Its inauguration postponed several times because of Covid, Garum: The Library and Museum of Cooking finally opened on May 26. The website www.atlasoscura.com lists 81 museums worldwide devoted to the history of food, but none includes a research library.
Garum gets its name from a liquid sauce of fermented fish entrails, a dressing used by the ancient Romans on their appetizers and main dishes. At the bottom of the Palatine Hill where the ancient Roman emperors built their luxurious residences, according to legend, Garum’s location, Via dei Cerchi 87, had been the lupercale or grotto where the she-wolf nursed Romulus and Remus. The Basilica of Santa Anastasia, the first Christian Church built inside the ancient city walls, was erected here in the 4th century AD. Several centuries later, the Benedictines built their Monastero dei padri Olivetanti on the site. The Order still owns their building and rents it to Garum.
Garum is the brainchild of Rossano Boscolo, born in Chioggia in 1956, the second of chef/hotelier Bruno’s five sons. After graduating from the hotel school in Abano Terme, Boscolo returned home to run the kitchen of his father’s Hotel Airone, but in 1982 left for Paris. He was the first Italian to study with Gaston Lenôtre, considered one of the greatest pastry chefs of the 20th century. Lenôtre became Boscolo’s mentor together with another top French pastry chef, Charles Ceva, who in 1985 advised Boscolo to open Italy’s first professional Academy for chefs. First in Cavàrzere near Venice, Boscolo soon relocated it to Hotel Airone and then in 2010 moved it again to its international campus in Tuscania near Rome, where it remains today. Over the years some 20,000 professional chefs have graduated from Boscolo’s Academies.
“I started to collect for my own pleasure because I love history,” Boscolo told me. “I used some of these old utensils in my kitchens. As for the cookbooks, when I was a student and later when I started teaching, there was no internet or cooking programs on TV, only books. I never had plans to become a ‘professional’ collector much less to open a museum.”
“About 25 years ago, I met the bookdealer Matteo Ghirighini, today Garum’s director. He convinced me of the importance of owning rare first editions. My first purchase from Matteo was the library of the distinguished food historian Claudio Benporat. Today I own some 4,000 utensils, 1,000 of which are displayed here at Garum. Of my 3,500 books 2,000 are first editions, some 300 of these here on display. The other books are in Garum’s research library are open to scholars by appointment. My most recent acquisition is some 3,500 historical menus. Garum’s entrance is free because we want the freedom to organize, during conventional museum hours, seminars, our own guided tours, private events, and tastings using recipes in our books.”
The kitchenware is displayed in 11 glass cases on the ground floor: speculoos or wooden molds for making thin gingerbread biscuits, still a Christmastime specialty in the Low Countries; metal cake and chocolate molds (Boscolo’s favorites) of many different shapes; gas stoves dating from the nineteenth century to the 1950s; pots and pans galore; nineteenth-century utensils for making bread and pasta, gelato, and cheese, and ceramic duck-shaped foie-gras terrines. The most unusual objects are 18th-century wooden bowls with covers from a monastery refectory and the first “culinary” game for children made in Ravensburg, Germany in 1898.
“The earliest books on exhibition,” Boscolo told me, “date to the Italian Renaissance. We know that during the Renaissance 153 cookbooks were printed in Italy and only three in France, one of which was a translation of ‘Platina’. The situation changed when in 1533 Catherine de’ Medici married Prince, later King, Henry II of France. Although she’d brought Florentine chefs with her, from the late 1550s to the 1950s, France became the center of cuisine worldwide. So, it could be said that we Italians taught the French to cook and then they taught the world.”
The stars of Boscolo’s collection are De honesta Voluptate ac Valetudine libri decem compiled by Bartolomeo Sacci, better known as “Platina”, (Venice, 1517). It’s the first printed book about cuisine. “Platina” wasn’t a cook; a man-of-letters, he was the first director of the newly established Vatican Library. His book contains the recipes of Maestro Martino, the most important European chef of the 15th century.
Martino’s recipes are similar to those of the late Middle Ages, quite simple to follow, and much less elaborate than those of Renaissance courts contained in another star of Boscolo’s collection, Opera, by Bartolomeo Scappi (Venice, 1570).
Scappi was the private chef of Pope Pius V. “Opera, my most prized possession,” Boscolo told me, “is the first illustrated (32 drawings) printed cookbook; for the first time cooks had access to recipes previously inaccessible outside the Papal Palace. Scappi tells us that Pope Pius V’s favorite dishes were frog-based, but not any old frog. It had to come from Bologna, because frogs from there were chubby and especially succulent. Pius’s favorite recipe was crisply fried frog’s liver fritters.”
An innovative chef, Scappi was the first to introduce ingredients from the New World. Opera also contains over 200 pasta recipes, many sprinkled or filled with “cascio parmigiano”, which Scappi said “was the best cheese in the world.”
Other Garum highlights are Pellegrino Artusi’s La Scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene first published in 1891. Filled with amusing anecdotes as well as recipes, the book is still a perennial bestseller in Italy and has been translated into Dutch, English, French, German, Polish and Portuguese. Another is Vittorio Agnetti’s La Nuova Cucina delle specialità regionali (Milan, 1909). Although not the first cookbook devoted to a single region’s cuisine, it’s the first volume to include recipes from every region of Italy. A third is Rosa Aiello’s La cucina casareccia napoletana per golosi e buongustai, published in New York in 1940 to soothe the emigrants’ nostalgia for Italy.
To learn all about Boscolo’s still growing collections, consult Garum’s state-of-the-art website www.museodellacucina.com. In both Italian and English, it contains historical information on the utensils and bibliographical information about the volumes on display as well as publications written by Ghirighini, Boscolo and his students.