Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 268R Food & Wine of Italy

Fall 2016

Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

Litr 268R: Italian Cultural History: Food & Wine

Course Syllabus

Fall Semester 2016

Mondays and Wednesdays 5-6:15 pm

Instructor: Elizabeth Simari (esimari@luc.edu)


Practicum/Site visits fee: $90


Course Description

What can you learn about Italian culture through an exploration of the history of food in Italy? By examining the radical changes that have occurred in Italian food-ways, the pronounced differences in eating habits of different socio-economic classes, and the important role played by food in shaping Italian national and regional identities, we will uncover various trends in Italian history and society. These include the gradual process of political unification, the role of public policy in the agricultural sphere, and the dramatic effect that industrialization has had on Italian food culture.

The purpose of this course is to use food and wine as a means for exploring the dramatic political, social, and economic changes that have taken place in Italy since the Renaissance. By the end of the course the students will have acquired a more sophisticated understanding of food history as an interdisciplinary approach to studying Italian culture and society and as a framework for analyzing important aspects of Italian history. 


In the last twenty years historians have turned with ever more urgency to food as a key for understanding the past. Italy is particularly interesting in this respect. Modern Italian identity is based, in large part, on food. And many Italian ‘staples’ from pasta to olive oil, from ice-cream to wine, from pizza to risotto, have back-stories that give insights into Italian culture and Italian history. Through a series of class visits, tasting experiences and more conventional power-point based lectures we will look at Italian food in prehistory, antiquity, the Renaissance, and more recent times: while also giving a strong grounding in contemporary Italian food culture.


This course will also examine the world of Italian wine and its place within the history and culture of the bel paese.  The history of Italian wines date back to the ancient Romans and the techniques are rooted in age-old traditions. We will not only examine the history and culture but also the technical aspects of wine, such as opening a bottle and completing full-sommelier level sensory analyses.


Course Objectives

This course will ask students to:

—Work with non-traditional historical texts;

—Expand their critical understanding of historical methodologies and engage in analysis by application of those methodologies to specific course topics;

—Integrate theory and practice as it applies to modern-day Italian foodways; and

—Develop a more sophisticated understanding of how historical events are shaped by a combination of economic, political, and social factors.


By the end of the course, students will have a solid understanding of Italian food culture; demonstrate a historical appreciation of the change in eating and drinking habits in modern Italy, and a knowledge of Italy’s move towards a more ethnic and global taste. Students will leave Italy with a good knowledge of Italian food and wine culture.



15% Class Attendance and Participation

20% Written Assignments and Journal

25% Mid-Term Exam

15% Presentations

25% Final Exam




Grading is done on a percentage basis: percentages are rounded up or down.


Letter Grade Range

Numerical Score Equivalent

Student Performance



93% - 100%

90% - 92%






87% -89%

83% - 86%

80% - 82%






77% - 79%

73% - 76%

70% - 72%





65% - 69%

60% - 64%



Low Pass


59% or less

Fail (no credit)




Course Requirements

Course grades are based on midterm and final exams, various written assignments (e.g. short essays, journal entries), one group presentation and attendance and class participation.


Class Attendance, Class Participation, Required Readings (15%)

Attendance: Class Attendance is mandatory. For spirited discussion, we will need your active attention and participation. Attendance (together with class participation and possible quizzes) will count for 15% of the final grade.  Missing more than one class (including the final dinner) will result in a 5% reduction of the student’s grade. Arriving (or leaving early) more than 15 minutes late to class counts as half an absence. Therefore arriving 15 minutes late twice counts as one full absence. Absences may be excused in case of an emergency with a note by the doctor or a Student Life Adviser.


Class Participation:Class participation grades are not automatic. They are based on oral contributions to the collective learning experience of the class. Participation means active engagement in the course: being consistently prepared for class (having carefully read that day’s assignments), asking questions, responding to questions, offering your own insights and opinions, and attentive listening to others. Laptops are not allowed in class. Students who are by nature more reluctant to offer their input will not be penalized; however they are encouraged to participate fully in journal writing and other written assignments, outside of discussions.


Required Readings: Required readings are an integral part of this course and should not be considered supplemental. Reading assignments should be done for the class day they are assigned, and may be followed up by short written assignments. See below.



Written Assignments (20%)

All students are required to keep a journal for the duration of the course. This journal must be a single notebook and be brought to all class sessions. The journal is intended to provide an opportunity for students to record information and observations and integrate class readings, discussions, and their own personal food experiences throughout the semester. All entries should be legibly hand-written and dated.  Journals must include:

  1. A one-paragraph response to the day’s reading, completed prior to its corresponding class session.
  2. Answer any assigned questions.
  3. Additional notes and thoughts on personal experiences on the topic.


All work must be completed to pass this course. Any late work will result in a lower grade (3%).


Mid-Term Exam (25%)

An exam covering all topics presented in the first half of the course. It will consist of identification, short answer, and essay questions. The exam will take approximately 75 minutes to complete and is closed book/closed note.


Presentations (15%)

Students will be divided into groups of three or four and will be assigned one of two presentation days. Presentations may cover a variety of topics (not-covered throughout the course of the semester, such as any number of recipe writers, foods such as gelato, the aperitivo or digestivo). Presentations titles may include: Jewish food outside of Rome; the role of women in the culinary traditions of Rome; Lasagne according to a Roman, a Renaissance and a Modern Recipe; Spices from the Romans to the present; the History of beer-making in Italy and its popularity today.


  1. Presentations should last from 10-15 minutes. A timer will ring at the 15 minute mark and students will be asked to conclude immediately at that point.
  2. Students will also be required to hand-in a bibliography of at least 5 sources (at least two scholarly) they used to research their presentation.
  3. Students are required to hand-in a presentation proposal including the title of the presentation and a short paragraph describing what you will discuss in your presentation (at least five sentences) via email by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, October 9, but are encouraged to do so earlier.


The review session mini-presentations (see below) will be counted in this part of the grade.





Final Dinner

We will have final dinner at a local restaurant (most likely at Da Cesare al Casaletto). This dinner –scheduled for Thursday, December 1 – will serve as a capstone, highlighting many of the concepts and themes we will discuss during the semester. Students will also have a moment to reflect on their food experiences throughout the semester in and outside of the classroom.

*Failure to attend this dinner will count as one absence.



Final Exam (25%)

The final exam is the final step in the sequential learning process the course involves. In this exam you bring together the various concepts/topics we have studied. The exam will take approximately 120 minutes to complete and is closed book/closed note. It will constitute 25% of the final grade. This is the only time the exam will be given.

The exam must be passed to receive a passing grade in the course. No alternative exam dates will be offered.



Review Sessions

We will review for both the midterm and the final exam. Students will be divided into groups and give a short five minute review of one of the topics to be covered in the exam.


Academic Misconduct

This includes all forms of cheating i.e. copying during exam either from a fellow student or making unauthorized use of notes and plagiarism, i.e. presenting, as one's own, the ideas or words of another person for academic evaluation (e.g. papers, presentations, written tests, etc.) without proper acknowledgment. This includes also insufficient or incomplete acknowledgement, or failure to acknowledge a source that has been paraphrased. Loyola University believes strongly in academic honesty and integrity. Essential to intellectual growth is the development of independent thought and a respect for the thoughts of others. I will report students who cheat to the Director for appropriate action, and I will not hesitate to fail students for plagiarism. If you have concerns with any aspect of the course, please feel free to discuss them with me.





Office Hours

I will be available both before and after class. Alternative times can be arranged but it is always best to make an appointment. We can also be in touch via email if you have difficulties or queries.



There are no required texts; all required readings will be in the course reader. Additional reading assignments, both optional and required, may be made available by the instructor.






Week 1


Monday, September 5:Introduction to the Study of Food

Lecture Themes: Why study food? And why study Italian food? This lecture presents food history as cultural and social history following an interdisciplinary format, as well as explaining the structure of the course.



Wednesday, September 7: Modern Italian Food Culture: A Physical and Mental Space

Lecture Themes: When do Italians eat? What do they eat? And where? These are some of the questions that this lecture will answer, in discovering the landscape of food culture in Italy today. Additionally, we will also look at the vocabulary of the Italian meal, as well as a variety of concepts such as seasonality, campanilismo and regionality central to modern Italian cooking.

Required Readings: Dickie: 1-10, Parasecoli 257-276



Week 2

Monday, September 12: Pasta Practicum: In this practicum we will pay homage to the food nearly synonymous with Italy. We will first discuss the history of pasta in and outside of Italy. Then we will look at the different shapes and sizes of pasta, the various ways it is made both fresh and store-bought, and we will examine a variety of regional and seasonal sauces.

Required Readings: Dickie 13-30, 48-52, Fant 18-21


Wednesday, September 14:The Italian Way of Eating and its Roots in Ancient Rome

Lecture Themes: We imagine the Romans eating more or less what we eat, simply lying down. In this lesson will discuss the Mediterranean Triad and the differences in the classical food system.

Required readings: Corbier 128-140; Steel 16-17



Week 3


Monday, September 19: Food Practicum: Bread

Lecture Themes: Bread is one of the three components of the so-called “Mediterranean triad.” In this practicum, we will talk about the microbiology of bread as well as its significance historically in the Mediterranean basin and its cultural context in contemporary Italy. Our practicum will include a tasting of a number of kinds of Italian bread, including the local favorites.

Required Readings: Franklin 235-241


Friday, September 23: The Cultural Context of Wine: Part I

Lecture themes: The ancients called Italy “enotria”, the land of wine. The country truly lives up to its name. Italy has approximately 2,000 indigenous grapes, more than any other country, and 350 commercially cultivated varieties. In this lecture we will look at wine production and the ancient history of Italian wine. We will taste at least three Italian wines and complete a sensory analysis for each.  Students will also learn how to open a bottle with a sommelier’s corkscrew, as well as a learning to recognize notes in the bouquet.

Required Reading: Riley 582-585; Parasecoli 258-259


Week 4

Monday, September 26: The History and Cultural Context of Wine in Italy: Part II

Lecture themes: Barolo and Barbaresco are the king and queen of Italian wines, but they are not the only important bottles. During this lecture, we will discuss various indigenous varieties from around the country.

Required Reading: D’Agata 1 -5, 9-11


Wednesday, September 28: The History and Cultural Context of Wine in Italy: Part III

Lecture themes: Prosecco vs Franciacorta. Today we will examine how those tiny bubbles make it into the bottle. We will also touch on the concept “what grows together, goes together”. In this way we will dig into the mechanics of pairing food and wine.

Required Reading: TBA



Week 5


Monday, October 3: The Middle Ages

Lecture Themes: Medieval Europe is usually thought of as a pretty poor time to be alive. We will examine how the “fall” of the Roman Empire actually improved the common man’s diet.

Required readings: Montanari (1999) 165-177



Wednesday, October 5: Food Goes International: The Columbian Exchange +Tomato Practicum

Lecture Themes: The discovery of the New World brought tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and mais (corn) to Italy, foods we can hardly imagine Italian cuisine without. This lecture traces the reasons for the surprisingly slow acceptance of these new foodstuffs and their economic impact on the Italian peninsula. Then during our tomato practicum we will discuss and look at several dishes in Italian cuisine which utilize the tomato, such as amatriciana, pappa al pomodoro, bruschetta, parmigiana and pollo alla romana. In addition we will also take a look  at some of Italy’s famous recipe-writers use of the tomato.

Required reading: Montanari (1996) 98-107, 133-140; Riley 529-530



Week 6: Fall break (October 7-16)



Week 7


Monday, October 17: Food Practicum: Cheese

Cheese is the ultimate “cultural” (as opposed to “natural”) food product, one that humans can enjoy only by intervening in a natural process (milk going bad). In this practicum, we will discuss the microbiology of cheese as well as its cultural context in contemporary Italy, and taste a number of different kinds of Italian cheese.

Required readings: Firebaugh 359-364


Wednesday, October 19: Food and Class - The Renaissance + Hand in presentation proposal

Lecture Themes: Using the humanist and cookbook writer Platina as an example, we will discuss the important changes that the Renaissance brought to Italian food-ways, but also class differences that both separated and linked the food of the rich to the food of the poor.

Required Readings: Dickie 65-76; Grieco 302-313





Week 8


Monday, October 24: Coffee /Review for Midterm and hand-in journals

Espresso vs cappuccino? What to order? When to order? These are just some of the questions that are part of the Italian culture of coffee. We will briefly discuss bar culture in Italy and the difference between different kinds of coffee, as well as coffee as a global commodity and the history of coffee in Italy, touching also on its biology, history and cultural context. For the rest of the class session we will hold a brief review. Students are encouraged to formulate any questions before class, so as to have a fruitful review.

Required reading: New York Times article by Gaia Pianigiani


Wednesday, October 26: MIDTERM




Week 9


Monday, October 31: No class

These course hours will be made up during our final dinner. During this time you will be expected to begin preparing for your final presentation.



Wednesday, November 2: No class

These course hours will be made up during our final dinner. During this time you will be expected to begin preparing for your final presentation.



Week 10


Monday, November 7: Class Presentations


Wednesday, November 9: Class Presentations





Week 11


Monday, November 14: The European Food Revolution + Chocolate Practicum

Lecture Themes: Until the seventeenth century there was very little distinction between sweet and savory. This lecture examines the shift in taste. In the chocolate practicum we will taste the chocolates of Moriondo e Gariglio, a small-family run chocolatier which was founded in 1850, around the time of the Risorgimento (which we will discuss in the following lecture). We will taste several varieties of chocolate as well as their fruit-based gelatin candies, discussing the history of chocolate and its place in Italian culture.

Required readings: Flandrin 349-373, Riley 126-128, Montanari (2009) 90-92


Wednesday, November 16: The Risorgimento and Food: Unity Through a Cookbook

Lecture Themes: This lecture sketches the period from 1846 to 1890, outlining the slow processes of political, linguistic, and culinary unification of the modern Italian state. Particular emphasis will be given to Pellegrino Artusi and his famous cookbook, as well as a discussion of regional particularities of Italian food.

Required Readings: Dickie 178-193, 211-232





Week 12


Monday, November 21: Mussolini and Futurism

Lecture Themes: Mussolini imposed an austerity on Italian foodways that left a profound imprint on post-Second World War Italian food. This lecture discusses both Futurist and Fascist contributions to evolving Italian food traditions.

Required Readings: Dickie 270-276; Helstosky 63-81



Wednesday, November 23: The Food of Rome and Lazio

Lecture themes: Many modern Roman dishes are made with fresh spring ingredients, in examining these foods, we will also look at foods associated with Easter and the traditions surrounding this holiday, as well as others. Our discussion of the culinary traditions of Rome will also touch on those of the Jewish community, which is the oldest of the diaspora.

Required Reading: Zanini De Vita 5-18, 71-75, 101-103




Week 13

Monday, November 28: The boom economico and the modernization of food

Lecture Themes: The post-WWII era saw the triumph of “food modernism,” the application of science to food products everywhere. We will discuss the meaning of “modern food” and its implications for a global world.

Required Readings: Parasecoli 191-197, Dickie 293-302



Wednesday, November 30: Pizza & Salt: Food, Myth, & Constructing Identity (+ practicum)

Lecture Themes: We will discuss an apocryphal event that involved pizza and its significance for the larger Italian event of the Risorgimento, or national unification movement. During this lecture, we will also have mini pizza practicum during which we will try pizza bianca and pizza rossa.

Required readings:  Dickie 200-210, Nowak “Folklore, Fakelore, History: Invented Tradition and Origins of the Pizza Margherita’, 103-124



Thursday, December 1: End of the semester dinner.


Week 14

Monday, December 5: Slow Food

Lecture Themes: The political and economic changes of the 1970s and 1980s prepared the way for fast food’s arrival in Italy, as well as the revolt against it. This lecture’s focus will be the pre-history of Slow Food, as well as related movements that struggle against “industrialized” food.

Required Readings: Laudan 134-144



Wednesday, December 7: The Invention of Italian-American Food + Final Review

(Students will hand in their journals today)

Lecture Themes: Is Italian-American food just an inheritance of the food of Italian immigrants of the 1800s, or is it something completely new…or somewhere in between. We’ll discuss where spaghetti found its meatballs and other immigrant food.

Required Readings: Levenstein 75-90


Final Exam: Date?







Course Bibliography


Artusi, Pellegrino. L’Arte del Mangiar Bene.

Campbell, C. Phylloxera: How Wine was Saved for the World. London, 2004.

Capatti, A., and Massimo Montanari, transl. by Aine O’Healy, Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Corbier, M. “The Broad Bean and the Moray: Social Hierarchies and Food in Rome”, in: Food - A Culinary History, ed. J.F. Flandrin and M. Montanari (English edition by Albert Sonnenfeld), 128-140. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

D’Agata, I. “Native Wine Grapes of Italy”, University of California Press, 2014

Dickie, J., Delizia: The epic history of the Italians and their food. London: Sceptre, 2007.

Diner, H.R. Hungering for America. Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2001.

Fant, M. Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Firebaugh, S., “Cheese”, in: Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, ed. S.H. Katz, Vol. 1, 359-364. New York: Thomas Gale 2003.

Flandrin, J.F. “Introduction: The Early Modern Period”, in: Food—A Culinary History, ed. J.F. Flandrin and M. Montanari (English edition by Albert Sonnenfeld), 349-373. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Franklin, P., “Bread”, in: Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, ed. S.H. Katz, Vol. 1, 235-241. New York: Thomas Gale 2003.

Grieco, A.J. “Food and Social Classes in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy”, in: Food—A Culinary History, ed. J.F. Flandrin and M. Montanari (English edition by Albert Sonnenfeld), 302-313. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Helstosky, C. Garlic and Oil: Food and Politics in Italy. New York: Berg, 2006.

Johnson, H. The World Atlas of Wine: A Complete Guide to The Wines and Spirits of the World. London: Mitchel Beazley Limited, 1971.

Laudan, R. “A Plea for Culinary Modernism: Why We Should Love New, Fast, Processed Food,” in Gastronomica 1.1. (2001), 36-44.

—— — “Slow Food: The French Terroir Strategy, and Culinary Modernism.  An Essay Review of Carlo Petrini, trans. William McCuaig.  Slow Food: The Case for Taste (New York: Columbia University Press).  Food, Culture, and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 7. 2. (2004), 133-144.

Levenstein, H. “The American Response to Italian Food, 1880-1930” in Food in The USA: A Reader, ed. C Counihan, 75-90. New York: Routledge, 2002.

McWilliams, J., Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Montanari, M., The Culture of Food (The Making of Europe). Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

—— — “Romans, Barbarians, Christians: The Dawn of European Food Culture” and “Production Structures and Food Systems in the Early Middle Ages” in: Food—A Culinary History, ed. J.F. Flandrin and M. Montanari (English edition by Albert Sonnenfeld), 165-177. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

­—— — Let the Meatballs Rest. (English edition by Beth Archer Brombert) Columbia University Press, New York: 2009.

Moss, S. and A. Badenoch Chocolate: A Global History, London 2009.

Parasecoli, F. Al Dente: The History of Food in Italy, London: Reaktion Books, 2014.

Pollan, M., The Omnivore's Dilemma. The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast Food World. New York: Penguin, 2006.

—— —, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Riley, G. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Schlosser, E., Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World.  London: Penguin, 2002.

Standage, T., An Edible History of Humanity. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.

Unwin, T. Wine and the Vine. London: Routledge, 1991.

Zanini De Vita, Oretta. The Food of Rome and Lazio: History Folklore and Recipes (English edition by Maureen Fant). Rome: Alphabyte Books, 1994.