Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dove Vai? – Accademia della Crusca at Villa di Castello, Library #1

In the 16th century Medicean Villa of Castello, is one of the most important of Florence’s many libraries, the Crusca Academy (Accademia della Crusca).  The Villa of Castello, located on the northern edge of the city, with its magnificent gardens (open to the public), passed from the Medici dukes to the Lorraine dukes to the King of Italy, who gave it to the State in 1919. The villa was chosen as the permanent home of the Crusca Academy in 1966.

Lunette of Villa of Castello and its gardens by Giusto of Utens (1599)
Lunette of Villa of Castello and its gardens by Giusto Utens (1599)

The location is fitting because the origins of the Accademia della Crusca can be traced back to the mid-16th century when a group of educated philosophers, writers and linguists, disliking the rigidity of the revered Accademia Fiorentina decided to form a new academy. Calling themselves the “brigata dei crusconi” (brigade of coarse bran), they organized cruscate – amusing meetings with trivial speeches and conversation – but which also included debates and readings of cultural value, focused on works written, not in Latin, but in Italian, especially in the Florentine vernacular.

Sheaf of wheat - another symbol of Crusca
Sheaf of wheat - another symbol of Crusca

Soon, the academy adopted the name Crusca (bran), establishing the use of the symbols related to flour and to the process of separating the flour (the good language) from the bran (the bad language), following a language model that was based on the supremacy of the Florentine “vulgar” or everyday tongue. The goal of the lexicographers was to propose language cleaned of the impurities of its usage.

They went further with the theme by deciding that all the objects and furniture of the Accademia should have names relating to grain, bran, and bread, including the personal coats of arms of the Academicians, the “pale” or wooden shovels, which were painted with a symbolic image, together with the nickname of each Academician and his chosen motto.

Contento is the nickname of one of the members of Crusca
Contento is the nickname of one of the members of Crusca

In 1590, the “frullone” or sifter, the vessel used to separate the flour from the bran, was chosen as the symbol of the Academy, as well as the motto -“il più bel fior ne coglie” (“she gathers the fairest flower”) – taken from a verse by Petrarch.

The traditional furnishings of the Accademia della Crusca included:

1) the gerle (panniers) – ceremonial academic chairs made of an upside down breadbasket with a bread shovel skewered through it to form the backrest (the addition of the shovel is attributed to Leopoldo de’ Medici);

2) the sacchi (sacks) – lockers shaped as sacks, which each had a door and shelves inside to preserve the “farina” or flour – the statutes, regulations and other writings approved by the academic censors; and

3) the pale (shovels) – decorative painted wood paddles, each bear the academic name of its owner, the motto (a line of verse originating from the 14th century many composed by Petrarch, chosen to encapsulate the spirit of the enterprise chosen by the Academician), and an image. The iconography of the shovels has been an object of study precisely because of the metaphoric meaning of the subjects, always linked to the agricultural, domestic or culinary subjects.

Pale adorn the walls with gerle chairs below
'Pale' adorn the walls with 'gerle' chairs below

In the 20th century, the Accademia dedicated its energies to research activities, editorial duties and to giving advice about the Italian language, opening new paths in the fields of grammar, lexicography and philology.

Today, the Accademia della Crusca is the most important center of scientific research dedicated to the study and promotion of Italian language. Its main goal is to share historical knowledge of the Italian language and its ongoing evolution in the contemporary world, in Italian society (especially in the schools), and abroad.

A pale showing the distilling of grain
A 'pala' showing the process of distillation

The Academy pursues its own editorial activity, and allows public access to a specialist library and the archives; it also maintains international contacts with similar institutions, organizes meetings, seminars and conventions on the Italian language; and it has an active role in the field of European linguistic policy. The Crusca Academy offers a linguistic advice service to the public and preserves a rich collection of artistic portraits, painting, frescos, and objects, such as the famous pale.

The Accademia della Crusca is located in Florence, at the Villa of Castello, Via di Castello, 46. Its website,, contains all relevant information in English as well as in Italian. For information about entry into the gardens, see the website of the State museums.

Dove Vai? – The American Sicily-Rome WWII Cemetery & Memorial

The Florence American World War II Cemetery is the smaller of two such cemeteries in Italy and thus seems more personal, more approachable, nestled in the classic Tuscan countryside below the hill town of Impruneta.

The World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial is more imposing in its sheer vastness, bringing home the horrible cost of war, but it is still a beautiful, meditative, and educational place to visit.

The Memorial and Chapel
The Memorial and Chapel

The southern Italian memorial, often know as the Anzio Cemetery, is located on the northern edge of the town of Nettuno near the site of the Anzio beach landing (January 22, 1944). It covers 77 acres, rising in a gentle slope from grand pool that surrounds an island containing a cenotaph flanked by groups of Italian cypress trees. Beyond the pool are row upon arcing row of headstones, marking the graves of 7,861 of American military war dead on broad green lawns beneath rows of Roman pines.

The pool surround a island of cypress and a cenotaph
The pool surrounds an island of cypress and a cenotaph

Beyond the almost unfathomable number of gravestones, the personal cost is readily apparent in the following stories:  23 sets of brothers are buried side by side, including two sets of twins; seventeen women and two children are among the dead; almost 6,500 soldiers died in two weeks starting with the bloody Anzio landing; in the attack on the City of Cisterna by the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, only six men survived out of 767 soldiers; and only 35% of the of the Americans who died in the fighting between Sicily and Rome are buried in the cemetery or commemorated in the chapel. The marble walls of the chapel contain the names of 3,095 personnel missing in action.

The majority of these men and women died in the liberation of Sicily (July 10 to August 17, 1943); in the landings in the Salerno Area (September 9, 1943) and the heavy fighting northward; in the landings at Anzio Beach and expansion of the beachhead (January 22, 1944 to May 1944); and in air and naval support in the regions.

Fresco depicting the capture of Sicily
Fresco depicting the capture of Sicily

An educational map room, across from the chapel, contains a bronze relief map and four fresco maps depicting the military operations in Sicily and Italy. The maps on the east and west walls were designed by Carlo Ciampaglia of Middle Valley, New Jersey and executed in true fresco (mixing of pigments with the plaster as it is applied to the wall) by Leonetto Tintori of Florence. At each end of the memorial are ornamental Italian gardens.

Headstones of the American soldiers who fell in battle between Sicily and Rome
Headstones of the American soldiers who fell in battles between Sicily and Rome

The cemetery and memorial are cared for by the American Battle Monuments Commission and are open daily to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1. The gates are open on Italian holidays. When the cemetery is open to the public, a staff member is on duty in the Visitor Building to answer questions and escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.

Dove Vai? – Olive Oil Museums of Italy, Museo del Cibo #4

photo from eatdrinkbetter.comOf all of the Musei del Cibo (Museums of Food) in Italy, there are probably more dedicated to olives and olive oil than any other (except, perhaps, wine). Tuscany has the best olive oil (according to this writer), so it is a decided disappointment that the region has only one measly museum (and perhaps another, rumored to be in Carmignano) dedicated to the golden-green oil.

As the new 2009 extra virgin cold press Italian olive oil is released to the impatient masses, the following is a survey of some – but not all – of the Musei dell’Olio d’Oliva.


Museo dell’Antica Grancia di Serre

The Museum of the Ancient Serre Grange is housed in a grange (fortified farm) situated in the Sienese countryside. Its fortification, which served to safeguard the stores from incursions, represents an interesting architectural type. In 2001, the museum  was inaugurated, divided into two sections, the Olive Oil Museum and the Grange Documentation Center. The first of these museums, housed in an ancient frantoio (olive-mill), displays a collection of implements and materials from the early 20th century pertinent to olive-growing and the production of olive oil.

Address: Via dell’Antica Grancia 3, Rapolano Terme, Serre di Rapolano (SI)

There is no museum website, but it is described in the website of the Florence History of Science Museum.

photo from


Museo dell’ Olivo – Fratelli Carli Possibly the most interesting and complete of all of the Italian olive oil museums, the Olive Museum in Onelia was established to house a variety of objects collected over decades by the Carli olive oil company, founded in 1911. Housed in a small Art Nouveau mansion (1920), which was the company’s headquarters, it is still surrounded by the olive-oil factory. The same building accommodates a library dedicated to the olive and olive oil, while a cafeteria and a museum shop are in an adjacent building. The collection includes several rare objects, antiques and archaeological finds. All the exhibits tell the story of the customs, costumes, tools, production methods, commerce, without omitting the philosophical and artistic – the olive tree has inspired poets, authors and painters for more than a thousand years. The Olive Museum received the European Museum of the Year Award for 1993.

photo from Address: Via Garessio 13, 
18100 Oneglia (IM)

Official Website (occasionally out of order)


Museo della Civiltà dell’ Olivo

The Museum of the Olive Culture, the first public museum of its kind in Italy and in Europe, is housed in an old Franciscan monastery, which also includes the church of St Francis and a collection of works of arts. Divided into four sections (“Botany”, “Getting to know the olive and olive oil”, “The olive as a symbol of peace”, “The history of the olive”) the museum utilizes multi-media to tell its story. The Ro Marcerano** sketches amuse and educate children. The texts presenting the olive in history, botany and agronomy complement corresponding tables with data from the National Research Center. Interactive devices provide information on pressing techniques, while documentary films show such details as the manufacture of the sacks made of goat hair in which the crushed olive mush is placed for compression, and the phases of high-density cultivation, including tree pruning.

Address: Musei di San Francesco, Chiesa di San Francesco, 06039 Trevi (PG)

The official website has no information about opening times or ticket prices.

Museo dell’ Olivo e dell’ Olio – Fondazione Lungarotti

photo from The Museum of Olive and Olive Oil was established in 2000 by the Lungarotti Foundation in a small nucleus of Medieval residences, where many decades ago an olive press operated in Torgiano’s historic center. The museum is organized in ten rooms and the tour starts with information about the phytological characteristics of the olive, the varieties grown in Umbria, and the various methods for olive cultivation and olive oil extraction, from the traditional to ultra-modern techniques. The presence of the olive and olive oil in daily life, and their use and importance throughout the centuries are also explored. These exhibits examine the mythological origin of the plant and the use of olive oil for lighting, in rituals of major western religions. The role of olive oil in medicine and in the diet, in sports, in cosmetics, for heating are described.  Finanly, popular beliefs attributed to the tree and its product – symbolic, appeasing, deterrent and therapeutic – are explored.

Address: Via Garibaldi, 10 
06089 Torgiano (Perugia)

Official Website and another claiming the museum as one of the attributes of Bella Umbria.

Frantoio Bartolomei Olive Oil Museum

olive-harvest3The Vecchio Frantoio Bartolomei has an extensive collection of old machinery and vintage objects used in the cultivation of olives. The exhibition provides an itinerary that takes the visitor through the phases of the production of olive oil, from the growing of the olive trees, to the gathering of the fruit, from their processing to the storing of the golden oil. A 16th century press is one highlight of the collection.

Address:  Via Cagnano, 6 – 05020 Montecchio (Terni)

Official Website


Museo dell’Olio della Sabina Located in the village of Castelnuovo di Farfa, the Sabina Olive Oil Museum holds a rare collection of olive presses, which attest the evolution of olive oil production in the region over the course of four centuries. The museum is unique in its use of the works of five internationally renowned artists (A. Cavaliere, G. Gazzola, M. Lai, H. Nagasawa and I. Strazza), who, with music and sculpture as their tools, explain and honor the important role played by olive oil in civilization.

Address:  Via Perelli, 7
02031 Castelnuovo di Farfa (RI)

This museum has many fans, especially in Great Britain where it has been written up in the Independent and the Telegraph.  It was also mentioned in a trip report.


Museo dell’Olio – Oleifico Cisano del Garda The Olive Oil Museum at Cisano of Bardolino, near Lake Garda, was established by the Cisano del Garda Oil Mill, which has been operating since 1936. The museum’s most important exhibits include an ancient olive-press with a lever, grindstones, screw presses and the reconstruction of a 19th century hydraulic press, as well as a centrifugal separator from the 1930s and various containers used to store the final product, including the characteristic stone jars of the Garda-Verona region.

Address: Via Peschiera, 54
37011 Cisano di Bardolino (VR)

Official Website with virtual tour. Military families from the nearby U.S. base include this museum in their visits to Lake Garda as reported in the Stars & Stripes.

photo from


Museo dell’ Olio di Oliva Sant’ Angelo de Graecis

Created in the 400-year-old building that housed the olive press of the Sant’ Angelo de Graecis estate, the Museum of Olive Oil includes a collection of machinery and equipment attesting the history of olive oil production from the late 17th century until the early 1900s.

Address: Contrada S. Angelo, 5
72015 Fasano (Br)

There is no official website, but it is mentioned in a travel site and the details of the museum’s hours are on the Fasano website.

photo from


The Museum of Olive Oil of Cantinarte

Located in the small village of Bucchianico near Chieti, the Olive Oil Museum offers a view of olive oil production as practiced in the 18th century using stone and wood machines powered by man and donkey. The museum is housed in an ancient frantoio where the interior spaces and architectural details have been restored with special care to authentic detail.

Address: Via San Camillo 21, 66011 Bucchianico

photo from Official Website and the website  Abruzzo Today describes the museum.

Museo dell’ Olio di Loreto Aprutino

The small Abruzzo hill town of  Loreto Aprutino has five – yes, five – museums. One is all about olive oil. It is housed in the New Gothic-stlye castle, itself worthy of a visit. A 90 minute guided tour is included in the 6 euro ticket price.

Address: Via C. Battisti, 65014 Loreto Aprutino (PE)

Official Website and bloggers About Abruzzo and Life in Abruzzo describe the olive oil museum and the castle.

All About Olive Oil Museums

For information about Olive Oil Museums anywhere in the Mediterranean check out the Olive Oil Museums site.

Best Photo of Olive Oil

National Geographic’s Photo of the Day – Olive Oil: Elixir of the Gods

Next time:  Museo del Gusto – the Taste Museum

Mangia! Mangia! – Craving Mac ‘n’ Cheese in Tuscany

On a cold and rainy day when nothing is going right, Italians don’t have the same craving for Mac ‘n’ Cheese (maccheroni e formaggio) as most of the American baby boomers.

Mac 'n' Cheese plain and simple
Mac 'n' Cheese plain and simple

During the 50s and 60s across the U.S., moms would make Mac ‘n’ Cheese from scratch with a butter and flour roux and American cheese. In the 70s and 80s, Kraft cornered the market with powdered cheese or the deluxe version with a packet of “real” cheddar cheese sauce.

The popularity of macaroni and cheese in the U.S. supposedly started when Thomas Jefferson served the dish at a White House dinner in 1802. Some say he got the pasta machine from Italy and the recipe from France.

Macaroni’s first mention in literature is in Boccacio’s Decameron (1348) where on the eighth day the group, hanging out in the hills near Florence (waiting for the plague to abate), was told the story of people from Parma who ate formaggio parmigiano and maccheroni.

Today in Italy it is hard to find elbow macaroni at the market, Italians rarely eat cheddar cheese, and there aren’t any boxes of Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese on supermarket shelves. In fact, it’s a rare to find an Italian who has ever savored the dish and certainly none who understands the expat’s craving for the cheesy comfort food.

Trattoria Zibibbo
Trattoria Zibibbo

Now for the good news! Foreigners in Florence who need a fix of creamy cheese on pasta (or anyone else who just wants a fabulous meal) should head immediately to Zibbibo Trattoria, located out of the tourist hubbub, and try chef/owner Benedetta Vitali’s Spaghetti Pastificio Morelli con Monte 27.

Admittedly, the pasta is not elbow macaroni, but it is one of the finest spaghettis made near Pisa by the family-owned Morelli pasta company. The taste of the fine durum wheat comes through with a satisfying al dente chew.

Monte 27 Vecchio from the Tallegio Valley
Monte 27 Vecchio from the Taleggio Valley

The cheese is not Velveeta, or American, or even a fine aged English cheddar, but it is a unique aged yellow hard cheese called Monte 27 Vecchio. Monte 27 is made by a small cheese company in the Taleggio Valley in the mountainous province of Bergamo in the Lombardy Region of northern Italy.

Spaghetti Pastaficio Morelli with Monte 27
Spaghetti Pastificio Morelli with Monte 27

Benedetta hasn’t shared the exact recipe, but a spy in the kitchen reports that she melts down a lot, but not too much, unsalted butter, with about the same amount of brodo (savory stock from boiling chicken and a bit of beef). She boils the spaghetti until it’s almost done, then adds the spaghetti to the butter and brodo, sautés by stirring quickly and once the noodles are completely coated, she adds a huge handful of finely grated Monte 27.  She stirs briskly again until the cheese melts and serves the creamy pasta immediately, piping hot, garnished with a dash of pepper.

Paired with a glass of elegant, deep berry-red, velvety Barbaresco from the Piedmont region and followed by a fresh fruity sorbet, such as one made of fragolino grapes served in a tall crystal flute, makes the perfect light meal.

Benedetta Vitali
Benedetta Vitali

Benedetta is celebrating the tenth anniversary of her modern-designed, but cozy, trattoria. The menu changes frequently, reflecting both what is fresh at the market and Benedetta’s eclectic taste, especially of her love for the dishes of southern Italy. Look for appetizers like octopus salad or a flan of cauliflower and Parmesan cheese. The pasta to choose is, of course, Morelli spaghetti with Monte 27 sauce, but a good second choice is pasta with shellfish like clams, mussels, or shrimp. Main-course selections may include braised lamb chops, pigeon stuffed with liver, and squid stewed in spicy tomato sauce. Seasonal vegetables are not to be missed, especially if there are fried zucchini blossoms. Desserts have been Benedetta’s specialty for thirty years, especially the torta di gianduia (creamed chocolate and hazelnuts) and candied orange peels topping creamy cheesecake.

To get to Zibibbo, either take the 14C bus from Piazza San Marco or the train station all the way to the last stop in Careggi or ask the taxi driver to be dropped off at Piazzetta di Careggi. From that little square, Zibibbo is only a few doors up Via di Terzollina. There is a sign, but the name ‘Zibbibo’ is not immediately evident.

Zibibbo Trattoria

Via di Terzollina 3/R, Florence; telephone: Reservations necessary.

About $40 a person, not including wine.