May 152012
old mill at the Lungarotti Olive Oil Museum

The triumph of the Annales school is not in its long-running journal (which is likely ignored by most of Europe’s population), but rather in the acceptance of the “structures of everyday life” (to use a phrase from Fernand Braudel) as objects worthy of the inquisitive gaze not only of academics but also of the common person. This article in a recent online edition of La Repubblica (Quei musei da…assaporire, “Those Museums to…Taste,” undated) suggests that if gastronomy is an art, why not dedicate a museum to it? Most of the article is about Italian food museums in Europe (I was disappointed not to see Umbria’s Wine Museum and Olive Oil Museum) but it does mention the Spice Museum in Hamburg as well as the French Fry Museum in Belgium. An analysis of these food museums and how they present food history to the visitor would be interesting. ZN

See the original article (in Italian) here.

Grazie a Francesco Gardenghi per la segnalazione.

May 012012
Revolution new Food Logo

I believe I am not alone in being surprised with the speed with which “gluten-free” and Celiac’s disease have become common terms. I’m not sure, despite being interested in food, that I would have been able to define the latter four years ago. I wonder if the seeming explosion in gluten intolerance is a product of prior under-diagnosis, or rather because there is an increase (an environmental factor as catalyst?) in its appearance in the population. This restaurant here in Perugia, Revolution New Food caught my eye: it proposes an eatery which is completely gluten-free. I would have wondered if this would attract a large enough clientele, but the owner seems to be confident enough of this to advertise franchising opportunities on his website. Under “philosophy,” owner Gaetano Rizzo states that people that are gluten-intolerant shouldn’t have to stay away from traditional Italian foods. Like other restaurants in Perugia (e.g. Non c’era in centro), Revolution seems open to the idea of the best of the past combined with new ideas from the present, a salutary change in tune from the more “traditional” types.  ZN


Grazie a Mauro Renna per la segnalazione.

Apr 302012
Logo Ministero

A recent press release from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the ministry, as part of an effort by the Italian government to reduce the severity of global climate change, was working to be more green. Two of the specific efforts cited regarded food: the Ministry’s cafeteria has begun to use 20-30% locally-sourced ingredients in its food, and the cafeteria has begun recycling its organic waste. While both are laudable in spirit, I wonder about the first. The announcement does not define “local” other than putting “zero kilometer” in parentheses. Is there a garden on the roof of the ministry? If the ingredients are local, how local is local? An even larger question is whether local is actually in all cases greener. While this is now received wisdom, many studies suggest that transportation is the smallest part of a food’s embodied energy (see especially James McWilliams’ Just Food, as well as this post for more consideration on local food).

Find the announcement (in Italian) here.


Grazie a Mauro Renna per la segnalazione.

Apr 092012

Eating with one’s hands is normally associated with the brutish Middle Ages, where trenchers and racks of lamb were the norm for the upper classes, not the refined elegance we associate with Renaissance eating (aside from the excesses in quantity). A number of restaurants in Italy have decided to return to this tradition, proposing plates that offer their clients the opportunity to use more than simply the senses of smell and taste. Venetian Fish & Chips, a mix of edible flowers and roots, and even meatballs to be eaten while looking at yourself in a mirror, ears plugged, are some of the hands-on dishes. Is it back to the future, or just another culinary oddity destined to oblivion (echoes of Futurism perhaps?).  ZN

Come riporato nell’Gastronauta. Grazie a Mauro Renna per la segnalazione.


Mar 212012
gmo mais

In April 2010 contrarian farmer Giorgio Fidenato posted a video on YouTube showing himself planting six seeds of a variety of corn called MON180, Monsanto’s YieldGuard genetically modified mais. While this GMO mais had been approved in the European Union since 1998, the lack of a clear application process for permits to use MON180 on one hand and the feet-dragging of politicians worried about public backlash for GMO approval made Fidenato’s act illegal. Ya Basta activists found the plants in August and cut down all of the corn in the field, leaving behind signs that warned of toxic contamination. Fidenato, who is an active anti-tax libertarian, vowed to continue to use GMO corn, his legal right he asserted.

It is difficult to know where to stand on this issue. Monsanto seems to be evil incarnate for the alt-food world, members of which check under their beds at night not for the boogieman but for the American agro-giant’s lawyers. The EU’s policy of a de facto ban until more is known about GMO plants also seems to be a good idea, but then (as James McWilliams points out in his excellent book Just Food), what about the known toxicity of insecticides that are sprayed on non-GMO fields? MON180 is in some ways more environmentally friendly as it needs much less pesticides: its cells contain a gene that expressed makes an insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, spliced in from the genome of the bacteria  Bacillus thuringiensis. The European corn borer, a mais pest, eats the GMO mais plant and the protein attaches to its gut wall, paralyzing and killing it; the protein has no binding sites for mammals and so is completely harmless. While GMO opponents often cite a now much-criticized study on GMO mais pollen killing butterflies, it seems that GMO mais fields actually have a higher biodiversity than non-GMO fields, where toxic pesticides must be sprayed.

It is not our idea to be apologists for genetically modified organisms or their oligopolistic patent owners. But it’s not a cut-and-dry issue, even in Italy.  ZN

Feb 202012
Logo for Non c'era in Centro Perugia

Beer consumption in Italy has been relatively flat for decades but there seems to be an uptick, if not in consumption per se, then at least in interest. We’ve reported the University of Perugia’s center for beer research, but there’s something new in the center of Perugia. The name of the new pub is “Non c’era in centro” (There wasn’t [one, i.e. a place like this] in the center). The name is as awkward as the place is interesting. It has the modern elegance of an upscale wine bar, with a bright interior and colorful ceramic tiles attached to a white wall. But this place sells beer, not wine; or rather, it focuses on beer, as wine is available but seems rather marginalized.

The pub itself is part of a building that used to house Fabbrica Birra Perugia, which operated from 1875 until the 1960s, one of the many breweries which opened in that epoch, some of which are still open: Wuhrer, Forst, Dreher, and Peroni among them. While I found the food excellent (aside from too-sweet sauerkraut), this is not a restaurant review but rather (like our recent review of the Osteria di Pinocchio) a contextualization within Italian food history. The fact that a restaurant can open which both uses beer—foreign, artisanal, and even local artisanal—as its strong point, a place which offers pretzels and a variety of hamburgers as main dishes alongside the traditional fare available anywhere shows a pretty big shift in Italian food habits. The owner of Non c’era in centro has made a bet that there are enough culinarily bold Italians to actually fill his place most nights a week. Are the hamburgers exactly like they are in a hole-in-the-wall burger joint in the States? No, they’ve been “interpreted,” but that’s natural, unless one is obsessed with what I call “philological food.” I personally find this a refreshing change to the dominant “our cuisine is the best, period” attitude that has taken root in Italy in the past twenty years (fueled by too much fawning attention from American foodies). Kudos.  ZN


Feb 172012

cannabis leafAs recently reported by UPI (and featured by the Venerdì magazine on 3 February 2012), the Università dei Sapori (University of Tastes) in Perugia has begun adding a “magical ingredient” to some of its recipes: cannabis. This excites the likes of those for whom a Martini is practically a sin, but the university’s director hastens to explain that there is practically no THC (marijuana’s active ingredient) in the seeds and leaves used. Citing tradition (ever popular in Italy), the director refers interested aspiring hemp chefs to consult Platina’s On Honorable Pleasure and Health (1475), specifically the recipe (cribbed from Platina’s friend Maestro Martino) describing a health drink of cannabis nectar.  ZN

See the original UPI article here.

Grazie ad Ian Lyons per la segnalazione.

Feb 102012
Logo for Coldiretti

Logo for ColdirettiThe Mediterranean Diet remains, as we have seen on this blog on other occasions, a matter of some controversy. However, it is interesting that it has been taken up Coldiretti, the national farmers federation, as its battle standard in its war on trash food. ‘Coldiretti claims that Italian food education is going downhill because of the abandonment of the Mediterranean Diet. Younger generations are more at risk of illnesses because of fizzy drinks and fatty foods full of sugar. About a third of young Italians are obese because of bad dieting that derives from the lack of daily fruit and vegetables.’ Coldiretti has also reacted to the proposal of the new Health Minister Renato Balduzzi in his attempts to tax junk food – non-Italian readers might note that the Italian government is in a taxing mood at the moment. ‘A poll carried out by Coldiretti suggests that 8 out of ten Italians would support such a tax if the resources were used to support genuine local foods’. Coldiretti have loaded the dice here with the form of the question. SY

Jan 302012

osteria di pinocchio logoThis post was originally supposed to be on references to food in the writings of Carlo Collodi, primarily from his classic Pinocchio, but in doing some searching, I happened on an intriguing restaurant concept just outside of the city where I live, Perugia. The “Osteria di Pinocchio” is a restaurant and play concept created as a place where adults and children can eat and have fun together, but not always in each other’s company.

For the children there’s a series of play rooms: they begin by putting on costumes of characters in Collodi’s book (most seem to choose a pointed hat and smock like the famous puppet) and then are lead through games and a meal by one of the Osteria’s staff. The goals include fun, but the meals are also specially conceived by a dietician to encourage healthy eating.

While the kids are having fun, adults can relax in the restaurant part of the Osteria, where they can eat delicious meals and have an adult experience, actually talking to each other without the kids tugging on their shirttails. From the photos and the accompanying text it’s easy to see that a lot of thought has gone into making this a place that both age-groups look forward to going to. Both the restaurant and the playrooms have beautiful interiors, as well as whimsical touches: one photo of the restaurant shows a menu on a blackboard. At the bottom you see in Italian, “Prize for the best lie” and then a number of submissions. I look forward to visiting, to see up close where exactly this new breed of restaurant fits into Italian food history. I hope this review hasn’t sounded like a testimonial: it’s just refreshing to see Italian food culture having fun and not taking itself too seriously.  ZN


Jan 292012
starbucks opens in italy?

A news story of kinds has begun to do the rounds claiming that Starbucks will soon be opening in ‘Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples’, after years of absence from the peninsula. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It transpires that this was all a huge practical joke. But the speed with which the news spread around the Italian blogosphere begs two questions. First, why has Starbucks failed to penetrate the Italian market? And, second, is there now a hunger for Starbucks in Italy? SY


„Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples“