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Eat Like An Italian Local

Discover what it’s like to experience Italian culinary traditions in the best way possible – by eating Italian food favorites with real Italian people in real Italian homes.

Cesarina Diva in Bologna Italy
Cesarina Diva welcomed us to her Bologna home for our Cesarine dinner. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

What Is Cesarine

Cesarina Cecilia Cooks Dinner in Her Florence Italy Kitchen
Cesarina Cecilia introduced us to the art of cooking Florentine food in her kitchen. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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 real 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. They’re located in Italy’s greatest food cities as well as in its smaller villages and towns.

Cesarine Experiences

Lemoncello at Le Cesarine Dinner in Bologna Italy
Drinking limoncello is an Italian ritual of which we approve. We drank this homemade version during our Cesarine dinner in Bologna. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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 in 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 a 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.

Le Cesarine Dinner in Bologna Italy
We enjoyed an intimate, home-cooked dinner on this rooftop terrace in the heart of Bologna. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Cotolette Bologna at Le Cesarine Dinner in Bologna Italy
Cesarina Diva plied us with Cotolette Bologna, crispy cutlets topped with cured meat and aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Her version was homier but just as satisfying as the version we ate a few nights later in a Bologna restaurant. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Tagliatelle Ragu at Le Cesarine Dinner in Bologna Italy
Deceptively simple, Cesarina Diva’s Tagliatelle Ragu was a symphony of flavors with its silky egg noodles and savory meat sauce. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Selfie with Cesarina Diva
We were all smiles after eating our feast prepared by Cesarina Diva. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Le Cesarine Aperitivo in Florence Italy
The food products in Italy are second to none. We ate this selection of local Florentine cured meat and cheese during our Cesarine cooking class. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Spinach Gnudi at Le Cesarine Dinner in Florence Italy
These spinach gnudi’s burst with flavor thanks to the sage butter sauce. We cooked the ‘naked’ raviolis with just a handful of ingredients. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Cesarina Cecilia in Florence Italy
Cooking is more fun when it involves drinking Italian sparkling wine. Cesarina Cecilia shared this bottle with us while we cooked in her kitchen. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Cantocinni Biscuits Polentine at Le Cesarine Dinner in Florence Italy
Cantucinni biscuits taste better with Vin Santo, as we learned during our Cesarine cooking class in Florence. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Selfie with Cesarina Cecilia in Florence Italy
The rewards of taking a cooking class with Cesarina Cecilia extended beyond the food. We ended the fun evening with wonderful memories and a new friend. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

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.

Cesarine Video

Watch our YouTube video and to see us eat and cook like locals in Italy with Le Cesarine.

Plan Your Own Cesarine Experience

Salami at Le Cesarine Dinner in Florence Italy
We ate this salami during our Cesarine cooking class in Florence. Our host secured the meat from a local butcher and served it during our meal. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Visitors to Italy now have no excuse to miss out on experiencing a 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.

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!

Planning A Trip To Italy?

Check out our guide to eating in Italy as well as our picks for the best Italian foods and the best Italian desserts before your trip so that you don’t miss a delicious bite.

Hungry For More In Italy?

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About the Authors

Daryl and 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. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.


Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

We thank Cesarine for hosting us to facilitate this article.

Original Publication Date: June 29, 2018


Thursday 5th of September 2019

just found out about this- traveling in 2020 Oct- most interested in Florence-Venice but perhaps a lunch in Bologna on the way in between- any suggestions?

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Thursday 5th of September 2019

Our first inclination would be to spend the night in Bologna on the way to Florence or Venice. Our dinner experience was magical in both cities but for different reasons. Another option would be to do the Cesarine experience in Venice for dinner. Use our Bologna guide to grab lunch in Bologna or try another Cesarine dinner in Florence. You really can't go wrong.

Nicki Dunlop

Monday 29th of July 2019

Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring article. Your review has motivated me to book with Le Cesarina. Travelling with my daughter and we are hoping to get off the beaten path for several days. Would you have any suggestions as to places to start? Thank you

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

You're welcome Nicki!! There are so many great places in Italy that are not on the main tourist trail. What region of Italy are you considering?


Friday 8th of March 2019

Very nice job guys your hapiness is first ingredient to your succes

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Saturday 9th of March 2019

Thanks so much.


Saturday 30th of June 2018

Loved your wording of "culinary army". 400 home cooks really is a lot! Amazing.

Lynne Nieman

Saturday 30th of June 2018

As a travel agent, this program is one I know I'd use for clients. I had no idea it existed!! So thank you for this. And it looks amazing! There's no food on this earth, like Italian food :)

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 3rd of July 2018

Cesarine is a really well-run organization and the chefs are vetted in advance. We're sure that your clients will love the experience whether they are honeymooners, families or middle-aged couples.

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