March 8, 2012

Bologna “La Grassa”

Ever since the Middle Ages, Bologna has been referred to as “la grassa,” which literally means “the fat.”  This moniker is a reference to the rich food culture in Bologna, which was already famous throughout Europe as far back as the 1300s, perhaps even further. 

“Grassa,” of course, is not a reference to the fat content of the food here, but instead the abundance, variety, and high quality of the cuisine.  In the Middle Ages, this was quite the compliment for any city, since the richness of the food culture suggested all-around economic prosperity.

The culinary culture is tied quite strongly to the University of Bologna, the Alma Mater Studiorum.  Because of the Studiorum and its centrality within the culture of the city, Bologna is also referred to as “la dotta,” or “the learned.”  This famous university, founded in 1088, has long attracted illustrious students to Bologna from all over the world. 

During the Middle Ages, a student had to come from a rich family to attend university, and many students from around Europe brought with them scores of servants, among them cooks.  As a result of these foreign cooks and their different methods of cooking, Bolognese cuisine gradually took on a new flavor, incorporating elements from nearby European cultures.

Without the prestigious university, Bolognese cuisine would not have developed as strongly as it did, and without the rich culinary tradition, the university would not have become so well renowned.  In this city, education and cuisine are locked together in a symbiotic relationship that has been in place for a millennium and still remains strong today.

by D.R. 

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