Casa Artusi: The Living Museum of Italian Home Cooking

A visit to Casa Artusi, A Living Museum of Italian Home Cooking

Casa Artusi honors Pellegrino Artusi, one of Forlimpopoli’s most famous citizens. He wrote the first cookbook for home cooks in Italy.

If you’re Italian-American, it’s quite possible your grandmother was given a copy of La Scienza in Cucina E L’arte Di Mangia Bene (Science in the Kitchen and The Art of Eating Well) as a wedding gift, or your mother has a copy on her bookshelf passed down by a relative from Italy.

This book, first published in 1891, was written by Pellegrino Artusi, who has been called the father of Italian home cooking.

On a road trip through the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, my husband and I stopped in Forlimpopoli (situated halfway between the towns of Forli and Cesena) to visit Casa Artusi, a living museum of Italian cookery that was created to honor Artusi, one of its most famous citizens. The town is so associated with its famous gastronome that it is sometimes called Artusiana.

As you approach the town, you can’t miss seeing Rocca Albornoziana, the impressive medieval fortress that overlooks Piazza Garibaldi and anchors the town. Built in the 14th century, it now houses the municipal government, an archaeological museum, and a theater.

Rocca Albornoziana in Forlimpopoli
Rocca Albornoziana in Forlimpopoli

Just a short walk along a cobbled street from the square, we entered a courtyard to find Casa Artusi, a strikingly contemporary building with glass walls housed in a structure that once was a monastery. Open since 2007, its design inside and out starkly contrasts the adjoining Chiesa dei Servi, a baroque church containing valuable art, including a gilded Annunciation altarpiece painted by Marco Palmezzano, which was completed in 1735.

Exterior of Casa Artusi
Exterior of Casa Artusi

The modern center has a library on the second floor that is open to the public and a research library that holds the 45,000 books that Artusi bequested to the town council upon his death. In collaboration with the Enoteca Regionale Emilia-Romagna in Dozza, the wine cellar includes 200 varieties of regional wines.

The Birth of the Artusi Cookbook

Cover of the English version of the Artusi Cookbook
Cover of the English version of the Artusi Cookbook

One of 13 children, Pelligrino Artusi was born in Forlimpopoli in 1820 to a family of traders. He eventually took over his father’s business and traded silks across Italy until he was 45 years old and wealthy enough to retire and focus on his two passions: literature and cuisine.

He wrote several other books and then self-published a cookbook of 475 recipes he had collected from friends and acquaintances. Because Artusi never married, his trusted cooks and servants, Francesco Ruffilli and Marietta Sabatini, tested the recipes in his own kitchen.

The groundbreaking book was the first to be written in Italian for home cooks and their helpers rather than professional chefs. At that time, other books were usually written in French for professionals employed in the homes of the wealthy.

Filled with witty anecdotes that reveal his wisdom and extensive knowledge of Italian culture, the popularity of Artusi’s book exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. Through sheer word of mouth, before the era of literary publicists and the Internet, the initial book run of 1000 copies quickly sold out.

A later edition, including additional secret family recipes gathered from readers, resulted in a volume of 790 recipes from different regions of Italy. He wrote in a relaxed style, hoping to build confidence in his readers. Over the years, the book has been translated into English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese and consistently remains in print.

Although the author traveled extensively, the book’s recipes are primarily from the Emilia Romagna and Tuscany regions. That’s because Artusi had to flee from his hometown to Florence in 1851, when Forlimpopoli was penetrated by a group of robbers (Il Passatore) who were after wealthy families, including his own.

Visiting Casa Artusi

Casa Artusi was the first gastronomy culture center dedicated to home cooking.

Piadina, the typical flatbread of Emilia Romagna
Piadina, the typical flatbread of Emilia Romagna

We came to Forlimpopoli to learn how to make piadina, the traditional Italian flatbread of the Romagna area of Emilia Romagna.  It is now popular as a sandwich-like street food prepared with various fillings (like herbs, cheese, vegetables, and meat) throughout Italy, and it has even crossed the Atlantic.

Piadina eatery in Manhattan, New York
Piadina eatery in Manhattan, New York
Piadina display at an eatery in Miami, Florida
Piadina display at an eatery in Miami, Florida

We could have also taken courses on various other Italian dishes and cooking techniques, including pasta and pastry making. (Those who prefer to dive right into eating rather than cooking can head straight to the lovely restaurant on the ground floor and order from a menu that includes some of the recipes described in the cookbook.)

We washed our hands, tied on our aprons, and were shown to a modern kitchen with 20 modern stainless steel workstations. Watching the teacher, we carefully measured the ingredients used to make piadina from a mound of dough: Flour, salt, yeast, water, and lard.

Preparing the dough for Piadina
Preparing the dough for Piadina

“Is it always made with lard?” I asked, worrying about all the piadini I had eaten in restaurants on prior evenings. “Some people use olive oil,” my teacher said reassuringly.

We were shown how to knead the dough by hand and then roll it out to the right thickness and density before cooking it in a terracotta skillet.

Cooking the Piadina on a terracotta skillet
Cooking the Piadina on a terracotta skillet

Alongside the teachers at Casa Artusi are Mariettas, members of a modern-day women’s auxiliary of approximately 140 volunteers who assist the professional cooks and students much like Marietta Sabatini did, working with their hands and carrying on the traditions of generations before them.

After class, we indulged in the warm, soft bread perfectly paired with San Genovese wine, a creamy cheese called sqacquerone, a smooth local ricotta cheese, and Mora Romagnola, slices of tasty salami from black pigs.

Sqacquerone Cheese
Sqacquerone Cheese
Perfecto: Sqacquerone, Mora Romagnola, and San Genovese wine
Perfecto: Sqacquerone, Mora Romagnola, and San Genovese wine

Casa Artusi offers the opportunity to taste some of the original recipes from Pellegrino Artusi’s book and learn how to prepare them.

The Book That Became A Cook’s Bible

The book remains a bible for many home kitchens in Italy and worldwide. One reason for its appeal and longevity is that Artusi considered himself neither a gourmet nor a glutton. He never cooked himself, but he appreciated fresh, local foods that were practical and economical to prepare at home—a concept that is still appreciated today.

Thirty years after Garibaldi unified Italy, Artusi’s book was the first to capture the variety of regional cuisines that comprise what is now referred to as “Italian” home cooking, region by region.

Every year in late June, Forlimpopoli organizes an Artusian Festival in the town center. The festival includes shows, performances, tastings, and more to recognize Artusi’s contributions to gastronomy.

In the kitchen at Casa Artusi
In the kitchen at Casa Artusi

Find the Artusi cookbook on Amazon: La Scienza in Cucina E L’arte Di Mangia Bene (Science in the Kitchen and The Art of Eating Well)


All photo credits: Jerome Levine 

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IF YOU GO


Forlimpopoli is in the province of Forl-Cesena in Emilia Romagna. Less than 50 miles from Bologna, it makes for an excellent day trip.

Casa Artusi offers individualized and small group hands-on cooking lessons. A schedule of upcoming cooking courses is posted on the Casa Artusi website. For further information and prices, email [email protected]/


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