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Studying gastronomy in Italy

March 2, 2009 |  3:00 pm

BurrOK, you have to admit: Could anything  sound better than studying gastronomy in Italy, traveling to farms and artisan operations tasting olive oils and cured meats and cheeses? Eating the sort of salad pictured at right?

David Szanto recalls the moment he decided to take the plunge: He was at Highland Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, contemplating the end of a relationship and listening to NPR when he heard about the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

That was 2004, and he now teaches writing and communication at the university. On Friday night, he stopped by UCLA to talk about it. About 60 people came to the meeting.

The university was established in 2003 by the regions of Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna and Slow Food, a movement that started in Italy in an effort to counteract fast food. It merges science and humanities, with study in class and lots of travel. There are four programs, graduate and undergraduate, with people finding such careers as wine and food tour operators, food writers, chefs, restaurant owners, teachers or food publicists, Szanto said.

It's not all one big buffet, however, although Szanto did mention copious amounts of cured meat, wine shows, stinky cheese and other wonders. He also talked about watching the entire process from kill room to packaging of meat from pigs in Parma. (He called the system "clean and smooth and impressive," and said it made him want to eat pork, not avoid it.)

Students are studying economics, technology, writing, science, sociology and other issues related to food. Of course, if I could study next to a plate of salumi and a glass of Chianti, maybe I could get through some dreary textbook. On second thought, I'd probably flunk the exam, though.

It's a small university, with fewer than 300 students. The cost is about $30,000 a year. Sound like a lot? To my ear, it sounded like bargain, given that you can easily spend that for a year at some of L.A.'s private schools. And in Italy, it includes classes, housing, food, books, travel and health insurance.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo by Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times