To reinforce the Mediterranean diet studies, students spent a Friday afternoon (on October 8) sampling several regional olive oils to learn about quality products and their health benefits. The tasting offered four options chosen from small farms producing high-quality extra virgin olive oils, with the opportunity to learn the rich biodiversity of the Italian cultivars (different olive varieties).

Separately, yet in strict connection with the olive oil tasting experience, Chef Andrea Consoli, through his Cooking Class in Rome, brought the Roman kitchen to life for Food Studies Masters students during two lessons (on October 7 and 14) that explored local ingredients and plates from Lazio. Students worked together to prepare each segment of the meal before enjoying the fruits of their labor. Three of the Mediterranean diet principles of conviviality, cooking, and seasonality all came together during the lesson through the process of preparing and savoring a healthy, local meal in good and lively company.

As for the olive oil tasting, starting from Northern Italy, students have appreciated the brand “Roi” from Riviera Ligure which is characterized by light and floral aromas from the monocultivar taggiasca. It is ideal for tossing salads and fish-based plates. For the region of Central Italy, the Umbrian brand “Passo della Colomba”, the extra virgin olive oil called Moraiolo, is characterized by a great organoleptic value with an ample and fragrant bouquet, aromas of green tomatoes, artichoke lea, and unripe almonds. It leaves a lingering spicy sensation in the throat. As an eco-friendly km0 product, students enjoyed the local extra virgin olive oil from the Sabina area of the Lazio region by tasting “La Mola” brand. This oil has the Protected Designation of Origin (P.O.D) and is produced by using more than ten different cultivars. It is characterized by light greenish hues, with intense fruity notes of olive and fresh vegetables, a mildly bitter, spicy, and astringent taste with medium aromatic persistence. Finally, students tasted the brand “Corona delle Puglie” from the Puglia region; the monocultivar coratina provides strong and intense aromas, with bitter and spicy sensations. Excellent for complex and gourmet dishes.

Students learned the proper process for tasting by first covering the cup to create warmth, before sipping, sucking in oxygen, and swirling the oil around the mouth. Olive oil is considered an elixir of health and central to the Mediterranean diet. Extra virgin olive oil is composed of 99% monounsaturated fats (mainly oleic acid) known to have health benefits by reducing bad cholesterol, glucose, free radicals, and pro-inflammatory mediators in the blood. The remaining minor component of 1% includes bioactive compounds such as vitamin A, sterols, and the precious polyphenol compounds, responsible for the bitterness and the spiciness in the throat that are actually an indication of a high-quality product. Polyphenols are well documented as being potent anti-cancer, anti-aging, and generally preventative against cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. The specific processing of the oil, through a procedure called “estratto freddo,” preserves the antioxidants and anti-cancer components. It is no wonder that the product is ubiquitous in Italy, as well as around the world.  

During the two cooking classes, Chef Andrea celebrated fresh vegetables and homemade pasta to create an entirely vegetarian menu; but he argued that the most important ingredient was love. Half the class focused solely on the pasta-making process, which required careful attention and delicate handwork, despite using the simplest of ingredients—flour and eggs. Once the dough was prepared, they rotated pressing it through a crank before using the chitarra to make fettuccine. The melody of the instrument added a magical element to the creation of the pasta strands as they fell through the strings into a hollow catch below the contraption.


Cooking class at The American University of Rome
Student preparing food at stove
Two students preparing Italian food
Healthy Mediterranean diet


The other half worked to prepare the remaining plates—and the chaos of clanking, frying, and chopping provided a welcome antithesis to the meditative and repetitive pasta-making process. The final menu included verdure fritte and bruschetta to begin, followed by a course of two kinds of pasta—the homemade fettuccine with a light pomodoro sauce, and rigatoni with pumpkin. Andrea explained the importance of pairing the pasta shape with an appropriate sauce: tubed or lined pasta better withstand heavier sauces and thus enhance the flavors. Tiramisù rounded out the meal to end on a sweet note. 

Michaela Colangelo
Graduate Student Assistant