Grappa: from ancient Egypt to Bassano del Grappa

Grappa EgyptThe origins of grappa are clearly Italian. However, the process of its making originated in Egypt, at the time of Queen Cleopatra, and is linked to the mysteries of alchemy.

As the story goes, some Egyptian alchemists had designed special equipment for distillation that went under the name of “Cleopatra’s philosopher’s stone”. The Romans came somehow to know it as the “Crisiopea di Cleopatra”.  Such equipment was eventually stolen from Cleopatra’s court in the II century AD and later reappeared in the Italian village of Bassano del Grappa, in the hands of a Roman soldier.

From grapes to Grappa

The “Crisiopea of Cleopatra” was basic distillation equipment made of hourglass-like bottles. The Roman soldier applied the distillation principles ruled by the School of Salerno to process grape pomace (i.e., grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems).
What he obtained was grappa.
Grappa stillGrappa is a fragrant graped-based pomace brandy containing 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume (70 to 120 US proof).

Like wine, grappa’s flavor can vary consistently according to the quality of grapes and distillation process used. What we call “pomace” are leftovers from the winemaking process.   Professional tasters distinguish four categories of grappa: young, cask-conditioned, aromatic and aromatized grappas.   Grappa is now a protected name by the European Union to distinguish Italian brandy from all other types of brandy.  The most famous brands are Nonnino, Nardini, Poli, Brotto, Sibona, De Negri, and many more.

The grappa etiquette

Grappa ammazza caffeAs many other Italian products, grappa has its own etiquette: its use is that of a “digestivo”, or after-dinner drink. Indeed, drinking grappa after a heavy meal helps the digestion.  It is typically drunk in shots, separately or in the tiny espresso cup, after coffee. When liquors are drunk after coffee in a shot, as is the case of grappa, they are commonly called “ammazzacaffé” (literally, “coffee killer”).  In the province of Venice, where Bassano del Grappa is, grappa is often used also as an ingredient for “caffé corretto” (meaning “amended coffee”).  Posted by Giardino Italiano

Concerto di Domenica: 25 Ottobre

Barbara Furtuna is a polyphonic Corsican group of four men. Even though the group still finds its inspiration in the island’s oldest traditions, it is now distinguished by its own creations and offers a music that answers our contemporary longings.

Barbara Furtuna

The group has been present on the international scene for the last ten years, in Europe, but also North America or Australia. It has increased prestigious scenes, solo or with unexpected collaborations. With the baroque ensemble L’Arpeggiata, with the ancient music of Constantinople. The quartet has shown that it could transcend a single register and that traditional music has still the ability to surprise us and to move us.

Before you see them in person, try the cheap seats at Youtube:


To buy tickets to their live performance in Columbus on Oct 25th, visit:


Ci vediamo lì !



Italian Studies at Univ. of Notre Dame

IHadrian villa in Tivolitalian language, literature, and culture is the heart of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Western civilization. As the hub of the Roman empire, Italy transmitted the world of ancient Roman and Greek classical culture and language to the modern age. As the epicenter of Christianity, Italy transfigured the classical legacy to create the fabric of Christian culture and spirituality. As the wellspring of the European Renaissance, Italy reinvented the vast patrimony of classical Christian culture to create the modern humanistic civilization of the West. To this day, much of the cultural vocabulary of Western civilization has its roots in Italy. To enter into Italian culture is to understand who we are and how we got here.

In each of the fields of human action -from literature, art, music, architecture, theatre, and film, to science, religion, philosophy, business, and politics- Italy has produced many of the greatest geniuses in history. Today, Italy is both one of the most culturally vibrant nations of Europe (Italian writers have won six Nobel prizes in the last century), and one of the most prosperous, industrialized, and technologically-advanced nations in the world.

Italian Studies is an area of exceptional and growing strength at the University of Notre Dame. First taught at the University of Notre Dame in 1847, and re-established in 1947 by Paul Bosco (Ph.D., Harvard, 1942), who taught at Notre Dame for fifty years with his Bolognese wife, Vittoria (Magistero, University of Florence, 1954), Italian has grown to a teaching staff of twenty and almost 400 students per semester: it is now the second-most-studied language at Notre Dame. Great resources, outstanding faculty, and ground breaking institutional initiatives create unparalleled opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate study.

Lorenzo Valterza

Notre Dame’s Dept. of Romance Language and Literature is fortunate in having acquired Dr. Lorenzo Valterza (two years ago the much-lauded visiting professor at OSU).  Dr. Valterza specializes in Italian Medieval literature. His research focuses on Dante, jurisprudence (medieval and modern), and philosophical hermeneutics.  At Notre Dame he is doing research on casuistry and moral reasoning as he completes his book on ethics and interpretation in medieval Italy.  OSU’s loss is ND’s gain.