Italian airport waives liquids limit for hand luggage – but only for pesto

Travellers to Italy often choose to take a taste of the country home with them by filling their suitcases with local food and drinks - only to be thwarted by airports' strict regulations on carrying liquids.

Italian airport waives liquids limit for hand luggage - but only for pesto
A jar of pesto. Photo: poppet with a camera/Flickr

One airport, however, is making an exception to the 100ml-maximum rule for taking liquids onboard.

From the start of June, tourists flying out of Genoa airport in northern Italy have been allowed to take larger quantities of liquids in their cabin baggage.

The catch? The 100ml limit is only waived for those taking pesto, the region's famous sauce made of garlic, basil, pine nuts and cheese. “If it's not pesto, it can't fly in hand luggage,” Genoa Airport press officer Nur El Gawohary told The Local.

Genoa's Cristoforo Colombo airport launched the 'Il pesto è buono' (Pesto is good) initiative at the start of June, allowing passengers to take jars of pesto up to 500g on board, in exchange for a donation to Flying Angels, a local charity which provides flights for seriously ill children who need to travel overseas to receive care.

The inspiration for the scheme came from airport staff. “Every year hundreds of pesto jars were seized at security controls and thrown away – a waste of food and an annoyance to our passengers,” explained El Gawohary.

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“Ensuring safety is our primary goal,” said El Gawohary. “We use the same equipment [to check the pesto] that is used to check medicines, special foods or breast milk, which can already be brought in the cabin in quantities over 100ml.”

Tourists unwilling to part with their oversized pesto jars can ask for a sticker in exchange for a charity donation, and staff then scan the jars in a special x-ray machine which has an anti-explosive device fitted.

In the first 20 days of the project, more than 500 passengers have taken part. According to the airport, the initiative has been “particularly appreciated by locals from Liguria” who no longer have to go without their regional specialty when holidaying abroad, but several tourists have also taken advantage of the scheme to take home a garlicky souvenir.

The pesto must still comply with some limits: passengers can either take one 500g jar or two jars of up to 250g. They can only be taken on direct flights from Genoa, and the pesto in question must be Genovese.

READ ALSO: 21 photos that will make you say 'Only in Italy'

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.