In 1565, Spain's King Philip II is said to have sent to Rome a gift of potato tubers for Pope Pius IV, who passed samples on to a cardinal in Belgium. Along with the tubers went their Italian name - tartufoli (or "little truffles") - which, as the samples were cloned and disseminated throughout Europe, was adopted in German (kartoffel), Romanian (cartof), Russian (kartófil) and even Icelandic (kartafla).
Although the potato - called patata by modern Italians - was a staple food for generations of rural families, potato growing in Italy has been declining since the 1960s, when farmers produced 4 million tonnes from 380 000 ha of land. Large areas unsuitable for potato have since been abandoned, although per hectare yields have increased from 10 tonnes to around 25 tonnes.
Pasta-loving Italy has one of the lowest levels of potato consumption in Europe, less than 40 kg per capita annually. Even so, satisfying domestic demand required imports of more than one million tonnes of raw and processed potato in 2005. (Source: International Year of the Potato)