Victoria Georgetti has tried her best to talk to the woman selling baked goods in Ascoli Piceno. The woman is at the street market every week, ready to sell some of the most authentic Italian goodies the Euro can buy. She is kind, but assertive, according to Georgetti—“a typical Italian.”
“You can tell she loves what she does,” Georgetti said.
However, much to Georgetti’s dismay, the woman can’t speak a lick of English, and Georgetti is still perfecting her Italian. So the two have resorted to smiling at each other and using a combination of facial expressions and body language to make pie transactions.
“Let’s just say I’ve eaten a lot of her baked goods,” Georgetti laughs.
Georgetti is part of the UNH-in-Italy: EcoGastronomy program, spending her entire fall semester in the small town of Ascoli Piceno, Italy. As a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major, she is taking the opportunity to soak in as much edible culture she possibly can, and describes the daily market as her favorite place to spend her time.
“This program revolves around around slow food and culture, so it takes someone who is interested in that subject and type of lifestyle in order to be successful here. You have to appreciate small towns, and culture that isn’t your own…You can find that culture in a market—they have food ones, antique ones, a bunch—so it’s my favorite place so far.”
In Ascoli Piceno, however, you can pretty much find that deep-rooted culture anywhere you go. Known as “the city of one hundred towers,” several travel guides describe Ascoli Piceno as an ancient city, wherein the culture—and more specifically, the food—has not changed in centuries. Traditions and recipes have been passed down for years, remaining an important part of day-to-day life.
Which is why it’s a great place for the UNH-in-Italy fall semester program, as the program is the gateway to a dual major in EcoGastronomy: a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary program, which allows UNH students interested in nutrition, hospitality, and sustainable agriculture to study food, cooking, and holistic eating habits.
“This program revolves around slow food and culture, so it takes someone who is interested in that subject and type of lifestyle in order to be successful here. You have to appreciate small towns, and culture that isn’t your own.”
Of course, Ascoli Piceno’s unchanged food history did not surprise Georgetti upon her arrival to the city. She has been to Italy before; while taking a gap year between high school and college. She spent time tutoring in English for an Italian family. So, having experienced the flavors of Italy before, she knew she would find delicious food in a small town like Ascoli Piceno.
It is another, widely accepted tradition in this particular Italian town which Georgetti did not expect. A tradition she was part of before she even knew it was a tradition.
Every fall this small town, with a population of 51,000 (versus Florence’s 370,000), increases by about dozen people. A dozen bright-eyed, curious, hungry people: students from the University of New Hampshire.
“It was one of our first nights here, and we were sitting at a small bar, all speaking English,” Georgetti said. “All of a sudden this guy came up to us and said, ‘New Hampshire?’ And we were all so stunned, like, how could he know? And then he said, ‘it’s just a regular thing, the New Hampshire students come every year.’ And then we talked for a while. You know, it’s such a small town, everyone knew when we arrived.”
And luckily, according to Georgetti, not only do the locals know UNH is coming, but they also embrace the students’ arrival. Most locals don’t speak English, and beg the students to help them practice it.
“It can be really frustrating, though,” Georgetti said. “Because we’re trying to practice Italian, but the second they realize we speak English, that’s the language they want to use.”
So that’s why Georgetti finds herself wandering back down to the street market, doing her best to communicate with the woman who sells delicious baked goods.
Georgetti points at a pastry covered in something that looks sweet, silky—delicious. Maybe a Zeppole, or an Anisette cookie. Her mouth waters as the middle-aged woman shouts something in thick, authentic Italian, trying to explain the taste, trying to sell her item. Eventually, though, the woman resorts to splitting off a piece of the goodie and handing it to Georgetti.
It’s a universal message: free sample.
“[And it’s] a good thing,” Georgetti said. “Because half the time it doesn’t taste how it looks.”