The concept of the menu – not to be confused with the contemporary significance of list of dishes presented to you in a trattoria or restaurant – was born out of a revolution in dining that occurred in 1810 when traditional “French Service” began being substituted by “Russian Service.” The major difference between the two is that the French served placed all the dishes on the table at once, while the Russians presented the meal in courses of studied succession and served individually by the waiters. Chefs were not particularly enthusiastic about the change, but were forced to adjust to the new style of service, a result of international diplomacy. By the second half of the 19th century, Russian service had supplanted the ancient customs. In order to familiarize the guests at the table with the new concept, a menu was placed before them. The first menus were simple cards indicating the order of the courses, but with time wine pairings, illustrations by great artists and a even celebrity autographs began to appear on the menus.
Academia Barilla, an international ambassador of Italian gastronomic culture, was able to acquire an impressive menu collection, to accompany the vast selection of books housed in the library and beautiful collection of ancient prints related to food and wine. The menu collection was built by culinary scholar Livio Cerini di Castegnate and his wife, Signora Wilma. There are over 5.000 menus from the 19th and 20th centuries, over 2.000 of which are dedicated to Italian cuisine. The menus are of extraordinary quality and can be used as original sources for research on Italian gastronomy and traditional products. The historical menus are full of meaning and symbolism. Everyone at a specific lunch or dinner was presented with the same menu and served the same courses, creating a sense of convivialty.
The word convivium come from the Latin cum vivere, meaning to live together. The menus represent a move towards eating the same things at the same time, transforming nutrition into a cultural act.