Italian food and the ‘Invented Designation of Origin’

Alberto Grandi is an Italian academic and food expert. He’s also, unsurprisingly, an oft maligned and despised figure across Italy. This is because Grandi exposes the myths surrounding Italy’s famous culinary traditions. From panettone’s industrial invention to carbonara’s American roots, and why if you want “real” Parmesan you should head to Wisconsin.

In an interview with FT columnist Marianna Giusti, Grandi challenges the notion of “tradition” in Italian food, expanding on his mission to reveal the origins of cherished dishes and how they’ve been influenced by mass migration, cultural shifts, and ugly politics.

“It’s all about identity, […] When a community finds itself deprived of its sense of identity, because of whatever historical shock or fracture with its past, it invents traditions to act as founding myths.” Grandi says. From about 1958 to 1963 … “Italians who’d had their bread rationed were living in abundance. This level of prosperity was completely unforeseen, and to them at the time it seemed endless.” The nation needed an identity to help it forget its past struggles, while those who had emigrated to America needed myths that would dignify their humble origins.

The ‘Invented Designation of Origin’ in the title is a play on the protected designation of origin (PDO) label, and the title of Grandi’s Italian-language book and podcast on this topic.