Staple foods in Italy differ by region. While pasta is the staple dish in the south, rice and polenta dishes are most popular in the north. Pizza became popular in the north only in the 1980s and '90s.
Italian cuisine, in all regions, is known for its abundant use of herbs such as oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and sage. Extra-virgin olive oil is used for cooking and as a salad dressing. Tomatoes play an important role in Italian cuisine, serving as a base for pasta sauces, pizza, soups and salads. Parmigiano-Reggiano is sharp, sheep's milk cheese grated on many dishes. Italian red wine is just as important of a staple to a meal as any other dish.