Mantova, the university professor who debunks the myths of Italian cuisine on Spotify

Mantova, March 21, 2022 – De Gaulle said: “How can you govern a country (France) which has 246 kinds of cheese!”. In Italy, there are a thousand who claim their “typicality”. Poor general… And in this swarm of Dop, PGI, Pat, concerning almost all Italian products, dozens of traps lie in wait, floods of inventions, countless gastronomic fables. Alberto Grandi from Mantua, doc and professor of food history in Parma, has fun discovering and dismantling them. It was he who invented the DOI Appellation d’Origine Inventée. In recent years he has written books and recently launched his own podcast in 10 episodes (but others will follow) which turns out to be a social success: 180,000 views in a flash with its conquest of a place of choice in the Spotify charts. Each episode, made with the co-author, the writer Daniele Soffiati (the producer is Gabriele Beretta), is dedicated to a subject, from the Italian sounding in the most distant countries, such as South Korea, to the first dishes, second courses, wine and sweets.

Hard choose the tastiest. True, the most indigestible relate to some of the columns of national-popular cuisine, including many indestructible and highly respected myths. Let’s take an icon from the North, rice. Until 1950, specifies the professor who denies the existence of a real Italian cuisine (“There are at most towns or villages”) and quotes an Istat survey of that year, it was not regularly consumed only in Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont. In the rest of the Bel Paese he was almost unknown. And the Sicilian arancini? Grandi has no doubt: they arrived later.

And the carbonara? The food historian traces its origins to the arrival of Americans in Italy during World War II: the ingredients, he swears, are those of a typical breakfast with stars and stripes (eggs and bacon) to season the pasta. It is no coincidence that the first cookbook that describes it is in English. For the amatriciana, it’s even worse: Amatrice has nothing to do with it, says Grandi, and originally it was a chopped tomato and onion, other than bacon. And what about pizza? Originating in Naples, it was a street food, white, seasoned only with oil and salt and folded in four. The one we know also has distant origins: the many Italians who emigrated to Brooklyn and the surrounding area invented it, then returned here enriched with tomatoes, mozzarella and others. Thesis which immediately triggered the replies of the guardians of the “tradition”.

Stuffed pasta, called in a hundred ways (cappelletti, tortellini, agnolini, etc.) although evoked by Boccaccio, has its origins in Turkey and in Islam. But the Chinese knew it too. Italian was born with a garnish only of white meat (poultry or game) never pork or beef. The enigma that has always quarreled between Mantua and Ferrara remains unsolved, namely the origin of pumpkin tortelli. The Gonzagas claim that Isabella d’Este, born in Ferrara, invented them when she became Duchess of Mantua. Este’s rivals claim the exact opposite, he had ‘kneaded’ them before. And the feud has not stopped since.

Other secrets concern pigs, bred for thousands of years in the wild (in the Middle Ages they said “A forest of 100 pigs” to indicate its extent) and their meat, like beef, was the prerogative of the inhabitants of the cities. .. much less than the peasants. As for fish, the most popular for centuries has been fresh water, with the exception of sea bass and sea bream. Potatoes, they have a particular history. In Italy they were almost unknown until the 1700s and were even said to be carriers of leprosy. It was only later that they also conquered our tables. Of Grana Padano and Parmesan cheese, the dubious origins of which were recounted in Professor Grandi’s first book, it was found that they disappeared from production for 150 years. It was Napoleon who in 1797, during the Italian campaign, enhanced these cheeses which were so easy to transport and so nutritious for the troops. The icing on the ice of the DOI podcast is Marsala, an invention of the British who shrewdly passed it off as Madeira, until Sicilians Florio took over and institutionalized Marsala.

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