Get your hands in the dough with the Cesarine

16 September 2020

Cavatelli, maccheroni, farfalle, tortelloni, trofie, orecchiette, tagliatelle, gnocchi… Words that, for different regions of Italy, are symbols of home. The myriad forms of pasta are just as fascinating for Italians as they are for people all over the world, and the Cesarine will show you how to make them for yourself at home – wherever you are!

You may recognize the name. In fact, you should recognize it: the Cesarine is the oldest network of personal chefs in Italy. It’s also a Slow Food Community working to safeguard traditional Italian cooking.

At Terra Madre the Cesarine will be hosting online cooking classes focused on forms of pasta from different regions of Italy, teaching you how to make them at home from October 2020 to April 2021 on request, five days a week.

Paola is a lawyer as well as being a Cesarina: an extremely demanding and rewarding side activity on top of an equally demanding and rewarding job.


“In my mind I imagine when my grandmother made pasta, but she never taught me anything herself. I learnt later, following a cooking course offered by the Red Cross, who I was volunteering for at the time. And since then I haven’t stopped: I love cooking for others; it’s way to build relationships over time. Many of my guests write to me, telling me what they’ve learnt for themselves, sometimes they even send me gifts.”

Paola and two of her students

Sometimes the gifts are a little strange. “One time an English couple mentioned marmite, which I’d never heard of before. It’s a yeast spread with a strong flavor of broth. They eat it on their buttered toast. The English even have a saying, “it’s like marmite”, which means you either love it or you hate it. And I have to say I’m definitely in the latter group,” Paola laughs.

In Bologna, her house is as big as a hospital. Before the lockdown she opened her doors to the public three or even four times a week, welcoming guests that had booked to eat at her house via the Cesarine website. “The majority of my guests were foreigners, people interested in our food culture. Eating with a Cesarina means learning to cook our recipes together – from tagliatelle to meatballs to tiramisu – and then sharing that meal together.” Lots of long-term friendships are created in the process. Cooking together is perhaps one of the most unifying activities that we do together, so naturally it forms bonds.


Originally from Puglia, Alessandra counts the famed orecchiette pasta among her regional specialties .

Alessandra’s path is a little different: originally from Puglia but now living in Bologna, she started taking cooking seriously after the birth of her third child, imagining that cooking would be a way to find time for herself. “In 2012, I temporarily left my job to look after the children. I took advantage of the opportunity to sign up for some cooking classes where I learnt how to make pasta, bread and pastries.”

Alessandra during one of her courses.

“I was immediately in love with cooking, so much so that when I went back to work, I used my weekends to go and help out in a shop that made fresh pasta in order not to lose my touch. Then in 2015 I met the Cesarine at an event, and was encouraged to join them, and there’s been no looking back.” Up until the lockdown started, Alessandra was a traveling chef and teacher offering cooking classes in people’s own homes, but soon she hopes to be able to host her classes in her own house too.

Unfortunately not all Alessandra’s family feel the same way about her cooking. When I ask if her three children are also passionate about the kitchen, she tells me: “The eldest boy loves food in general: he eats a lot of everything I make quite happily; then my second child, the eldest daughter… she doesn’t eat tortellini, and I can’t really get over it; my youngest daughter is for the time being the only one who really loves messing around in the kitchen!”


For the Cesarine – as for everyone – life has changed radically in recent months. And it’s only been very recently that they’ve been able to open their houses to visitors once more, with all the new health & safety measures in place. But they’re a resourceful, tireless bunch, and even during the lockdown that they kept themselves busy. They made an almost immediate conversion to digital events, offering free courses on Skype. And now they’re combining the two: physical events and online courses together. An ambitious approach, but necessity is the mother of invention, for the Cesarine as for Terra Madre 2020 as a whole!

Ready for the challenge? Book your class today!

by Silvia Ceriani,