gastronomic library  April 2009

Treasure Hunting… in the Academia Barilla Virtual Menu Gallery

The Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library never ceases to amaze.
Did you know that [...]

The Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library never ceases to amaze.

Did you know that library houses over 4,700 historic menus from the 19th and 20th centuries? And did you know that they are all available for public view should you make the very worthwhile trip to visit us in Parma, Italy?

And in perhaps even more exciting news for our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, many of these menus are available online.

Hidden within the Gastronomic Library section of the Academia Barilla website, you will find a wide array beautifully decorated menus that mark milestones of Italian gastronomic history. There is so much to explore… so let’s get started.

Here is a fun historical fact.
Menus – or printed lists of dishes to be served at a specific occasion – did not appear until around 1810 when formal dining in Europe witnessed a major change. Prior to this date, most formal dinners were presented with traditional French service, which meant that all the dishes were placed down on the banquet table at once.
However, in Russian service dinner guests were served one dish at a time, over the course of the evening. Printed menu cards were presented to the guests, like playbills, giving them a preview of what was to come. These elegant menus of yesteryear are not unlike the prix-fixe menus you might fine in a contemporary fine-dining restaurant or at a gala dinner.

As was custom during the 19th and some of the 20th century, many of the menus are printed in French – the language of European diplomacy. However, with the unification of Italy, the menus printed in Italian began to appear.

The Academia Barilla virtual menu gallery is subdivided into sections, making it easy to navigate. The “A Menu a Month” section contains 12 menus – one for each calendar month – and is a fun introduction to the collection.

A brief description of the event for which the menu was printed is presented next to the digital image of the menu itself. You can click on the image to enlarge the menu, allowing you to read, for example, exactly what Umberto I of Savoy at for lunch on February 27, 1897.

In the “Menus of the Italian Nobility” section, you will find the menus from meals served to many of Italy’s great noble families. Take a trip back in time by scrolling through the menus from the Borromeo, Meli Lupi di Soragna, Negroni, Spinola, Visconti and Litta family lunch and dinner parties. One of the Spinola family documents even contains a seating chart for a 1920 lunch held at the Villa Spinola in Genoa.

And there are even more hidden treasures to be discovered in the “Historic Menus from the House of Savoy” and “Menus of the Italian Government” sections of the gallery. Here you can explore what the Vittorio Emanuele III used to eat for dinner or what the Italian Ministry served visiting diplomats.

You may even be surprised to find a menu including pizza alla Napoletana, served with sparkling wine no less.

Come and join us on a gallery tour!

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