Forlimpopoli is a sleepy town in the northeastern Emilia Romagna region of Italy, marked by the 16th century castle right in its centre. But it’s home to a man and a gastronomic legacy that brought together a newly unified country with a national cuisine.
Every July, for nine nights, the town comes alive with an estimated 15,000 people who enjoy ‘Festa Artusiana’. This food festival pays homage to Pellegrino Artusi – an Italian businessman and writer born in this town who travelled the country and compiled Italy’s very first cookbook in 1891: “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (“Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”).
“Cooking is a troublesome sprite. Often it may drive you to despair. Yet it is also very rewarding, for when you do succeed… you feel a satisfaction of great triumph.
If you do aspire to become a premier cook, you need not have been born with a pan on your head to become a good one. Passion, care, and precision of method will certainly suffice; then, of course, you must choose the finest ingredients as your raw materials, for these will make you shine.” ~ Artusi
To this day, most Italians own a copy of ‘La scienza in cucina’, which contains over 700 recipes and their associated stories. It was a book intended to not only bring together the variety of gastronomic traditions, but also contribute to the formation of the new Italian nation (that in its long history had never been a single state, but one of Duchies, Kingdoms and different political entities). This is a legacy to be preserved and forever celebrated. And always in Forlimpopoli.
Before an evening of indulgence, we visited the Casa Artusi – a complex devoted to home cooking. Everything here relates to Italian gastronomic culture, including a restaurant where Artusi’s recipes are prepared, an accompanying wine cellar and a public library with over 45 thousand books.
In the museum we learnt about Artusi’s life (thumbing through old editions of the cookbook while marvelling at the passport he was granted by the Pope) before moving on to the cookery school, to see the handicraft of making the regional food darling that is piadina (the flatbread speciality of the region).
When travelling, Artusi knew that food was one of the most authentic expressions of a culture and destination. Everywhere he visited he would ask for permission to go to the kitchen to see what they are preparing and ask for the recipe. Except home cooking is seldom written down, existing mainly through traditions passed on by word of mouth and varying from one family to another. Recipes would be based on, “a pinch of this, a bit of that” because people used to cook with whatever they had. Cooking times where simply about, “when it’s ready you will see”. Even today, “the piadina tells you when it is time” by touching it, of course.
Like a modern-day food blogger, Artusi would write down stories about what he saw, from the people making it to the actual dish itself. Amassing many culinary tales, he was also preserving cultural heritage. When he retired at the age of 71, he published the first edition of the book – the release of a collection 475 recipes and associated stories, each marked with a number. That was in 1891 (Italy had unified as a single state in 1851). When people sent letters thanking him for the inclusion, others sent letters asking why a certain recipe wasn’t featured from their hometown. Many included a recipe along with their complaint, from which Artusi (with his devoted cook, Mariette) would test it.
Published at his own expense, Artusi would only print a new edition when the former was sold out. The second edition added 100 recipes, yet the Italians were still not satisfied. By 1908, 17 years later, there was already a 12th edition.
The 15th Edition released in 1911 was the last compilation before he died. It contains 790 recipes and continues to sell to this day in eight different languages.
Leaving his estate to the city of Folimpopoli (and the rights of his book to his servants), he asked the city to build a public library with his money and to take care of all people in need. Casa Artusi is this legacy and the festival is to further honour that.
Indulging at ‘Festa Artusiana’ on a variety of Italian dishes that are best shared for the purpose of being able to try many, accompanied by the region’s best wines, sorbets, gelato, cake and coffee, your stomach makes a happy dance while the streets throng around you with conversation and song.
This is also the one time of the year that you can try to score a table at the pop-up Mariette restaurant. The ‘Associazione delle Mariette’ teaches traditional Romagnolo home cooking and it’s here that some of its 120 members from the cookery school volunteer to serve up the very best of everything they know and practice with precision. This really is a unique time to experience the true knowledge and culture preserved in Forlimpopoli.
At its very heart, the festival is an extension of what Artusi preached – a lifestyle dedicated to the art of eating well. A celebration for one man who brought together a nation by the love of food; a man who commands a pilgrimage of thousands each year to this tiny town, bringing Italian cuisine to the world, and the world to Italian cuisine. Remember to commemorate him over a good dish or three.
‘Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well’. If you can’t make it to Forlimpopoli anytime soon to pick up a copy by hand, there’s no excuse to start practicing some Italian home cooking.
Things to Know:
- I travelled to Forlimpopoli by train from Bologna (the city that was my base for travels around the Emilia Romagna region of Italy). The regional train takes approximately one hour to the station: Forlimpopoli/Bertinoro. You can then take a taxi from the station into the very centre of Forlimpopoli town.
- Timetables and ticket bookings can be found on the Italia Rail website, although it’s easy to buy tickets for shorter journeys directly at the station. ALWAYS remember to validate your ticket (via the ‘stamp’ machines) before boarding!
- Due to its small size, accomodation in Forlimpopoli during Festa Artusiana is very limited and booked up far in advance. I stayed in the Grand Hotel Terme della Fratta in neighbouring Bertinoro, which is itself a beautiful and compact area to explore.
My trip to Forlimpopli was a part of a trip to uncover various destinations in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy as part of the #Blogville project (here you will find all kinds of inspiration and stories of travel in the region over the years). I lived in an apartment in Bologna, taking day trips to various towns, before moving onto Forlimpopoli on my way to San Marino.