Seen from above, the village of Pollenzo appears to be sleeping in the fog that blankets the surrounding vineyards of the Langhe and Roero area in northwestern Italy. But instead, this ancient Roman hamlet is abuzz with the many accents of the hundreds of students who come here from around the world to study at the Slow Food-founded University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG).
“At UNISG I found myself immersed in a continuous and intensive exchange with other cultures," recalls Australian David Prior, 28-year-old graduate of the degree course and now communications director at Chez Panisse restaurant in California and contributor to various magazines including Vogue Living.
"In Pollenzo I found a vibrant multicultural community,” echoes Kunal Chandra, 24-year-old Masters graduate who came to UNISG after completing Hotel Management in India. "The conversations with students and professors continue outside the classroom ... especially around the table."
But the university offers much more than this richness of language and traditions being shared; it inspires a truly global conception of food studies through a multi-disciplinary program and regular study trips to train a new food professional - the ‘gastronome’ - able to work across the sector, from communications and marketing to production and distribution.
Lessons are held in English and Italian in a 19th-century former royal estate, listed by UNESCO world heritage. Students can choose from a three-year undergraduate degree in Gastronomic Sciences, a two-year graduate degree in Gastronomy and Food Communications and a postgraduate one-year Master Degree in Food Culture and Communications delivered in three streams - Human Ecology and Sustainability; Food, Place and Identity; and Media, Representations and High Quality Food.
A highlight of the UNISG courses are the study trips across five continents, which allow students to witness artisan and industrial production and agriculture up close. The three-year course includes 15 trips – from Brazil to Mexico, Japan to India and many important food regions across Europe to name just a few locations - that are either thematic, investigating a particular product and its production chain, or regional, exploring a territory’s specialties and gastronomic culture.
"The study trips were the key learning points during the course,” confirms Italian Daniela Adamo, 26-year-old food and beverage manager of the well-known La Rinascente department store restaurant in Milan’s Piazza Duomo. "Thanks to this direct contact with food production, I am able to explain and promote excellence of the best Italian and foreign foods in my daily work."
The ninth academic year (2011/12) was inaugurated on January 27 by the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Cioloş, UNISG Director Pier Carlo Grimaldi and Slow Food International President Carlo Petrini. More than 1,000 students have come to study in Pollenzo since the university opened in 2004, representing around 60 nations - from Ecuador to Gabon to Korea. More than half of UNISG graduates have found work within two months after graduating, and 75% of graduates are employed in the field with the remainder pursuing further studies or other activities.
European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş applauded this success, commenting that he was: “delighted to see a growing number of students choosing to study at the university and that they are finding employment quickly after graduating. This demonstrates the importance of the approach taken by the UNISG, and more broadly its founder Slow Food, and its relevance for the current needs of society."
The relevance is indeed wide-reaching, with students applying their knowledge in a wide range of occupations: from food communications, journalism and marketing of specialist products to working with producer consortiums, agri-food production and businesses, tourism and hospitality, regional authorities and NGOs.
Other graduates have decided to take on the challenge of creating their own new product. “Thanks to the university I now have a world-wide network,” said 29-year-old Austrian Vanessa Gürtler, “but I chose to dedicated myself to producing an artisan vodka with spring water and organic wheat. It’s incredible, but today people are talking about my product all around Austria!”
“In an increasingly urbanized world, we must keep close to the earth and preserve the special relationship that binds us to our food,” said Cioloş. “The Common Agricultural Policy plays a key role, but it is vital that it is accompanied by initiatives like this that make it possible to strengthen the relationship between agronomy and food.”
The University of Gastronomic Sciences was created by Slow Food with support from the Regions of Piedmont and Emilia Romagna and is legally recognized by the Italian state. The annual scholarship program of around 600,000 euro offers financial assistance to the most driven eligible students.
For more information, or to register for one of the campus Open Days, visit
Photo: Kunal Chandra
Click here to see great photos from a year in a UNISG masters program.