Cacio e pepe en vessie: A new (old) twist on cacio e pepe
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Riccardo Camanini's cacio e pepe en vessie (Credit: Giovanni Panarotto)
On the shores of Lake Garda, Italian chef Riccardo Camanini is bringing ancient Italian recipes – like cacio e pepe – into the modern day at his restaurant Lido 84.

A female pig's bladder is preferable to a male pig's bladder when cooking rigatoni cacio e pepe en vessie (cheese and pepper rigatoni pasta cooked inside a pig's bladder) – the signature dish of chef Riccardo Camanini. This is due to the "greater elasticity", Camanini explained. The use of a bladder as a cooking vessel means that the pasta is steamed rather than boiled, and is fully immersed in the other ingredients – the pecorino cheese, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil – while it's cooking. But it also means that the dish never tastes the same twice.

"The bladder is the constant imperfection," Camanini said. "Even if we just use female bladders, 35cm horizontal and 41cm vertical [the average size bladder Camanini uses], they're never the same. One might be deeper, or more elastic, or one may be six months older than another. The dish lives on that imperfection."

Before serving the cacio e pepe, the pasta-filled bladder is brought to the guest's table in a golden dish. It's then cut open from bottom to top to reveal the creamy rigatoni inside and send the scent of the pecorino wafting through the air.

One piece of rigatoni from each batch of pasta always goes back to the kitchen for Camanini to taste. "This is because it's always different," Camanini said. "And there's a joy in la repetition du geste (the repetition of a gesture). It's something which keeps the passion in an artisan job alive."

Camanini is the head chef and co-owner, along with his brother Giancarlo, of Lido 84. The restaurant opened in 2014 and earned a Michelin star six months later. As recently as July 2022, it was ranked the eighth best restaurant in the world on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list by a panel of culinary experts.

Lido 84 sits on an idyllic inlet on Lake Garda in Italy (Credit: Francesco Cancarini)

Lido 84 sits on an idyllic inlet on Lake Garda in Italy (Credit: Francesco Cancarini)

The restaurant sits on an idyllic inlet on Lake Garda, behind which lemon, olive, camphor and cypress trees layer into the mountains that steeply rise to the rugged peak of Monte Lavino. Lido 84's relaxed patio looks out over the lake, all the way to the region of Veneto. Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows treat guests to the same view.

Cacio e pepe is "one of the most traditional pastas from Rome", Camanini said. This was a key consideration when he was creating his version of the dish, and it's part of a wider trend in contemporary Italian cuisine that is taking Italian cuisine back to its roots. 

"There is a new generation of Italian chefs who want to bring their heritage to their cuisine, and Riccardo Camanini is part of that," said Eleanora Cozzella, author of Pasta Revolution and an academy chair at The World's 50 Best Restaurants. "Dry pasta has always been popular in Italy, but it wasn't used in haute cuisine until 12-15 years ago. It was something to feed the family – a poor ingredient. Now there is pride in it. There's a pasta revolution; a new knowledge of the history, of the production process and of different ways to cook it; in wine, tea or stock for example – or in a bladder."

The inspiration for Riccardo Camanini to cook the pasta in a pig's bladder originally came from Apicius, an ancient Roman text that includes the use of bladders in a variety of its (often essay-length) recipes. "That book influenced me a lot," Camanini said.

Lido 84 opened in 2014 and earned a Michelin star six months later (Credit: Francesco Cancarini)

Lido 84 opened in 2014 and earned a Michelin star six months later (Credit: Francesco Cancarini)

Cooking en vessie means that the chef's work is done not at the stove, but on the chopping board. Once the ingredients are in the bladder and it's on the boil it's out of Camanini's hands. "The end result is more pungent and acidic," said Cozzella.

Camanini first witnessed cooking en vessie while working with Jean Louis Nomicos, Alan Ducasse's right-hand man, in Paris in the '90s. "I had the chance to make, and taste, la volaille de Bresse en vessie," he said. "It's a French plate from the 18th Century. The chef put a chicken into a pig's bladder – with truffle, foie gras, le Madère (Madeira wine) and other ingredients."

"The idea was to recreate one of Italy's most iconic dishes – pasta."

With his cacio e pepe, Camanini wanted to pay homage to this technique, rooted in Italian heritage.

"So, the idea was to recreate one of Italy's most iconic dishes – pasta," he said. "As an Italian, I represent pasta, and so I saw a challenge in creating a recipe from what Mr Apicius wrote." Dry pasta wouldn't have existed when Apicius lived, Camanini added. "It was only after 1200 CE, when commerce started from Sicily, that it became necessary," he said. "But it was fun to imagine Apicius cooking this dish." 

The biggest difference between Camanini's cacio e pepe and la volaille de Bresse en vessie is the cost of the ingredients. Whereas the latter is an incredibly expensive dish, cacio e pepe is quite the opposite. It's a humble meal, with origins in the huts of shepherds outside Rome. Camanini has "brought a nobility to this traditional dish", said Cozzella, and crucially, a focus on the quality of those core ingredients.

Lido 84's pecorino cheese comes from the coastal plain of Maremma Laziale in the region of Lazio. Their grey salt comes from Guérande, in France's Pays de la Loire region. The black pepper is Sarawak, often considered among the finest in the world, from Borneo.

Camanini focuses on the quality of cacio e pepe's core ingredients such as pecorino (Credit: Sabinoparente/Getty Images)

Camanini focuses on the quality of cacio e pepe's core ingredients such as pecorino (Credit: Sabinoparente/Getty Images)

"Eating the cacio e pepe is like a story, or a poem," said Camanini. "We are touched by these artisan suppliers we meet and their passion, and our food becomes a story we want to share."

Camini does not believe that a signature dish defines a chef. "I love each of my sons equally," he said of the options on his menu. But in many ways, his cacio e pepe en vessie – simple yet complex, indulgent yet sophisticated and deeply artisanal – describes the story of his life-long relationship to food.

Camanini was born in Sovere, near the lush Lake Iseo, a lesser-visited lake two-hour's drive from Lake Garda. "We didn't have roots in gastronomy," said Camanini, "but we did have roots in agriculture."

From an early age, Camanini learned the importance of homegrown produce.

"Every year on 2 January, our family of 12-15 people would sit down to eat osso di maiale (pork bones)," he recalled. "Each family would have one or two pigs which would be killed at the start of November to produce salami, after the first nebbia (fog) of winter or autumn."

Chef Riccardo Camanini is bringing ancient Italian recipes into the modern day (Credit: Lido Vannucchi)

Chef Riccardo Camanini is bringing ancient Italian recipes into the modern day (Credit: Lido Vannucchi)

The rest of the pig was also put to use – Camanini's uncle and grandfather would salt the bones and preserve them for a month, later boiling and cooking them with the skin, tail, snout and ear of the pig. "I was the only cousin who would eat it, with potatoes and spinach," Camanini laughed. "But food was important to us as a family, particularly when we all came together."

By the age of 17, Camanini was working in the kitchen of the legendary Italian Gualtiero Marchesi, the first Italian chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, at his restaurant Albereta in Erbusco. "I discovered my passion there," he said. He would later further that passion under Jean Louis Nomicos, Ducasse's protégé, known for his elegant French cuisine in Paris, which he describes as "Hollywood for gastronomy". Camanini would only leave when he was offered the role of head chef at Villa Fiordaliso on Lake Garda at 24. He would spend almost two decades there before opening his own restaurant nearby.

Marialuisa Iannuzzi is a food critic and journalist at Identitá Golose, an Italian cuisine magazine well known for their annual International Chef Congress, which recently hosted Camanini as a speaker.

"There was this period of pure fermentation, when Camanini was studying books, and going to France for apprenticeships whenever he had time off, in the winter," Iannuzzi said. "When he opened Lido 84, that's when he really emerged. That's the moment when he started to put into practice everything he had learned – this mix of history and all of his own experiences and studies. When you see a dish by Camanini on the plate, it seems comprehensible – but when you taste it, it's often completely different from what you expect. The complexity is in the taste and in the technique."

Spaghettoni with butter and yeast (Credit: Amelie Vincent)

Spaghettoni with butter and yeast (Credit: Amelie Vincent)

For Giancarlo and Riccardo Camanini, opening a restaurant had been a long-term dream. "Then one day, in 2013, I received a call from a supplier in Gardone Riviera, who said Lido 84 was up for sale. I remembered the beauty of the place well," Camanini said. They opened on 21 March 2014.

"Every time you go to Lido 84, you'll get something different"

The eight years since have been a whirlwind of awards and acclaim. Ducasse described Camanini's spaghettoni with butter and yeast as the best pasta he'd ever tasted. His "84 hours and 11 minutes of Pastasciutta", pasta cooked for 84 hours but remaining al dente, is a revelation. "It's this focus on the ingredient, seeing the potential in a technique and always taking it to another level, that makes his cooking so interesting," said Iannuzzi. "Every time you go to Lido 84, you'll get something different."

His most famous dish remains the cacio e pepe en vessie, which has drawn international attention.

The dish harks back to his family traditions in Serone, draws on time spent in the kitchens of the world's best chefs in Paris, and was born from Roman heritage. At Lido 84, Riccardo Caminini is bringing pasta, and Italian cooking, into the era of modern cuisine.

Cacio e pepe en vessie is the signature dish of chef Riccardo Camanini (Credit: Giovanni Panarotto)

Cacio e pepe en vessie is the signature dish of chef Riccardo Camanini (Credit: Giovanni Panarotto)

Cacio e Pepe en Vessie (serves 4)
By Riccardo Camanini (Lido 84)

1 dehydrated pig's bladder
300g of rigatoni pasta (Camanini recommends using Felicetti, which won't disintegrate during the cooking process)
135g pecorino (aged black rind variety), grated
90g extra virgin olive oil
3g black pepper, freshly cracked
12g salt (Camanini uses Guérande)


  1. Soak the dehydrated pig's bladder in cold water for about 10 days, changing the water daily.
  2. When the bladder is adequately hydrated, insert the other ingredients into it using a funnel, then firmly secure the bladder opening with kitchen twine.
  3. Cook the stuffed bladder in a large pan of boiling water, being sure to keep it submerged and shaking it occasionally to mix the pasta inside. Cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Serve in front of guests by cutting open the bladder with a sharp knife and spooning the rigatoni onto plates.

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