Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Facts & Stories

    Innovation, Sustainability, Family, and...Buffalo Cheese


    “The business was purchased by grandpa, who died shortly after however, so it was taken over by my grandma, Anna Maria, a great woman and a hard worker,” the young Roberta, who actively and with great determination and competence participates in the activities of Quattro Portoni, her family’s business located near Bergamo, tells us enthusiastically. 


    We are yet again struck by the precision, passion, and especially the vision with which the family heirs of small Italian businesses discuss their work abroad. She is surrounded by her family, united by a passion for their work that cannot go unnoticed. These are the stories we love to tell. 


    So, Roberta starts telling us about her grandmother.


    You said she took over the company?


    Roberta: Yes, she handled it along with another business. 


    Grandpa dealt in agricultural machinery, so they had an agricultural business in this sense. They rented their fields and the animals were taken care of by sharecroppers. 

    Afterwards, my grandfather had an accident at work while he was packing hay and he died.

    And my grandmother, at 36, was left alone to take care of four sons, the eldest of which was 11 and the youngest 5. 

    When did this happen?

    Roberta: Grampa died in 1968. And grandma went on to manage the business, initially with the agricultural machinery and then also raising the animals. She also founded a packaging company, which now handles the packaging of our products. This until my dad and his second brother, who was a veterinarian, took on the farm and started raising frisone cows up until 2000.  

    During that time, our company was in full expansion but in Italy there was the problem of milk quotas. We produced a lot of milk and had to rent out our milk quotas to others, until the situation became unsustainable because we risked having to throw away some of our milk. 

    So, my dad and uncle looked at each other and thought, what animal could fit in our stables and doesn’t face the milk quota problem?

    They thought of bufale. (Italian Mediterranean Buffalo, ed.)

    Di necessità virtu, as we say.

    Roberta: Exactly. But we took a risk because the bufale weren’t well-known in the North of the country then. Tendentially, these animals are typical of Southern Italy. 

    So they tried with 40 animals at first. And they found that the bufale have character. If they don’t trust you or if they’re nervous, they have the ability to hold their milk. So you milk them but nothing comes out! They have to be in a favorable, relaxed environment.

    They saw that things were going well so they decided to sell all the cows, they sold all the milk quotas and in 2003 we switched over completely. We got our first big batch of bufale from Latina, near Rome. In 2005, we started producing cheese, one year later we inaugurated our cheese factory. And from there our adventure began.

    Does the whole family work for the company?

    Roberta: My sister (points) is a pediatrician so she followed her own path. I’m about to receive my law degree and the idea is to become a corporate lawyer for the company. 

    But we’ve all lived through this adventure. At the beginning we didn’t know what we were doing. We all still remember the day when he (points at her father) brought the prototype of the first cheese he handmade himself: a total disaster. 

    But from there things kept getting better and there have been many fulfilling moments. There have also been a lot of prizes, which have allowed us to make ourselves known. Also because my dad and my uncle were the first to ever think of turning buffalo milk into a cheese that wasn’t fresh, but aged. Because there’s always been buffalo mozzarella, or ricotta, or scamorza, but nobody had ever thought of aged cheese. 

    So, since the local tradition was that of gorgonzola, taleggio, quartirolo lombardo, they decided, ok let’s make those but using 100% buffalo milk. Now, some others have started making something with buffalo milk, they usually mix it with cow’s milk. 

    Where do you sell it? How is your product distributed?

    Roberta: I think that the United States are our first client. (she turns to the others)

    Bruno: Yes, the United States are very important.

    Roberta: But also Europe!

    Bruno: (nods) France, Switzerland…

    You started exporting right away.

    Bruno: Well, exporting came naturally. We began getting our name out there through our presence at fairs such as this one. 

    We had our inauguration, there were plenty of people. We were also lucky that the event resonated well, television stations came, they wanted to see what we were up to. And this gave us some confidence so I suggested we participate in an international fair like Tutto Food in Milan. And there we met Forever Cheese

    During our very first fair, we met what remains to this day our most important client. It’s a channel we haven’t abandoned since. 

    So how do you envision the company’s future?

    Roberta: I see growth. Growth because we have on our side the advantage of having been the first. The market is certainly expanding and there are those interested in making aged buffalo milk products but we have now…

    Bruno: 12 years.

    Roberta: 12 years of skills and experience, which allow us to anticipate how the milk will behave, what the market’s interests will be, where people look to, what works best.

    Bruno: The key is that we control the entire production line, right from the animals. Our objective of expanding cheese production will also be an expansion of the farm. The two go hand in hand. We’re not going to become an industrial cheese factory, we will stay true to ourselves. And our model is hard to replicate, it takes years of investments, you have to be an animal farmer, and you can’t do that in a day, it takes years and lots of work.

    Can you describe the place you work at, your company? Take us with you...

    Roberta: So, we walk into a large gravel courtyard and on our right we have the old farmer’s home, where the sharecroppers lived and managed my grandparents’ company. 

    Directly across from the entrance are the old stables built by Nonna Anna and all the old part of the stables continue on in front of us towards the left. To the left are the silos filled with feed for the animals. Then, beyond the courtyards, continuing towards the right you’ll find the cheese factory that they built (points to her father) and beyond that the new stables, which were built according to animal welfare indications, so it’s extremely tall to allow for the air to flow properly. 

    Inside are the cisterns filled with liquid animal waste. We’ve started following a path of sustainability so we are part of a consortium that produces sustainable energy, biogas. So we give the liquid waste, it is then returned to us nitrate-free and this allows us to engage in a circular economy: we reutilize the cleaned waste to fertilize the fields, which produce forage for the bufale, which produce milk, which we turn into cheese, all within the range of a few kilometers. 

    We stand with them, with this passion that many of these companies share in Italy. Precious realities and strongholds of the past and especially the future of our economy. 

  • Fatti e Storie

    Innovazione, sostenibilità e.... famiglia. Grazie bufale!



    “L’azienda era stata comprata dal nonno, che però è morto poco dopo, quindi è stata presa in mano dalla nonna, Anna Maria, una grande signora, una gran lavoratrice,” ci racconta con entusiasmo la giovanissima Roberta, che prende parte attivamente, con determinazione e compentenza ai successi dell'azienda di familglia Quattro Portoni di Cologno al Serio, nel Bergamasco.

    Ancora una volta ci colpisce la precisione, passione e soprattutto visione con cui gli eredi delle famiglie delle piccole e medie imprese italiane presentano il proprio lavoro all'estero. Intorno a lei tutta la famiglia, in una abbraccio di passione per il proprio lavoro che non può passare inosservato. E noi amiamo raccontare queste storie.

    Così quindi Roberta ci racconta della nonna.

    E la seguiva lei?

    Roberta: Si, insieme ad un’altra attivita. 

    Il nonno commerciava in macchine agricole, perciò loro avevano un’azienda agricola in questo senso. Avevano affittato la coltivazione dei campi e facevano seguire il bestiame ai mezzadri.

    Dopo di che, mio nonno ha avuto un’incidente sul lavoro, imballando il fieno, ed è morto.

    E mia nonna è rimasta a 36 anni, vedova con quattro figli dei quali il più grande aveva 11 anni e il più piccolo ne aveva 5.

    Questo quando? 

    Roberta: Il nonno è morto nel 68. E la nonna ha continuato a gestire lei, prima a commerciare in macchine agricole e poi con l’allevamento. Ha fondato anche un’altra azienda di packaging che adesso segue anche il packaging dei nostri prodotti. Finché mio papa e il suo secondo fratello, che si è laureato in veterinaria, hanno preso in mano l’allevamento e si sono messi ad allevare vacche frisone fino al 2000.

    In quel periodo, la nostra azienda era in espansione ma in italia c’era il problema delle quote latte, perciò noi producevamo tantissimo latte e dovevamo affittare le quote latte ad altri. Fin a quando la cosa è diventata insostenibile perché rischiavamo di dover buttare via il latte.

    Al che, mio papà e mio zio si son guardati e han detto quale animale ci sta bene, è della grandezza giusta per queste stalle e non incontra il problema delle quote latte?

    Hanno pensato alle bufale.

    Di necessita' virtu.

    Roberta: Di necessità virtu. Ma all’inizio è stata una scommessa perché la bufala non era molto conosciuta al nord. Tendenzialmente sono animali tipici del sud italia, è sempre stata fatta la mozzarella di bufala, la ricotta, ma al nord era poco conosciuta.

    Allora hanno provato con 40 capi all’inizio. Hanno scoperto tra l’altro che le bufale hanno carattere, cioè se non si fidano, se sono agitate, hanno la capacità di trattenere il latte. Perciò tu le mungi e non esce nulla. Devono trovarsi in un ambiente favorevole, rilassato. 

    Hanno visto che andava bene e quindi hanno deciso di vendere tutte le vacche, hanno venduto tutte le quote latte e nel 2003 abbiamo trasformato completamente tutto l’allevamento. Abbiamo preso la prima grande parte di bufale a Latina. Nel 2005, abbiamo iniziato a fare caseificazione, un anno dopo abbiamo inaugurato il caseificio. E da li è iniziata l’avventura.

    Lavora tutta la famiglia?

    Roberta: Mia sorella (indica) è pediatra quindi lei ha preso la sua strada. Io mi sto per laureare in giurisprudenza e poi l’idea è quella di diventare giurista d’impresa per l’azienda agricola.

    Però abbiamo vissuto tutti quest’avventura. All’inizio non sapevamo niente. Ci ricordiamo ancora tutti del giorno quando lui (indica il padre) ha portato il prototipo del primo formaggio fatto a mano da lui: un disastro totale. 

    Pero poi è andata sempre meglio e le soddisfazioni sono state tantissime. I premi ricevuti sono stati tanti e ci hanno anche permesso di farci conoscere. Anche perché sono stati, lui e lo zio, i primi a pensare di trasformare il latte di bufala in formaggio non fresco ma stagionato, perché la mozzarella di bufala è sempre esistita, così come la ricotta o la scamorza affumicata, ma mai nessuno aveva pensato ad un formaggio stagionato. 

    Allora visto che la tradizione locale era quella di gorgonzola, taleggi, quartiroli lombardi, hanno detto, va bene facciamo così ma con il latte di bufala al 100%. Qualcun’altro adesso ha iniziato a fare qualcosa con il latte di bufala, alcuni lo mischiano con il latte vaccino.

    Dove lo vendete? Com’è distribuito il vostro prodotto?

    Roberta: Penso gli Stati Uniti sono il nostro primo cliente (si gira verso gli altri)

    Bruno: Si, gli Stati Uniti sono importantissimi.

    Roberta: Ma anche tutta l’Europa!

    Bruno: (annuisce) La Francia, Svizzera...


    Avete puntato subito all’esportazione?

    Bruno: Mah, e’ venuta spontaneamente l’esportazione. Noi abbiamo cominciato a farci conoscere grazie alla presenza alle fiere come questa.

    Abbiamo fatto la nostra inaugurazione, c’è stata parecchia gente, abbiamo avuto anche la fortuna che ha avuto un certo echo, sono arrivate anche delle televisioni a vedere cosa stavamo combinando. E questo ci ha dato un po’ di fiducia in noi stessi per cui alla fine ho proposto di partecipare ad una fiera di carattere internazionale come Tutto Food a Milano. E abbiamo incontrato, per esempio, Forever Cheese

    Durante la nostra prima partecipazione ad una fiera, abbiamo conosciuto quello che è tutt’ora il nostro cliente più importante. È stato un tramite che non abbiamo più abbandonato.

    Qual’è quindi il futuro dell’azienda?

    Roberta: Di crescita. Di crescita perché abbiamo dalla nostra parte il vantaggio di essere stati i primi. Sicuramente il mercato è in espansione e c’è chi è interessato ad iniziare a fare prodotti di bufala stagionati ma dalla nostra abbiamo un know how ormai di…

    Bruno: Di 12 anni.

    Roberta: Di 12 anni, che ci permette di prevedere come si può comportare il latte, che cosa sono gli interessi del mercato, dove si rivolge la gente, che cosa funziona di più.

    Bruno: Abbiamo una chiave di volta che è il fatto che noi abbiamo controllo di tutta la filiera, abbiamo l’allevamento di bufala. E il nostro obiettivo di espansione nel formaggio, sarà un’espansione nell’allevamento degli animali. Si va di pari passo. Non ci trasformiamo in un industria di formaggi, restiamo noi. Ed è difficile replicarlo, ci vogliono anni di investimenti, bisogna essere allevatori, uno non s’inventa allevatore, lo si può diventare con gli anni, con la fatica. 

    Mi descrivete il posto dove lavorate. La vostra azienda? Insomma portateci con voi....

    Roberta: Allora, entriamo in un grande cortile di ghiaia e troviamo sulla nostra destra quella che era l’antica casa dei contadini dove al tempo i mezzadri vivevano e gestivano quella che era l’azienda agricola del nonno e la nonna. 

    Esattamente di fronte all’ingresso, c’è la vecchia stalla che ha costruito la nonna Anna e tutta la parte vecchia della stalla si sviluppa davanti a noi verso sinistra. A sinistra, ci sono i silos del mangime per il bestiame. Poi, oltre il cortile, proseguendo verso destra c’è il caseificio che hanno costruito loro (indica il padre) e oltre al caseificio c’è tutta la stalla nuova che è stata progettata secondo i dettami del benessere animale quindi e’ estremamente alta per permettere un aerazione. 

    Dentro invece ci sono delle cisterne del liquame. Abbiamo iniziato a percorrere una strada di eco sostenibilità perciò facciamo parte di un consorzio che produce energia eco sostenibile, biogas. Forniamo il liquame, ci viene riconsegnato privo di nitrati e questo ci permette di far parte di un’economia circolare: riutilizziamo il liquame pulito e con questo fertilizziamo i campi con cui produciamo foraggio per le bufale, che producono latte, che viene trasformato in formaggio, tutto lì nell’arco di pochi chilometri. 

    Siamo con loro, con la passione che è nelle mani di tante aziende così in Italia. Un vero patrimonio per l'economia.


    Per saperen di piu'

  • Art & Culture

    Celebrating Verdi and Italian Opera in Parma, Busseto, and Beyond

    Giuseppe Verdi, perhaps the most well-known Italian Opera composer of all time, was born in 1813 in Busseto, in the province of Parma. And it's in those two charming northern Italian towns that the annual Festival Verdi will be taking place from September 26 to October 20, 2019, under the direction of Anna Maria Meo, the Director of Parma’s Teatro Regio, who recently toured the US to promote the event, stopping in New York, where she spoke at NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo. 


    On this occasion, we asked her to tell us about the Festival, its history, mission, its program, as well as about the Teatro Regio and her work there, and more generally about Verdi, Opera and how to promote it in today's world. We also spoke with Francesca Campagna, the Executive Director of the New York-based International Friends of Festival Verdi, an initiative aimed at promoting the festival in the United States and supporting its activities by acting as a bridge between two realities: Parma and New York.



    When and how was the Festival Verdi born? With what aim?

    The first big celebration of Verdi took place in 1913, a hundred years from his birth. It was a double celebration which took place in Parma under the direction of Cleofonte Campanini, and in Busseto with the legendary Toscanini. In 1951, 50 years from his death, the biggest Verdi interpreters of the time met in Parma. 

    Then, in 1989, Festival Verdi was born: an initiative that, within the context of a productive union between the public and private sector, offered a month filled with operas, concerts, and other prestigious events. 

    In 2001, a hundred years from his death, the Festival Verdi started up again (it was interrupted for some years, ed.) to celebrate the Maestro and offer the unique occasion to listen to his music in his land while enjoying its many excellencies in the fields of art, landscape, and gastronomy. 

    Operas, concerts, new adaptations in different theatres, special commissions, debuts, innovative performances using original language and profound text analysis, offerings for children and young people, where Verdi’s music meets contemporary languages, constant research and the promotion of new performance spaces: all this and much more makes up Festival Verdi today, the only Festival in the world entirely dedicated to the Maestro.

    How has the Festival evolved over the course of the years? 

    We are now at the 19th edition. After some years of interrupted programming, since 2016, the Verdi Festival has assumed a well-defined structure which features concerts, recitals, and encounters centered around four operatic productions: two at the Teatro Regio, one at Busseto’s Teatro Verdi and one in a special location amongst the many that this region can offer. After having brought Opera back to the marvelous Teatro Farnese, this year we will revive the Medieval Church of San Francesco del Prato, which has been closed to the public for many years and is now being restored. 

    A defined and constant structure is fundamental to the creation of the Festival’s identity and thanks also to well-planned programming and articulated international promotion, we have seen in recent years, record-breaking income and attendance far beyond our most optimistic expectations. 

    How has Festival Verdi impacted the Teatro Regio and vice versa?

    Festival Verdi is the time of highest productivity and media exposure for the Teatro Regio. A moment towards which work all year long, in parallel with our regular programming and at least two years ahead: its impact on the structure is therefore decidedly important, I would say overwhelming. 

    On the other hand, the Verdi Festival wouldn’t exist without the Teatro Regio: only a theatre with such a strong identity built on the tradition and cultural wealth of the unique territory that gave birth to Verdi himself could produce an international festival dedicated to the Maestro.


    Can you tell us about Verdi Off?

    Verdi Off, a series of free collateral events which take place around the Festival, was born 4 years ago following an idea by Barbara Minghetti, who wanted to encourage and share a festive atmosphere with all those who live in and are visiting the land of the Maestro during the time of the Festival. 

    Shows, concerts, exhibitions, installations, dj sets, encounters, films, special projects become an occasion to inhabit and live the city’s most beautiful sites in the context of Verdi’s music, including courtyards, streets, piazzas, private homes. 

    Special attention is also given to those who cannot attend these spaces, such as detainees and the patients of the children’s hospital, with whom Verdi Off engages through dedicated shows.

    So it’s a rich and diverse program, involving a larger and wider public each year, which has now become an intrinsic part of the Festival and of the town.    


    Who is your audience generally made up of? Is it mostly local, international, mixed?

    The Festival’s audience is heterogeneous and data analysis from the previous edition witnessed once more the international reach of the Festival and its ever-growing appeal towards visitors coming from all 5 continents, with two thirds of extraterritorial presences. In 2018, compared to the previous year, Parma welcomed spectators from Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Denmark, and Portugal. So, I would say that the Festival is deeply rooted in the territory but has a decidedly international reach. 


    Do you see many people - both audience members and performers - return to the Festival from one edition to the next?

    I can proudly answer that almost every time, those who experience Festival Verdi return the following year. This is true both for the audience - who for the most part have a renewable membership - and for national and international critics and journalists. Artists as well are satisfied with their experience, as we do everything we can to take care of them during their time at the Theatre, so they too are happy to come back!


    Why is the music of Verdi important today?

    Like every valuable work of art, I believe that Verdi’s music is important and always topical because it speaks of us. It expresses, through the high language of music, universal and transversal feelings and values, shared across any epoch or latitude: it speaks of love, jealousy, identity, friendship, internal and interpersonal conflicts, it speaks of mankind and does so using beauty, a universal and immortal form of beauty. From this comes its importance and eternal actuality. 


    Do you find it challenging to promote this type of music, especially to younger audiences?

    It’s challenging in that it requires a dedicated effort to make Opera known to younger generations and help them go beyond the preconception that it’s only for old people. The Teatro Regio was a pioneer on the theme of education and 20 years ago it launched “Imparalopera”, a format which allowed thousands of students to learn about lyrical music. 

    Since 2015, the Theatre organizes RegioYoung, a full season dedicated to schools and families, featuring each year a dense program of shows and a new opera for children commissioned to a different composer each time. The goal is to introduce the world of Opera and of the Theatre to the public of tomorrow: a challenge in which we strongly believe and we hope to successfully address.

    What are your projects, your dreams for the future of the Festival and of the Theatre?

    There are many projects, some very ambitious and already under way. All go in the direction of consolidating the great work that we have been tenaciously carrying out over the years, with the support of all the workers at Teatro Regio and all the local institutions and businesses that help sustain us. 

    So, towards consolidating the prestige of Festival Verdi, its record-breaking attendance numbers and income flows, its international reach, its dense network of collaborations with local realities, and the Theatre’s year-round programming, which is divided into Opera, Concert, Dance and School season. 

    There is a lot of work but it doesn’t scare us!


    When and how was International Friends of Festival Verdi founded?

    The project was launched during the 2017 edition of the Festival. On that occasion, a group of American patrons went to Parma for 5 days during the Festival: they explored the beautiful territory, tasted local delicacies, and at night attended the Verdi Festival shows. In early 2018, Anna Maria Meo contacted me to start a collaboration with the intent of creating a stable point of reference in the United States based in New York.

    What is the goal behind this initiative?

    It’s a non-profit organization with the goal of promoting Festival Verdi - which is truly one of a kind - by creating a group of members interested in sustaining the Festival through their participation in it and their donations, which are 100% tax deductible. The funds we raise are then re-invested both in the activities carried out in the United States and in the programming of the Festival in Parma.

    The next step will be to raise funds specifically for a fellowship program at the Accademia Verdiana. The program takes place each year and consists of an 8-month intensive formative course for 12 young singers selected from all over the world.

    In the last few years, the Festival has reached such remarkable artistic standards that it has garnered international attention. Friends of Verdi addresses Opera aficionados but also non-experts who are generally interested in Italy and the art of making Opera. Thus, American associations and theatres also see in Friends of Verdi an occasion for contact, to gain knowledge and enrich their offering. It’s not easy to come by the opportunity to have the unique experience to become a member of IFFV (International Friends of Festival Verdi) or for a theatre to have the chance to produce an original show for the Festival.


    Why is it important to promote the music of Verdi in the US and in general outside of Italy?

    The music of Giuseppe Verdi is admired across the world, with Americans there is a very special bond. From the very beginning, I noticed a profound interest from all those I mentioned the project to. Exporting and promoting in a contemporary key the work of the composer from Bussetto is a great challenge for me and a huge honor. 

    Why did you decide to set up a base here in New York?

    The decision to have a link here in New York was made in Parma, following the vision of the Teatro Regio, which, under the direction of Anna Maria Meo, has been undertaking a strong international push. New York is one of the most important cultural hubs in the world and it feels natural to start setting the foundations for a simple but innovative project here. 

    We plan on developing ideas and initiatives that come from uniting a professional experience in the world of Opera with life in New York.


    The organization is described as "a bridge with the Teatro Regio in Parma." How do you bring Parma to New York and vice versa?

    I believe projects have to be conceptualized and built by imagining their implementation based on the countries of reference. In this case, it’s very important to create a fusion that benefits two places as different as Parma and New York. To find a common starting point to build the bridge, initiate the dialog. In this case, it’s the love for Opera, for Giuseppe Verdi, and for the divulgation of music but also of the territory. It’s an exchange in which both Parma and New York contribute their best. 

    What has the response been like so far? What kind of people have been participating?

    We’ve encountered great interest and participation from both private individuals and organizations, such as theatres. And it’s growing. 

    Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done, and we have to find the right interlocutors, or rather friends, that will act as the project’s ambassadors with their friends and colleagues.

    For now, the two annual events (April 2018 and June 2019) and other small private events have gone very well...especially considering how in New York everyone is always so busy!


    Have you found American audiences to be different from Italian ones? If so, in what way?

    Absolutely, audiences and habits are very different from country to country. One thing that strikes me about American audiences is their generosity, which makes them want to be a part of the cultural project. So, for example, buying a very expensive ticket or making a donation are completely normal things here. In Italy, culture is considered an exclusively public service so there are few people who would even consider active participation through volunteership or philanthropy. 


    How do you envision the future of the organization? Can you tell us about some upcoming initiatives you have in store for your members?

    The next highly anticipated event is the 2019 edition of the Festival in Parma, which some American patrons and members of the IFFV will attend. We offer various types of exclusive tours, the hottest weekends will be October 4-7 and October 10-14. 

    Meanwhile, in New York, on top of promoting those events, we will continue to promote International Friends and its divulgation in the US through various collaborations with universities and associations. 

    I would also like to create a special project for the 2020 edition of the Festival to take place in parallel with the initiatives for Parma 2020 Capital of Culture. 

    My dream is to one day realize a special edition of the Festival here in the United States.

  • Facts & Stories

    David-Maria Sassoli Elected President of The European Parliament

    On Wednesday July 3rd, the 667 members of the European Parliament met in Strasburg to elect the new President. The majority of the votes, 345, went to David-Maria Sassoli of the Italian Democratic Party, who will replace another Italian, Antonio Tajani.


    Sassoli, 63, is a former journalist from Florence who worked for the daily Il Giorno and starting 1992 as a TV broadcaster for Rai, most notably as the presenter of the flagship news program TG1


    In 2009 he went into politics and became the president of the Democratic party delegation to the European Parliament. Before the election, he was serving as Vice President responsible for Mediterranean budget and policy. He was backed in this election by the European Socialist group. 


    The other three candidates for the presidency were the German Ska Keller of the European Green Party, the Czech Jan Zahradil of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, the only candidate from Central/Eastern Europe and outside the Eurozone, and the Spanish Sira Rego of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left.


    All were asked to briefly explain why they were running. Sassoli’s reply was that “Europe will be stronger only with a Parliament which plays a more important role."


    The President of the European Parliament is elected for a renewable term of two and a half years, which is half the life-span of a five-year parliamentary term. 


    According to the Parliament’s website, his/her job is to “oversee the work of the Parliament and its constituent bodies as well as the debates in plenary and ensure that Parliament’s Rules of Procedure are adhered to.” The President also signs the EU’s annual budget, rendering it operational and along with the President of the Council, he/she signs all legislative acts adopted under ordinary legislative procedure.


    After his election, Sassoli spoke on a few key issues including the rise of nationalism. "If we are European it is also because we are in love with our countries,” he said, "But nationalism that becomes an ideology and idolatry produces viruses that spur instincts of superiority and produce destructive conflicts."


    He also spoke on migration, stating that the European Council has the moral duty to discuss the European Parliament’s proposed reform of the Dublin Rule on migrants. More generally, he said he believes that the EU needs to “reduce the distance” between institutions and citizens and that it must "combine growth, social protection and a respect for the environment."


    In his view, the Parliament must be the “home of European Democracy” that "we must all, whatever our views, be committed to building.” 


    For more information and updates on the roles and activities of the European Parliament you can visit their website.


  • Facts & Stories

    Andrea Bocelli Builds a New School in Muccia

    A new primary school called De Amicis was inaugurated last week in the town of Muccia in Marche, which had been hit by an earthquake in 2016. This project, which was realized in 119 days with the help of 45 local companies, was funded by the foundation of world-renowned Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.


    This is the second school that the foundation has constructed in the earthquake-sensitive province of Macerata. The first one was the Giacomo Leopardi school, inaugurated in May 2018 in Sarnano.


    The town of Muccia’s previous schools, which had been severely damaged during an earthquake, were taken down last January by the fire department. But on their ashes project leaders Paolo Bianchi and Sara Zingone built a state of the art 1000 square meter seismic-proof structure, complete with a photovoltaic implant, that will host 30 preschoolers and 70 primary school children right in the historical center.


    The school has all the amenities the children could need: a library, an art room, a science lab, modern audiovisual implants, a gym, and a small soccer and basketball field. Obviously, musical education is given great importance: not only is there a dedicated music room, but every classroom is equipped to sing, play and hear music under the best conditions. The common room features a piano and shelves filled with various brand new instruments for the students to practice with.


    As the inauguration ceremony began, Bocelli played the flute with the “Citta di Camerino” orchestra, conducted by maestro Vincenzo Correnti and it was later revealed that the foundation will also begin reconstructing Camerino’s music school, whose previous venue was also affected by the earthquake. 


    “I’m happy because we were able to show ourselves and the rest of the country that here too, when we really want to, we can get things done in a reasonable time,” commented Bocelli, who cut the ribbon during the inauguration. “Music elevates the spirit and we certainly need it, and it is an integral part of education, of culture.” he added. 


    The Mayor of Muccia, Mario Baroni, also expressed his joy. “Our land finds happiness once again, the hope that only music can give.” he said, and thanked the maestro for giving these children to study in the town they were born in. 


    To this, Bocelli replied that this endeavor was made possible by teamwork. “That’s why I created the Foundation,” he said, “because alone you can do a lot, but together you can do much more.” In fact, 45 local companies and 170 technicians and operators were involved in the project. 


    Italian President Sergio Mattarella and the Minister of Education Marco Bussetti also sent notes of recognition through official representatives. Bocelli concluded the ceremony by singing Ave Maria followed by the Italian National Anthem, for which he was accompanied by the young students and the Camerino band. 


    “We want this space to also help reactivate the town’s social life, which inevitably was damaged by the earthquake.” explains the President of the Bocelli Foundation, Laura Biancalani. For this reason, the new structure is already in use, hosting a summer school program that runs from July 1 to 13 and nightly events.

  • Chef Fortunato Nicotra with Lidia Bastianich
    Life & People

    Chef Fortunato Nicotra Serves up Sicilian Summer in NYC

    The best thing about great cuisine is how it manages to transport you to another place, to evoke a feeling so vivid that you momentarily forget where you really are. That's what happened when we tasted Chef Fortunato Nicotra's new summer menu at Lidia Bastianich's Felidia Restaurant in Manhattan. 

    Maybe helped by the pleasant and familiar atmosphere of the restaurant itself reminiscent of an Italian home, we quickly found ourselves in Sicily, where Chef Fortunato is from, savoring a variety of dishes which, though not strictly traditional in the sense that they follow specific recipes, are distinclty Italian in their philosophy and Sicilian in their taste. Even though, as the Chef explains, they are the product of various influences and are always informed by the season and the land they were made in.


    So, where are you from and how was your passion for cooking born?


    I was born in Sicily and then moved to Turin with my family when I was 6 years-old. My parents put me with a Piedmontese lady who was always cooking, I remember that on thursdays she already began to prepare food to give to her sons on the weekend. 


    Then I studied hospitality and cooking in Turin. I also studied in France, in Germany, then worked in restaurants in Turin. Then one day a restaurator from Turin asked me to go to Sicily to help him launch a restaurant, Villa Marchese in Milazzo. I went and then stayed and became the executive chef. We got a Michelin star. Afterwards I was the executive chef in another restaurant in Milazzo, at Villa Esperanza, which also got a Michelin star. 


    And what type of cuisine did you make then?


    Sicilian. Growing up I saw a lot of Piedmontese cuisine and at school that’s what I trained in but my mother’s imprint always remained with me, she also cooked. 


    Then, being in Sicily I used Sicilian products and that informs the type of cuisine you make. I used extremely local products, some very particular, like what we call “orecchie di mare,” which are abalones, a type of shellfish, very hard, pearly, and usually divers would get them, off of dinghies, not even fishing boats. 

    And local vegetables too. 


    We also cooked for very few people. At Villa Marchese, we also did big groups in one part of the venue, for conferences and such but the villa’s a la carte menu served a room of about 30 people. This changes the way you cook. 


    How did you end up in New York?


    I felt I had given everything I could in Sicily. Back then, in Italy there weren’t many restaurants below Naples. 

    And I had always dreamed of going to America so at 33 I called a friend who had contacts there. He knew Lidia and she was looking for a chef then. So I went there and I was supposed to stay six months, a year but instead I’ve been here since 1996.


    I know you also met your wife here.

    Yes, she was the first person I spoke to because she spoke Italian. She’s American but she studied Art History in Florence with Lidia’s daughter and then she started working at Felidia a few months before me. 

    I like to say that she hired me because I spoke to her, from a telephone booth. If it weren’t for that booth I wouldn’t be here now.


    And how was New York from a professional point of view?


    Bad. (laughs)

    It was hard. You couldn’t get the products. And the numbers were different. Here the a la carte menu serves 200-300 people. 

    And there’s a lot of pressure. When the New York Times came... a lot of pressure. And that can turn into stress or it can turn into energy and thankfully it turned into energy.


    Tell us about working with Lidia Bastianich. What’s your relationship like? Do you decide the menus together?


    We come from opposite regions we could say but we have the same philosophy. 

    And here in the United States there isn’t much regionality, (in Italian cuisine, ed.) it’s a question of philosophy. We focus on the quality and seasonality of the product. I never prepare products out of season, you won’t find asparagus in the winter here. 


    Seasonality is very important in Italy but not so diffused here.


    Not at all. It doesn’t exist here. 

    But they’re starting to understand it here too. 


    So the New York clientele has changed over the course of the years?


    Yes, very much so. 

    Now the people who come here know real Italian cuisine, they compare the food to the one you can find in Italy. Before they didn’t have anything to compare it to, just American or Italian American food you find here.


    Other than seasonality, what are the main elements that characterize your approach to cuisine?


    Vegetables are extremely important. They are what characterizes a dish, what distinguishes it. Because maybe two restaurants might use the same meat but what makes the dish unique are the vegetables that come with it.


    What other influences besides the Sicilian imprint can be found in your cuisine?


    Certainly Piedmont for the winter and fall menus, so the woman who hosted me, her ravioli, the roasts she used to make. 


    We tasted the summer menu and every dish really felt like summer. We also noticed you used some unexpected ingredients, for example, corn, which isn’t very present in Italian cuisine.


    Yes, it’s used in Piedmont sometimes but it’s not very common. 

    Here corn is one of the most local and seasonal products you can find. So the approach again is the Italian one.


    Final question: future prospects? Do you plan on staying here, going back to Italy?


    No, I’m staying here.

    I go to Italy for vacation, maybe I’ll retire there but I could never get used to the rhythm again.


    In case you were wondering, here is what we had for dinner at Felidia:


    For antipasto, we tasted the Tutto Crudo, a delightful mixed fish carpaccio with artfully arranged thin slices, shavings almost, of raw tuna, salmon, and branzino, speckled with tomato, cucumber and horseradish. This was probably one of the best dishes: both citrusy and herby, it was very light and delicate, the perfect starter. 


    The other appetizer we tried, the more substantial vignarola “carbonara,” was no less exciting. It consisted of a sunny side up egg placed atop a small mount of seasonal vegetables (including an incredibly tender artichoke heart) and drizzled in parmesan and crispy bacon bits. So it’s a carbonara without the pasta. And with vegetables. Guilt-free and delicious.


    Then came the pasta dishes. The first one was the Cappellacci, a type of ravioli served with lobster, burrata and corn, which somehow remained extremely fresh despite the richness of the ingredients. 


    The second was the Filei, hand-rolled pasta in a unique rabbit ragu. As Chef Nicotra explained, this is the summer version of the ragu, since rabbit meat is much lighter and was mixed with carrots and n’duja for that extra touch of spiciness. Overall the flavor was strong but not too overwhelming and some of the meat was ground while some of it was cut into small pieces, giving the dish an interesting and very balanced texture. 


    The two secondi - or “main” dishes - were tuna and beef. The first was lightly grilled on one side and accompanied by a delightful caponata, a typically Sicilian eggplant-based salad with a sweet and sour taste. The meat was a wagyu beef tagliata, served with mushrooms, carrots, and a summer salad. Both extremely flavorful and so tender they melt in your mouth. 

    Finally, it was time for the desert: a thin crostata - or tart - topped with braised summer plums and a scoop of refreshing fennel gelato, so light and delicate that, while we repeatedly stated how full we were, we devoured the whole thing and would have gladly eaten a second. 


    In sum, everything was delicious with a subtle but unique twist. Even the bread was special, particularly the black bread which had a strong olive taste but wasn’t oily in the least and was served with a wonderful light green dip, a sort of lighter hummus/guacamole variation, possibly made with fava beans. We thoroughly enjoyed all the dishes we tried and would gladly go back to taste some of the other ones we caught glimpses of as ton their way to neighboring tables.


  • Facts & Stories

    After The World Cup, Women Players Are Still Fighting

    Though the Italian team may be out of the Women’s World Cup after losing Saturday’s game to the Netherlands, female soccer players aren’t done fighting just yet. Actually, we could say that the biggest battle for Italian women’s soccer begins now. 


    The unexpected qualification of the team to the World Cup, and its remarkable performance during the tournament became a central topic throughout the country, where football - or soccer if you prefer - has long been considered the ultimate expression of masculinity, more so than any other sport, and where the men’s national team hasn’t been performing well of late. 


    Although the team’s journey was cut short after its elimination at the quarter-finals, many see this as the perfect opportunity to discuss the issue of professionalization. In fact, in Italy, the players of the women’s national soccer team are not considered professional athletes, contrarily to their male counterparts. 


    “From now on, women’s football in Italy will be different,” stated Milena Bertolini, the team’s coach, one of the only two Italian women to hold the title to train a men’s Serie A team. “Now, those in charge of taking certain decision have to do it, because the girls deserve professionalization and more opportunities. Today they played against professional colleagues and from that point of view it was not an equal match.” she commented after Saturday’s game.


    The first Italian football team was created in Milan during the 1930s and the sport became popular amongst women during the war and for a short while after. However, the Italian Female Football Federation (Federazione Italiana Calcio Femminile) wasn’t founded until 1968. An association was then formed in 1980 but the sport still wasn’t widely diffused. 


    Today, major soccer teams are required to have a women’s team as well and in 2018-19, the first edition of the female Serie A (the highest division for Italian teams) was organized by the Federazione Italiana Giuco Calcio (FIGC.)


    However, women’s soccer remains marginal in Italy. Suffice to look at the numbers: the annual budget for the women’s team is of about 4,2 million euro while the men’s is of 28 million euro. 


    But the fact that women’s soccer isn’t considered professional has other consequences. For example, it means that female players are not provided with insurance, if they are injured they must cover the cost of treatment and rehabilitation themselves. They also do not receive a pension nor any form of support in case of pregnancy or invalidity. 


    Even more troubling is the common practice of including “anti-pregnancy” clauses in the athletes’ contracts, which cause them to be automatically rescinded in case of pregnancy. 


    In Italy, whether an athlete is professional is determined by article 2 of law 91, which dates back to 1981 and simply delegates this responsibility to CONI (the Italian National Olympic Committee) along with the national sports federations. 


    However, CONI has yet to clarify what constitutes the distinction between professional and amateurial. This has caused countless instances of descrimination over the years and penalized many athletes. Currently, the only sports that CONI recognizes as being professional are men’s soccer up to Lega Pro, golf, basketball, and cycling. This means that some of Italy’s greatest athletes such as Olympic swimmer Federica Pellegrini are technically not professionals. 


    Women’s soccer stands out amidst all the sports that are being denied their professional status because of how much importance is given to men’s soccer in contrast. 


    This sort of disparity cannot continue to be ignored and, in fact, high representatives of the sport’s associations and federations are beginning to express the intention to professionalize women’s soccer, though with perhaps a little too much “caution”. 


    The head of FIGC Gabriele Gravina commented after the quarter-final “We have to build the foundations that will allow these girls to make the jump in quality they deserve. The FIGC is taking concrete steps: from July 1st 2020, the status of female soccer players will change.” 


    He then went on to say that “the girls” will eventually obtain professionalization but that it is unthinkable to introduce it today. “We must, first of all, consider the impact that a change in status would bring upon the system. We can’t expose it to the risk of losing participants,” he continued, insisting on the importance of behaving “sustainably.”


    A little more encouraging were the words of the President of AIC (Associazione Italiana Calciatori,) Damiano Tommasi, who stated that “Women’s soccer is destined to grow and I’m sad to see the resistance to discussing professionalization.”


    “I’m not saying we should do it tomorrow morning,” he continued, “but we should start the path, with a clear framework in mind. It’s time to reason, we certainly want to be sustainable, but women’s soccer is one of the most convenient investments, with a great prospect of profitability.” 


    With women’s soccer growing in popularity across the globe, these issues are starting to be addressed everywhere and things are beginning to change. The Norwegian federation recently made history by mandating equal pay for its male and female players. 


    This is still an isolated case, but hopefully other countries will follow along. All over the world, from the United States to Argentina, female players are demanding and often obtaining more recognition and adequate compensation.


    In some cases, brands and sponsors are stepping in to fill the economic and representational gender gaps. For example, in 2017, Adidas carried out the #InYourName campaign with the Swedish national women’s team, for which they made a limited series of jerseys where the player’s names were replaced by inspirational quotes meant to empower women and encourage them to support each other.


    While it’s still unclear how exactly the Italian situation will evolve from here, at least people are talking about it and it’s not unreasonable to think that Italy will follow the wind of change blowing across the world of women’s soccer. 

  • Art & Culture

    Nazi-Looted Painting Will Return to Florence

    “Vase of Flowers,” a still life painting by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum will return to its rightful home on the walls of Florence’s Palazzo Pitti. This restitution is the result of an agreement between the Italian and German ministers of Foreign Affairs, Enzo Moavero and Heiko Maas. 


    The painting - like countless others, many of which are still unaccounted for - was stolen by nazi troops on their way out of Florence during World War II. It actually resurfaced back in 1991 but the restitution process proved to be very complicated. 


    A major issue with these cases has to do with the statute of limitations, which prevents authorities from taking legal action against a crime committed beyond a certain time limit, in this case 30 years. 


    However, last January, Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Galleries - which Palazzo Pitti is a part of - publicly called for the artwork’s restitution, arguing that the German government (he is himself a German citizen. ed.) had a “moral duty” to help bring it back. 


    Following this, the government contacted the descendants of the soldier who had taken the painting. When the painting first resurfaced, they had initially demanded to be paid €2 million for it and now refused to return it. 


    The authorities argued that, since the painting had been stolen, the soldier never had the right to pass it down. On the other hand, the family claimed that the artwork had been purchased at a market as a present to send home to his wife. 


    The result of the settlement between the family and German authorities has not been made public but it is now in the hands of the latter and, after 75 years, will be returning to Florence to hang on its spot on the wall, which is currently being filled by a black and white photo reproduction of the work that reads “stolen!” in English, Italian and German. Both Moavero and Maas will be present for the event, though the date is yet to be determined. 


    Dr. Schmidt expressed his joy in seeing this important piece return to where the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold the Second had it placed almost 200 years ago. He thanked the foreign ministers as well as the Italian Minister of Culture Bonisoli, the judicial authorities and the Carabinieri Art Squad for the protection of cultural heritage, who all contributed to this complicated endeavor. 


    The Uffizi director also took the opportunity to call for German authorities to abolish the statute of limitations on Nazi looted art, something which many have argued for as such objects continue to emerge and it gets harder and harder for the rightful owners to recuperate them.


  • The prize winners at the Quirinale with President Mattarella
    Facts & Stories

    2019 Bellisario Awards Recognize 'High-Flying Women'

    On June 14th, the Marisa Bellisario Foundation celebrated this year’s recipients of the “Golden Apple,” the award given out to the “Donne ad Alta Quota,” that is the “high-flying women” who stood out for their achievements in various fields. 


    The Foundation is named after pioneering top-manager Marisa Bellisario, a remarkable and inspiring woman who rose to the highest ranks of management for prominent Italian companies such as Olivetti, where she held the position of Chairman of Olivetti Corporation of America from 1979 to 1981 when she came back to Italy and became CEO of Italtel. 


    Needless to say, at the time, it was almost unheard of for a woman to hold such high-ranking positions, particularly in Italy. Bellisario faced continuous obstacles and the fact that she did carry out such a successful career - which was cut short when she passed away from a fatal disease in 1988 - is a testament to her strength, talent and determination. 


    Today, the Foundation is one of the leading organizations in Italy dedicated to supporting and advancing the career of women working across various fields of the private and public sector with the intention of promoting a culture of gender equality within Italian society. 


    This year’s 31st edition of the “Donne ad Alta Quota” award went out to 9 outstanding women. Amongst them, Mariangela Zappia, the Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York - the first woman to cover this role.


    The other recipients included Iraqi human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, who received the international award, and Sofia Corradi, the creator of the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange program, who was awarded for her overall career.  


    Additionally, the management award went out to Elisabetta Ripa, CEO of Open Fiber; the entrepreneurship award was given to Gloria Tenuta, the President and CEO of Gias; the information prize was awarded to Repubblica Journalist Federica Angeli; the entertainment award went to TV presenter Milly Carlucci; and the special award was given to pianist and composer Cristiana Pegoraro.


    Finally, the “germoglio d’oro” for promising young women was awarded to Lucrezia Bisignani, the co-founder of Kukua, an edutainment company aimed at teaching African children to read, write, and make calculations using a smartphone.  


    The ceremony took place in the RAI studios after the winners - accompanied by the creator of the Bellisario Award, entrepreneur and member of the Italian Parliament Lella Golfo, and by the President of the Award’s appointing commission Stefano Lucchini - were received in the Quirinal Palace by President Sergio Mattarella.


    “The work of women is an incredibly important contribution to the life of our country,” commented the President, who said women are increasingly becoming protagonists whether it be in economics, diplomacy, journalism, “this enriches and strengthens the nation.” 


    The award show was then broadcasted on Rai1 on June 22nd, where, according to the Foundation, it was watched by about 800,000 spectators. You can see it here on Rai Play.


  • Facts & Stories

    New Jersey’s 'Razza' Named Best Pizzeria in North America

    On June 27th, 50 Top Pizza, an articulated online guide to the best pizzerias in the world, revealed the ranking of the Top 100 pizza joints in North America. 


    New York City was strongly represented on the list, however first place was assigned to Dan Richer’s Razza Pizza Artigianale in Jersey City. Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona came in second and Lucali in Brooklyn was third. 


    50 Top Pizza curators Paola Guerra and Albert Sapere, who presented the event held inside the James Beard House in Greenwich Village, explained that the judges are asked to rate the pizzerias independently of style and instead focus on things such as the quality of the products, the ingredients that go into the pizza, and the atmosphere, the experience of the place itself. 


    And in fact, just by looking at the list, one can tell that it includes various types of pizza. Some, including Joe’s Pizza (21st) and Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop (18th) are known for their crispier New York style slices, while others such as Ribalta (31st) and Kesté (27th) serve a more traditional Neapolitan pizza, though each give it their own special touch. 


    As this year’s top pizzaiolo, Dan Richer, mentioned in his brief speech, “pizza-making is all about the details. It’s an extremely precise and complicated process that seldom gets the recognition it deserves.” 


    He went on to express his gratitude for receiving such a title, adding that this doesn’t mean he won’t keep changing and getting better. “It’s a continuously evolving process,” he said, “I’m constantly tampering with the ingredients, techniques, ways to manage the temperature.”


    Though he isn’t Italian, Richer grew up - as many Americans do - eating and loving pizza. After college, he traveled to Italy for the first time and, having tasted the pizza there, he discovered it was completely different from what he was used to back home. This realization made him want to delve deeper into just how pizza is made.


    Back in the States, he began to explore this topic, mostly by trial and error. “I didn’t learn from anyone, I kept trying out different things, making adjustments, and persisted,” he explains. “It took years before I started to get it right.”


    He stated a catering company, worked in professional kitchens, and previously purchased another pizzeria, gaining recognition - he was even a James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef semi-finalist in 2011, something highly unusual for a pizza-maker. 


    In 2013, he opened Razza Pizza Artigianale. The pizza there doesn’t fit into any particular category or follow a specific style. Richer defines it as "artisanal American pizza", the method is constantly evolving and combines various elements from different types of pizza. 


    A fundamental aspect though is the freshness of the products. All the ingredients are locally produced and seasonal, following the Italian approach to cooking. An approach which was shared by James Beard, the famed American culinary figure who lived in the House where the event was held. 


    In fact, as the Foundation’s director pointed out, James Beard was amongst the first in America to emphasize the importance of elements such as freshness, seasonality, and sustainability in cooking. These aspects are all at the core of Italian cuisine and, of course, pizza, making this the perfect venue for the event. 


    On this occasion, 50 Top Pizza also named the finalists for the top 50 pizzerias in Brazil and the top 50 in South America (explaining that Brazil has its own category because it is home to an insanely vast quantity and variety of pizzerias - Sao Paulo has the most pizzerias in the world.) 


    The project is continuously expanding to cover an increasingly large portion of the globe, because, though pizza was born in Italy, it is now a global product that can be found all over the world, in all its sometimes wonderful, sometimes bizarre, and mainly interesting variations. 


    You can find the complete ranking here: