Editor's note: Slow Food, the international ecogourmet movement dedicated to preserving the pleasures of eating, has founded a new university, in partnership with the Regional Authorities of Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, to further the interdisciplinary study of gastronomy and agriculture.
Students of Roman antiquity recognize in Pliny the Elder's writings references to the importance of Pollenzo as an ancient agricultural center. Nebbiolo, the great grape of the neighboring Langhe hills that is responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco, is thought to have been first mentioned in name by the great naturalist in his accounts of this picturesque village, hard by the sandy banks of the Tanaro. It is here, with great respect for this unique and valuable heritage, that Slow Food has chosen to establish the seat of the University of Gastronomic Sciences.
The mission of the University of Gastronomic Sciences is to immerse scholars from around the world in a detailed study of food. The curriculum will draw from a number of disciplines and encourage students to study both the complexity of food systems at large and the choices they make in their kitchens at home. The university is not a cooking school but rather an institution that offers courses in anthropology, economics, geography, gastronomy, history, and other subjects in a combined approach to a cumulative understanding of our foods and food ways.
Situating the university in Pollenzo, a village barely 5 kilometers from Slow Food's hometown of Bra, was more than just a convenient choice. Pollenzo was built on the ruins of the Roman settlement Pollentia and has more than a casual relationship with food and agriculture.
Pollentia was an important center for the production of food and the manufacture of amphorae, and through the centuries Pollenzo became one of many hardworking Piedmontese farming towns. Then in the 19th century, King Carlo Alberto of the House of Savoy decided to rebuild a derelict medieval castle and construct a model farm on the ancient ruins of Pollentia. The complex would promote regional agriculture, advance the study of agricultural techniques, and produce wine for his royal household. Thus the Agenzia di Pollenzo was born. It included an extensive cantina (or cellar) in which the practice of aging wines was advanced, and it was here that wines made with the Nebbiolo grape were aged to their potential for the first time, formalizing the practices and knowledge that would give birth to the prized wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.
The noble ideas promoted by Carlo Alberto were neglected by subsequent generations, and the Agenzia fell into disuse. Sold into private hands after World War II, the buildings, except for the castle, were largely abandoned. It was not until the late 1990s that the Agenzia di Pollenzo found new life and new investment. Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, originally conceived the project as an academy of taste, but after having visited the site and with the benefit of further research, he reimagined the project on a grander scale that would also come to include a restaurant, hotel, and wine bank, with the university as its cornerstone.
In keeping with its ambitious scale, the university has secured the enthusiastic support of many public and private institutions and individuals. The Regional Authorities of Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna have been instrumental in securing the funds necessary to restore the Pollenzo campus as well as a second campus in the town of Colorno, near Parma. Slow Food has recruited a world-class faculty from a number of food-related fields that includes activist Vandana Shiva, nutritionist Marion Nestle, author Eric Schlosser, restaurateur Alice Waters, historian Massimo Montanari, and wine authorities Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson.
A unique academic structure has been created within which students and instructors will collaborate in both the classroom and the field, participating in seven stages, or field seminars, per year that will examine important regions and categories of food production in Europe and around the world. Students will travel to diverse locations such as Sicily, Côte du Rhône, Andalusia, India, Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Morocco. Courses will include food hygiene, microbiology, sensory evaluation, geography of wines, anthropology of food, and sociology of consumption. Those completing the initial 3-year degree course will have the opportunity to continue their studies with a 2-year master's programme.
The University of Gastronomic Sciences will admit its first 60 students and begin courses at the Pollenzo campus on 4 October 2004. Applications for the 3-year training degree can be made online and must be submitted by 31 January 2004. Shorter, intensive programs for food professionals and the public will begin in the spring of 2005.
A version of this article will appear in the forthcoming issue of The Snail , the Slow Food USA magazine.