, fighting to retain the purity of the recipe they even have an annual Tortelloni day where locals fight it out for the prize of making the best example.
The other regions that make up the central band of the country offer a much more rustic fare. The Tuscans make their bread without salt and have a passion for the white beans known as cannellini which they cook in terracotta pots with sage and olive oil. Minestrone comes from Tuscany as does "ribollita" a dish made with black cabbage and vegetables often served as a starter. Meat and fish figure largely in the menus here, with some of the best meat in Italy coming from the Val de Chiana, grilled and drizzled with olive oil - the best apparently coming from around Lucca.
When it comes to wine, Tuscany carries the crown in the area. The wines are made from the native grape Sangiovese, which produces some of Italy's best reds including Chianti, Brunello and Montepulciano amongst the most famous. Tuscan wine producers however are not just about traditional winemaking. In the 80's a new generation of winemakers began to experiment with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and the "Super Tuscan" was born; wines which have gained international acclaim for their quality and subsequently command premium high prices.
For those with a sweeter tooth it is worth trying Vin Santo, a delicious sweet wine produced in Tuscany from grapes that have been harvested and left to dry in the sun before pressing and fermentation. This wine goes beautifully with hard, strong cheese and the local cantuccini biscuits, which can be dipped into the wine for an extra special treat.
The neighbouring regions of Umbria and Marche are less known for their wines but produce some great stuff nonetheless. Umbria is particularly known for its whites, especially Orvieto, made from the Trebbiano grape.
The Marche is less known for wine making, except perhaps for its aromatic white Verdicchio de Jesi, however in recent years has started to export some great value reds such as the Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno which are beginning to grow in popularity.
As far as food is concerned the Umbria is well-known for its black truffles and porcine mushrooms. Also the region’s most famous cheese, Percorino, is delicious, especially with ripe, juicy pears.
If you like pasta then the Marche is the place for you, often homemade and served with quite rich toppings or fillings this region makes some of the best game based lasagne and on the coast the clams with pasta are not to be missed.