The goodness of the innumerable typical Italian products, most of the dishes and the Mediterranean diet itself has gone beyond the national borders obtaining many awards and continuing to gather followers.
Italy is a country that can boast a thousand culinary excellence, a compendium of the ancient rural wisdom that has been able to evolve and pass on to the centuries-old traditions that stand the test of time, but some legends that accompany them are inventions that took shape during the industrial crisis of the 70s.
It was then that Italian farmers and entrepreneurs decided to combine their efforts and start to completely invent a false but credible millennial tradition of our food and the subsequent storytelling to support it.
So we find out that the word “Italian cuisine” is just a semantic matter, as digging in a very recent past we discover how much marketing has been used and still strives to maintain the amazing status quo of the Italian gastronomic industry.
To confirm this, a very authoritative and uncomfortable investigation conducted by Alberto Grandi, Professor of Business History in Parma, in his book “Denominazione d’origine inventata” (Invented denomination of origin) points the finger on the untouchable myth of Italian food and wine and unveils many of the countless tales about the so-called typical products; it is an absolutely authoritative publication that will make people angry – but perhaps also to think – all those who are fideistically in love with the great myth of Italian typicality, going to reconstruct the events that have led some of the most famous and titled products typical Italians to become a symbol of our cuisine and our country in the world, highlighting paradoxes and distortions of a system in which the denominations of origin multiply at a fast pace and where the protection consortia are struggling to date the history of the product at the dawn of time.
But why use these unworthy means?
Well, probably because most of the people do not love or have studied the history little except if do not talk about a so snobbish story as that of cooking and the idea of having a table, for example, a vegetable whose seeds come from prehistory and to be able to boast, is a bit as having a piece of antique furniture: even if it is full of woodworm and is inconvenient to use, will always be able to find accommodation and use to demonstrate their cultural wealth, asserting that it is, in any case, it is an indispensable furnishing component.
The dishes we are fond of would have been randomly put together by Pellegrino Artusi, “without paying too much attention to their authenticity”. Moreover, it would not have been possible to do otherwise, because, Alberto Grandi re-proposes: “until the second post-war period we were a starvation country”.
But let’s go into the matter and start with a question: where was Italian cuisine born?
Obviously in Italy, it seems the logical answer suggested but would be better “depends”.
Until March 17th 1861, Italy was only a geographical expression, only later it will become a nation as we know it today.
So the second question is: is Italian cuisine born that day?
For this question, the answer is an absolute “no!”
Even if the inhabitants of the country known today as Italy had been eating for a long time before that date, it is also certain that what is today called “Italian cuisine“, even though with all the approximations of the case, was born about a century after.
And now let’s move on to some striking examples: the wine with a Controlled Denomination of Origin (CDO) Marsala produced in Sicily, mainly Marsala from which it takes its name, was invented, marketed and produced on a large scale by a British merchant who added alcohol to wine for the sole purpose of keeping it better during transport to the motherland.
Panettone never really existed, it is a well-think invention of 1919 by Angelo Motta, today taken by pastry Chefs: different than “pan de Toni”.
In 1937 Alemagna inaugurated its industrial line in a former spinning mill: the artisanal production began in the 80s, with the decline of a major industry.
Italy has 10 protected ham.
Modena’s people sustain that it was invented by the Celts, the Parmesans from the Romans and over more.
In reality, from Friuli to Sicily, as in Europe, the pork leg has always been processed, salted and seasoned.
However, the travel guides of the beginning of 900 tell of Tuscan ham and not that of Parma, whose fame dates back to the second half of the century.
The Consortium was founded in 1963, two years after that of San Daniele, but has the market record with 40%.
The pasta made with Canadian wheat, the one that has a firm texture, until 1945 was consumed mostly in Naples where it was produced.
Senatore Cappelli’s pasta is the result of crosses of many varieties of different grains, in the particular one coming from Tunisia.
Italian pasta has long been more African than Italian, and even today most of the grains come from abroad.
Modica chocolate was born in the early 90s from an invention of pastry chef Franco Ruta: do not separate the cocoa butter from the seeds and work at low temperature to leave the sugar granules intact.
The Protection Consortium instead is from 2003.
Without the balsamic vinegar made with caramel, no one would know the precious one, to which only afterwards was added the appellation “traditional”.
Olive oil has always been an industrial product, then the denomination came and today in Italy there are 52 PDOs and 10 new candidates.
Pachino’s tomatoes are a hybrid patented in 1989 in Israel.
In the absence of seeds that guarantee the same characteristics continuously, growers buy new plants every year.
Parmigiano has a thousand years of history, but the one mentioned by Boccaccio does not look anything like the current product: it was much smaller and in Parma, it was not even of great quality.
Parmigiano more similar to the one created centuries ago by the wisdom of the Emilian monks is the one produced in Wisconsin, USA.
The “lardo di Colonnata” (Colonnata’s lard) did not exist, at least not until the 80s. It was lard as it is everywhere.
The denomination is dated 2003, the interest for the pork fat matured in the marble basins begins in the 90s.
There are no explicit references to the product as we know it in the historical documents.
And all that trouble to define the CDO, PDO or PGI wine on the basis of alleged and ancient traditions of the vineyards?
A noble intent but it is forgotten that in the second half of the 1800s a parasite destroyed all the vineyards in Italy and European territory.
Having to start from scratch, our winemakers necessarily used non-native grapes and various grafts.
Spaghetti Bolognese originally did not exist, but now they are on the menu even in Bologna.
They are a typical product, just like Nutella.
The master question is: why today we still need to bother the Celts to say that cheese or ham is good?
Is it perhaps not time to stop believing this new gastronomic religion that admits such amount of heresies?
The valid products exist, it is up to the Chef to make these excellences art… but on this, we will reason in another article.
Alberto Grandi (Mantova, 1967) is an associate professor at the University of Parma.
He teaches History of Businesses, History of European Integration and has taught Economic History and History of Food.
He is the author of about forty essays and monographs in Italy and abroad.