The Truth About The Internet Cooking Show Pasta Grannies

When Vicky Bennison was hired to write about Italian food, she wasn't expecting to be the recordkeeper for the last generation of Italian pasta makers, which she dubbed the "Pasta Grannies." More valuable than the gold band on granny's finger for the past 70 years is the 70 years of pasta-making she likely learned from her mother. Inspired by the nonnas she met along the way, Bennison became aware of the declining art of homemade pasta making among younger generations, who were too busy for the task and had become increasingly reliant on industrial pasta.

In an essay written for Heated, Bennison described how she was disturbed by the young and inexperienced faces hosting cooking shows on television. Although everyone claims their grandmother is the best cook, the media wasn't representing that reality. Furthermore, she noticed how male chefs went on "gastro-adventures" while women, who were usually hosts, stayed in the studio.

Wanting to see the inspiration represented on television, Bennison, armed with a camera, began filming these beautiful and talented women (and sometimes men), some over 100 years old, as they nimbly rolled, cut, folded, and manipulated dough to form every imaginable pasta shape and many regional specialties unfamiliar to most (via Heated). As a means of cataloging and storing her videos, Bennison uploaded her work to YouTube and, over three years, amassed 5,000 subscribers.

Pasta Grannies goes viral

In 2016, a video showing Maria and Peppina adorned in traditional dresses, making an endangered pasta traditionally served at weddings called su filindeu, went viral. The pasta, made only in the little town of Busachi, Sardinia, was only prepared by three women in the region when Vicky Bennison filmed the process. Made with saffron, su filindeu symbolizes "good fortune." The viral video brought in 300,000 viewers to Pasta Grannies by 2018 (per Heated). 

Websites like Food52 picked up the video and rebranded it "the world's rarest pasta." Soon, Bennison had an agent and a book deal. The simple videos take place in home kitchens where these grannies demonstrate their skills by rolling out paper-thin pasta sheets (sfoglia). Although their skills are expert, Bennison only films home cooks, not chefs. Fearlessly, the ladies layer sfoglia together without it sticking, with the stamina of an 18-year-old.

With the help of her "Granny Finder," Livia De Giovanni, Bennison finds the grannies primarily by word of mouth. In a two-step process, De Giovanni first deals with the "gatekeepers," usually a relative that vets them, before being introduced to the grandma (per Food52). De Giovanni helps persuade the older women to be filmed cooking for them, often in remote villages not seen by many tourists. With the help of subtitles and Bennison narrating, the short videos show grannies creating all varieties of pasta, including pencil-thin snakes for cavatellucco, accordion folded sfoglia for laganella, or pleated square sheets for tortellini.

The Pasta Grannies cookbook

To complement the YouTube channel, in 2019, Vicky Bennison wrote the cookbook, "Pasta Grannies: The Official Cookbook: The Secrets of Italy's Best Home Cooks." Often while they cook, the grannies share their life stories. Bennison wanted to provide more details of the women's lives than shown on film and continue the story-telling. Bennison has said viewers "are attracted by the pasta recipes but stay for the warm hug of these women's charm and experience" (per Heated).

Although, in a 2020 interview with Italy Magazine, Bennison said she had filmed 250 grannies, not every woman could make the cookbook. The book included 75 grannies, chosen based on personal stories and the ease of duplicating their pasta recipes. According to Bennison, the women prepared for their close-ups with a trip to the hairdresser — loving the experience — and requesting copies of the cookbook.

As a follow-up to the bestselling book, Bennison has penned a second cookbook, "Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking," which will come out in fall 2022. According to publisher Hardie Grant, Bennison's books resonate with readers and viewers due to "the authenticity of the Italian way of life and relative ease of the recipes," per Publishers Weekly

With 882,000 followers on YouTube and almost as many on Instagram, Bennison receives letters from fans telling her she has the best job in the world. Bennison, however, says that preserving these grannies' skills and hearing their stories are a privilege.