Pesto 4 Rules: How To Serve & Eat Pesto Best

Pesto etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat pesto. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look impolite or unsophisticated.

Who is pesto etiquette for?

If you are hosting, learn how to choose or prepare the best pesto and to serve it to your guests, including the appropriate presentation and pairings. 

As a guest, understand what pesto is and the correct manners to enjoy it best. 

Pesto etiquette micro-class

1) How to buy the best pesto

Learn the key principles to buy the best pesto for you and your guests.

What you should know about pesto

Pesto is a sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It is traditionally made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Today, many variations exist. Traditional pesto has a bright green color and a smooth, creamy texture. It has a slightly sweet and slightly bitter taste, with a tangy finish.

Season and availability 

Pesto is generally available year-round. The best season to buy pesto is during the summer months when fresh basil is in season.

Types of pesto & how to choose the best

Pesto can be found in several forms in commerce, including fresh, canned, and frozen. Fresh pesto is the most flavorful but has a short shelf life.

The most popular varieties of pesto are traditional basil pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, and pesto with added ingredients like spinach or garlic. Traditional basil pesto is the most prized and widely used variety.

To buy the best pesto, look for a bright green color and a smooth, creamy consistency. The pesto should have a fresh aroma and a balanced flavor of basil, garlic, and cheese. Avoid pesto with a brownish color, as it may indicate that it is old or has been exposed to too much air.

Alternatives to pesto

The most common alternatives to pesto are olive tapenade, sun-dried tomato spread, and hummus. These spreads have a similar texture and can be used as a replacement for pesto in recipes.

Additionally, you can make your own pesto alternative by blending together ingredients like fresh herbs, nuts, and cheese.

2) How to serve pesto

Learn the most appropriate ways to store, prepare, cook, serve, and present pesto. Don’t forget that pesto may not be suitable for your guests’ dietary restrictions.

How to store pesto

Store fresh pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Pesto can last for up to a week in the refrigerator, up to 6 months in the freezer, and up to 2-3 days in the pantry.

After opening, store canned pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Cooked pesto can last for up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator, and up to 3 months in the freezer.

Pesto that has turned bad has a sour or rancid smell and may have mold growing on it. If you see or smell any of these signs, discard it immediately.

How to prepare & cook pesto

Pesto can be eaten both raw and cooked. To prepare pesto for cooking, simply add it to your dish during the last few minutes of cooking.

It can be used in many dishes. Some of the most popular dishes include pasta, pizza, and chicken. Pesto is also appropriate in salads and as a dip for vegetables.

How to serve & present pesto

Serve pesto at room temperature or slightly chilled. Present it in a small bowl with a small spoon or knife for spreading.

Pesto is appropriate for both formal and informal meals. It can be served as a side dish or appetizer, or in a main course. It is uncommon for breakfast or as a snack.

Calories, diets, allergies

Pesto is usually not suitable for vegans and vegetarians, as it often contains Parmesan cheese which is made with animal rennet. Similarly, it may not be ideal for paleo diets as it contains cheese.

People with nut allergies should avoid pesto, as it contains pine nuts. No religious dietary restrictions forbid eating pesto.

The calories of pesto vary depending on the recipe. On average, one tablespoon of pesto contains around 80 calories.

3) How to eat pesto

Learn the key etiquette principles to eat and enjoy pesto.

Food and wine pairings: what goes well with pesto

Pesto is popular as a pasta sauce. The best aromas to pair pesto with are lemon, black pepper, and garlic.

It pairs well with vegetables, such as tomatoes, arugula, and bell peppers.

The best cheese pairings with pesto are Parmesan, Pecorino, and Ricotta. As for dairy, pesto is popular with mozzarella or burrata. Avoid pairing pesto with strong or pungent cheeses like blue cheese, as it can overpower the flavor of the pesto.

For meat, the best pairings are chicken, beef, and pork. For fish, you can pair pesto with salmon, shrimp, and tuna. Avoid pairing pesto with strongly flavored meats like lamb or game.

Pesto pairs best with light-bodied red and white wines.

Red wine: Chianti, Pinot Noir, or Barbera. White wine: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. Rosé wine and sparkling wine also pair well with pesto.

Avoid dessert wines and spirits.

The appropriate manners to eat pesto

The most polite etiquette to eat pesto is to use a spoon or knife. Spread it on a piece of bread or a cracker and eat it in small portions.

4) Pesto etiquette don’ts: the worst mistakes

Learn the etiquette mistakes that risk embarrassing you or your guests.

Mistakes to avoid when serving pesto

Avoid presenting pesto in its jar or commercial packaging. Instead, present it in a small bowl.

Do not serve pesto warm. It is best chilled or at room temperature.

Avoid pairing it with strong flavors that may overpower its aroma. Do not use a lot of pesto in a dish unless you are sure that all your guests enjoy its flavor.

Mistakes to avoid when eating pesto

The worst etiquette mistake when eating pesto is double-dipping. It is rude to dip a used utensil back into the pesto, so make sure to use a clean utensil every time.

It is also impolite to overload your plate with pesto.

Additional resources & links