Italian academic says carbonara is American and Wisconsin's parmesan is the most traditional

spaghetti carbonara

An Italian academic specialising in food has caused controversy by claiming in an interview that the original recipe for carbonara is American and the only place in the world to find traditional parmesan cheese today is Wisconsin.

Alberto Grandi, a professor of food history at the University of Parma, also told the Financial Times that tiramisu and panettone were relatively recent inventions and that most Italians had not even heard of pizza before the 1950s as it originally just found in some cities of southern Italy.

Grandi is known for making bold statements about Italian food but for Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest farmers’ association, he has taken the biscuit with his latest claims, especially as the government has just put forward the country’s sacred cuisine as a candidate for Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list.

Coldiretti said Grandi’s interview delivered “a surreal attack” against symbolically Italian food “precisely at the occasion of its candidacy for intangible heritage”.

“On the basis of imaginative reconstructions, the most deeply rooted national culinary traditions are disputed,” the association said.

“In essence, [he claims] the Americans have invented carbonara, and panettone and tiramisu are recent commercial products. Above all, [the interview] goes so far as to hypothesise about parmesan and the one produced in Wisconsin in the US – the homeland of fake ‘made in Italy’ cheeses.”

Wisconsin-made parmesan cheese.
Wisconsin-made parmesan cheese.

Grandi also attracted the ire of Matteo Salvini, the Italian deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League who has long used food as a symbol of Italy’s national identity.

In a post on social media, Salvini said “experts and newspapers are envious of our tastes and beauty” before adding that “buying, eating and drinking Italian is good for health, work and the environment!”

Grandi’s claims were partly drawn from existing academic literature, the Financial Times said. In reference to carbonara, he cites Luca Cesari, a food historian and author of the book A Brief History of Pasta, who said carbonara was “an American dish born in Italy”.

spaghetti carbonara

The dish is believed to have been first made by an Italian chef in 1944 for American soldiers in Riccione using bacon and eggs rations. “Italian cuisine really is more American than it is Italian,” Grandi told the Financial Times.

Parmesan cheese, from the Emilia-Romagna region, dates back to the 12th century and Grandi believes Italian immigrants, probably from the Parma area, started producing it in Wisconsin in the early 20th century.

He said Wisconsin parmesan was “an exact modern-day match” for the original recipe because, unlike their counterparts in Parma, cheesemakers in the US state never evolved the recipe.

As for pizza, Grandi said that before the second world war it could only be found in some southern Italian cities and that the first restaurant serving only pizza opened in New York in 1911. “For my father in the 1970s, pizza was just as exotic as sushi is for us today,” he said.

La bella Napoli pizza Neos Kosmos

As the row rumbled on, Grandi told La Repubblica on Monday that Italian cuisine was “assuming an identity dimension beyond all reasonableness” and that the “Pavlovian reactions” to his comments “make no sense”.

“I don’t understand why many attack me,” he said. “I don’t question the quality of Italian food or products, I reconstruct the history of these dishes in a historical and philologically correct way.

“With my studies I have shown that many preparations derive from the last 50 to 60 years of history and from interactions with the American culture.”

READ MORE: The Greek history of pizza that the Italians want hidden.

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