Sometimes we think that we were born in the wrong part of the world.
If we could pick our heritage, it would likely involve us growing up in Italy. In this alternate universe, we would have Italian grandmothers who taught our young selves how to make pasta using ageless techniques handed down through the generations.
In reality, we both grew up in suburban America where our mothers cooked spaghetti with meatballs and store-bought ingredients. Fast food was part of our childhoods as were microwaves. It wasn’t a bad way to grow up. But, still, it wasn’t Italy where fresh pasta is the norm and sun-ripened tomatoes grow like weeds throughout the country.
Thanks to the miracles of modern travel, we now have the ability to live out our Italian fantasies. Not only can we sleep in Italian apartments, but we can also experience true Italian culture by eating and cooking with Cesarine cooks in their real Italian homes. To us, this is the ultimate way to live like a local in Italy.
Le Cesarine Video
Watch our YouTube video and to see us eat and cook like locals in Italy with Le Cesarine.
What is Cesarine
Cesarine is a unique program in Italy where home cooks known as Cesarinas welcome visitors into their homes and at their tables. Acting as ground level ambassadors for their cities, regions and country, these ‘rulers of the kitchen’ share the experience of preparing and eating authentic Italian food in their real Italian homes.
With a network of over 400 home cooks in more than 150 Italian cities, Cesarine has a veritable culinary army that derives joy from sharing Italian cuisine with visitors. Not just grandmothers (not that there’s anything wrong with Italian nonnas), the Cesarine cooks range in age and include both men and women.
Travelers can easily set up meals and cooking classes with Cesarine cooks thanks to the organization’s sophisticated, user-friendly website. The cooks will even travel to a home or rental apartment to cook for a special occasion. Options are clearly detailed on the Cesarine website, with the only challenge involving narrowing down the options based on location, description and menu.
We tried two different Cesarine experiences during our recent visit to Italy – a romantic dinner in Bologna and an interactive cooking class in Florence. Both were different in format but equally rewarding due to the high level of hospitality displayed in both settings. And the food!
Read on to see what these experiences were like and what we ate.
Our Romantic Dinner in Bologna
Bologna is one of our favorite cities in one of our favorite countries.
For our third visit to la Grassa, the Fat One, we wanted to ramp up it up by eating an authentic meal cooked by a local chef. That’s how we ended up experiencing a romantic multi-course dinner on a rooftop terrace within a few hours of our plane landing at the Bologna airport.
As part of the dinner experience, Cesarina Diva invited us into her penthouse apartment with a warm welcome and glasses of sparkling wine. As we sipped the bubbly while viewing the sun setting on the Italian red-tiled rooves from the urban balcony, we suspected we were in for a unique dining experience fit for honeymooners but equally ideal for lovers of Italian food.
Cesarina Diva learned to cook from her family before honing her skills at culinary school, which explains why her dishes are both homey and sophisticated. She shared with us that she has been cooking for Cesarine guests for a year and has hosted hungry travelers from countries all over the world including Australia, Canada and the United States.
Our hostess started the meal by opening a bottle of local wine from Rimini. As the wine flowed, we chowed down on the Primi course – an addictively salty Mousse di Mortadella and crispy Pollentine triangles generously topped with dollops of creamy Squacquerone cheese.
The melange of Bologna food favorites continued with a stellar version of Tagliatelle Ragu, a dish imitated around the world but never as good as the original, as well as Cotolette Bologna (Bolognese cutlets) served with a side of Friggione (Bolognese tomato sauce flavored with onions).
At first glance, we didn’t think we could eat the entire Secondi course, but we couldn’t resist the iconic Bologna food cooked for us by a Bologna local. Our ability to finish the outstanding food should come to no surprise to our dedicated readers.
Emerging from the kitchen, Cesarina Diva chatted with us as we devoured her Torta Ricotta e Mandorle (ricotta and almond cake) and sipped glasses of homemade limoncello flavored with Sorento lemons. Though we had met just a few hours earlier, we felt a special bond with both Cesarina Diva and sous chef/partner Michela, the creators of our wonderful meal.
By the time we floated back to Steam House, our hip Bologna hotel, we felt like family if only for the night. After all, Cesaarina Diva had shared Italian food traditions with us in the most intimate of settings – her home.
Our Interactive Cooking Class in Florence
As much as we adore Bologna, our love for Italy spreads beyond the Emilia-Romagna region. Since the entire country is a living paradise for food travelers, taking a cooking class was high on our list of things to do in Italy.
Thanks to Cesarine, we have now checked this item off of our list. And, as a bonus, we took the cooking class in the magical city of Florence.
The distance between Bologna and Florence is exceptionally short – our Trenitalia high-speed train whisked us between the two cities in under 40 minutes. Famous around the world for its majestic Duomo and Michelangelo’s David, the Birthplace of the Renaissance holds a special place in our hearts for the wonderful food we ate during our visit eight years ago.
Though we ate well during our initial visit, we didn’t have the opportunity to dine with locals. At that time, we didn’t have the luck or ability to get invited to a home-cooked meal.
Fast forward to the present and with the assistance of Cesarine, our second visit to Florence was distinctly different and decidedly local. This time, the gracious Cesarina Cecilia welcomed us into her Florence home of 25 years where we proceeded to cook, drink wine and eat classic Florentine food with her for over three hours.
During the cooking portion of our meal, we were initially content to watch and learn from the local cooking expert. Cecilia pulled us into the process and we were soon breading beef cutlets and forming quenelles with two spoons.
Before we knew it, we helped prepare three dishes – Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi, Beef with Tomato Sauce & Capers and twice-baked ‘Cantuccini’ Biscuits.
Beyond making us feel welcome in her home and teaching us how to cook classic Florentine dishes, Cesarina Cecilia opened a door that enabled us to glimpse inside a real Italian home and see how people truly live. This opening made us feel a kinship with Italy that we had never quite felt before. Plus, her view of the Duomo and the Florence skyline was spectacular.
We also felt smarter about Italian cuisine after participating in the preparation of the three dishes. Not only did we better understand the difference between Bologna-style cutlets and Florentine cutlets, both of which we enjoy but for different reasons, but we also obtained an appreciation for the beauty of dipping freshly baked ‘cantucinni’ biscuits (similar to almond biscotti) into glasses of Vin Santo. Trust us – you’ll want to dip them too.
We made just three dishes, but the end result was more than we could comfortably eat. Without missing a beat, Cesarina Cecilia wrapped up a big bag of ‘cantucinni’ biscuits for us to enjoy later.
Despite being full, we somehow found room for gelato at Cesarina Cecilia’s favorite gelateria. The Italian ice cream provided a sweet ending to a night of camaraderie, the kind that only develops when sharing good food and wine with friends.
We will never forget the special experience, especially since we now have Cesarine aprons as well as recipes to prepare the three Florentine dishes at home.
Plan Your Own Cesarine Experience
Visitors to Italy now have no excuse to miss out on experiencing an authentic meal cooked by or with a local. We loved both of our Cesarine experiences and plan to schedule more when we return to Italy – hopefully sooner than later.
Click here to book your own Cesarine experience. Though the reservation process is simple, online customer service representatives are available to assist travelers in booking the right experience.
Once the reservation is made, all that’s left is to show up hungry and ready for a great time!
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.