The choice represents a strong support for Italian food and wine production and symbolises the commitment to promote, reward and protect the gastronomic excellence of the Belpaese, seen as the flagship of Italian culture just like art and history.

Food safety, quality and tradition will be the cornerstones of this year dedicated to agriculture, farming, fishing and the craftsmanship of Italian producers.

The year has opened with a campaign on social media under the hashtag #annodelciboitaliano on the @museitaliani Instagram account, focusing on typical Italian gourmet dishes.

Meanwhile, events promoting Italian culture, wine and food are opening this month in support of the Mediterranean diet, which is recognised on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.

Other initiatives will include events to support the lands of Prosecco and pasta amatriciana as UNESCO candidates and to promote rural areas and local products as tourist attractions, with a specific focus on fighting food waste.

The close link between food, art and the landscape will also be at the centre of the strategy to promote tourism through the national tourism agency ENIT and the network of Italian embassies worldwide and highlight how much food and wine are part of Italy's cultural identity.

“We have a unique heritage worldwide which, thanks to the year dedicated to food, we will be able to promote even more,” Italian Minister of Food and Forestry Policies Maurizio Martina said.

Following the 2015 food-themed Universal Exposition in Milan, Italy’s gastronomy will take centre stage once again, the minister said.

“It’s not only a matter of stressing the economic success of this sector - which in 2017 reached record exports worth €40 billion - but also of stressing the deep connection between food, land and cultural identity,” he added.

“We will do this through a new project on food districts, which will involve farmers, fishermen and chefs.”

The minister said 2018 will be dedicated to Gualtiero Marchesi, doyen of Italy’s “superchefs”, who died on December 26, 2017.

Mr Martina said the revered chef “embodied all of these values, promoting them at an international level”.

Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage Dario Franceschini said the year of Italian food will provide an important occasion to “make a big investment in the image of our country in the world”.

With ANSA