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Columbus Crowns First Pesto Champion, Who Will Represent City In Italy

Columbus Italian Festival held the inaugural Columbus Pesto Championship on Sunday.
Courtesy of Sameen Dadfar
Columbus Italian Festival held the inaugural Columbus Pesto Championship on Sunday.

The city of Columbus has its first pesto king.

Greater Columbus Sisters Cities International, with the Columbus Italian Festival, hosted the inaugural Columbus Pesto Championship on Sunday and Marcello Canova, an Ohio State professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was chosen from 10 local finalists as the city's premiere pesto maker.   

Sameen Dadfar, program manager of Greater Columbus Sisters Cities International, said the idea sprung up during a trip to Genoa, Italy, Columbus's first sister city and the birthplace of pesto.

"We were like, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could bring over this pesto competition?' and they were like, 'Sure, let's do it, let's create a regional one,'" Dadfar says.

The association opened the application to anyone in the region, interviewed candidates and chose 10 contestants. Two judges came all the way from Genoa, including Roberto Paniza, the founder of the Pesto World Championship. All the contestants had to make their pesto with a mortar and pestle.

Canova, an Italian man who came to the U.S. in 2004, says that restriction on the competition didn't cramp his pesto-making flair.

"Using the traditional mortar and pestle is obviously more complicated, it requires more labor and more time, but the final result and the flavors that come out of it, beat the blender made pesto any day," Canova says.

Another restriction: Each contestant had to use the same seven ingredients, no more, no less.

"We actually noticed that there are so many differences, despite the fact we used the same exact ingredients, we used the same tools and we had the same amount of time," Canova says. "Very small differences in the portion of the garlic, the salt, the cheese, they make a huge difference when it all comes together."

In March, Canova will head back to his native Italy to represent Columbus in a world pesto competition next March. Meanwhile, he'll be making lots of the sauce here at home.

"I'll definitely continue to practice at home," Canova says. "I have a mortar and a pestle that a very good friend of mine from Genoa shipped via UPS. I grow my own basil and I often make it myself, so I guess I will just intensify my training as the competition approaches."

With ingredients from Columbus and tools from Genoa, he may just take the world title.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.