Discovering the Meaning of an Italian Nursery Rhyme about a Cat, Cream and Cheese

Jeanne Klein wrote to me yesterday asking about the meaning of an Italian rhyme. While trying to answer Jeanne’s question, I thought it might be interesting to write about the process we go through when we work out the meaning of non-English rhymes. Italian rhymes can be particularly hard to decipher since there are so many Italian dialects.

Here’s what Jeanne wrote…

My ninety three year old mother is looking for an English translation for an old Italian rhyme said to babies (kind of like patty cake). Here’s what we have (probably misspelled)…

Mascha masilla,
Panna cazelle,
Panna ricotta,
Tofala botta!

Any thoughts?

Happy Thanksgiving

Jeanne Klein

I asked my colleague Monique of Mama Lisa’s World en français if she was familiar with this rhyme and here’s what she wrote…

It looks like this one I found on

Micio micello
Pane e cacello
Pizze e ricotte
Buffete botte!

So Mascha masilla would be Macia macilla = Micia micella = feminine for micio micello: micio is kid talk and means pussy cat, micello is a diminutive = pussy cat, little pussycat.

Panna cazelle may be pane e cacello = bread and cheese. But cacelle may be a dialectal form. Unless it’d mean panna e cacelle. Panna is milk cream, the type you get on top of the milk when you milk a cow then let the milk rest for a few hours. It’s delicious on top of a blueberry tart… and stays on your hips for months (at the least).

Panna ricotta: Panna = see above. Ricotta: I think you have ricotta cheese in the US, the word means “cooked twice”. So this panna ricotta may mean “cream cooked twice” – I’d chose this one – or panna e ricotta = cream and ricotta cheese. Otherwise, it might be pane e ricotta = bread and ricotta cheese.

Tofala botta = tofa la botta : tofa is dialectal form of standard tufa from the verb tufare that means to dive, to plunge, to dip. La botta may be a dialectal form of il botte that means a cask = “the cask dives” = “the cask sinks”.

This rhyme is sung while the kid is sitting on the adult’s lap and at the end, the adult spreads his/her knees and the kid “falls down” or “sinks”.

I can’t help more than that. Maybe an Italian person from the Regione this lady is from would know more.

Thanks for your help Monique!

I wonder if the last line could be reversed in English and changed to “Dive in the cask”. Meaning the cat is diving in the cask that the cream or cheese is being made in. That seems to make sense in the context.

So, putting that all together, you might get something like…

Macia macilla
Panna e cacelle
Panna ricotta
Tofa la botta!

Little Pussycat
Cream and Cheese
Cream and Ricotta
Dive in the cask!

If anyone can help out more with this rhyme, or can confirm the meaning in English, please comment below.



This article was posted on Friday, November 24th, 2006 at 12:43 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Italian, Italian Nursery Rhymes, Italy, Languages, Nursery Rhymes, Questions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Discovering the Meaning of an Italian Nursery Rhyme about a Cat, Cream and Cheese”

  1. margaret panarese Says:

    I am trying to find the Italian Nursery rhyme about a king that had two sons and also three feathers was mentioned…my husbands father, was from Naples..and use to sing this song to my children.thanks…M

  2. Linda Says:

    My grandmother did this rhyme on our cheeks. She would stroke our cheeks while reciting the first three lines.
    For us, it sounded like this:
    Mane e macilla
    pane e cacilla
    Cacille e ricotta,
    At the end we would puff our cheeks and she would “pop” the air out of our cheeks. She said something that sounded like “A-Puppa da botta”.
    Well, since she and my mom are gone, I’m glad I found your scholarly research, since I had no idea, other than bread and ricotta, what she was saying.

  3. Gordon Tickner Says:

    My grandmother was from Minori and she used to play the cat, cream and cheese song/game with us. However, the way she said the words are not like any of those I have seen. If I can eventually remember them I will send them. Probably have to spell them as they sounded though. There was also a finger game and I think it went (sort of) itsa bitsa burra burits. Una preg…. cant remember any more, sorry. Anyone know that one?

  4. Lisa Says:

    Cheryl wrote:

    I have been on line trying to find a song my Great Aunt Concetta used to sing to all of the children….she turns 91 this Saturday. As she got older she forgot the lyrics and we all improvised ….so my version just consisted of “sounds like”. No one in my family knew it and no other Italians I asked knew it either. Micio Miagolio is the song!!! Although I am sure she used Musce Muscelli….I used to sing it Moosha Mishella…..haha!

    Similar to your site’s mention my aunt’s family immigrated from Naples in the early 1900’s as well. My children now sing my version, which I plan on correcting pronto!

    This is a great site, thanks again, and Happy Thanksgiving too :)


  5. Lee Says:

    My grandmother also sang this rhyme to us as children (early 1900’s- she was from Foggia, Italy near Naples) My mother sang it to my kids and I sing it to my grand kids. My daughter has been asking for a translation….delighted to finally see something here. We all sang it as we heard it and it came out as:

    Moosha Mishella
    Panne cacill
    Panne ricotta
    Poof e la botta

    Sit child on your knees facing you, take his/her hands and rub your cheeks and sing, then for last line, puff out your cheeks and take both his hands and botta (wham). We all loved that rhyme. So glad to find some info about it here. Thanks

  6. Rosemary Says:

    This sounds like a rhyme my father-in-law, who was from Abruzzi, would say to my sons as babies. But his was about a kitten that ate bread and milk and pear.
    As he slowly said the first three lines he would stroke their cheeks and on the last line he would pat their cheeks excitedly and rapidly.
    It went like this, with translation:

    Mangiato (What did you eat?)
    Pane e latte (Bread and milk)
    Ieri sera (Last night?)
    Pane e pera (Bread and pear)
    Micio, micio, micio, micio, micio! (Kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!)

  7. Darlene Says:

    This is similar to a game my father used to play with me when I was a child. I’m second generation Italian American. My grandparents also came from Abruzzi region. Now, I was never sure about the pronounciation and I have NO idea of the spelling. But I will spell these out phonetically as I heard them as a child.
    My father would play this with me when he had a bit of a beard, five o’clock shadow sort of thing.
    As he would say the rhyme, I would say it along with him and rub both my hands on Daddy’s beard.

    Mushat, Mushat,
    Comenyata sera,
    Puny pate,
    Puny pate,
    Mush, mush mush

    At the last line of mush, mush, mush, Daddy would rub his beard on my face. I was told that it meant roughly
    Mush cat, mush cat
    What’ll you have for supper
    Bread and peppers
    Bread and peppers
    Mush, mush mush.

    Only we pronounced it MOOSH and not MUSH. I know gatto is cat in italian. So I don’t know if I heard it wrong all those years or not. ANyone ever hear of this one?

  8. Tony Says:

    I accidentally came across this link when I saw this Italian rhyme discussion, which has been a discussion in our family and probably others for many years! My Grandparents on my Mom’s side were from Celenza Valforte, Foggia, Italy. I vaguely remember my grandma singing this rhyme in Italian, in which we would be asked to puff out our cheeks. Grandma would gently and lightly stroke both our cheeks. Then on the fourth line, she would tap both cheeks quickly which let the air out of our cheeks. I had no idea what she was saying, but, I absolutely loved it!
    My Mom used this same Italian rhyme on my daughter when she was a baby. I thought it might be too simple a rhyme for the newer generation so I was curious to see my daughter’s reaction to this simple rhyme. My Mom asked my daughter to puff out her cheeks, and then Mom lightly and gently would stroke both cheeks, which for a baby was rather soothing. But, on the fourth line My Mom would tap both cheeks and BAM!!! My Mom would emphasize the last line, something like “Poof Poof Poof a la botta”…..Let me tell you, my daughter ABSOLUTELY loved this! In fact, she would ask my Mom Over and Over and Over again to do this again. To see my daughter’s wonderful reaction to such a simple rhyme was Priceless!!! I guess it has something to do with the surprise element of the fourth line and/or the yet unknown Italian language, who knows. I only know it worked many times for all the little ones. I would think this simple Italian rhyme would be a hit with babies of all different ethnic backgrounds. FOR THIS REASON, I ASK THAT YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE PLEASE PROVIDE ME WITH THE ITALIAN WORDS (AND POSSIBLE MEANING) TO THIS ITALIAN RHYME.
    I know the Italian rhyme I’m referring to has to do with BREAD (pane). I remember being told it had something to do with making the bread, rolling the bread, baking the bread, and tapping the bread.
    The closest I’ve see to the rhyme I remember was from….” Lee -My grandmother also sang this rhyme to us as children (early 1900’s- she was from Foggia, Italy near Naples) My mother sang it to my kids and I sing it to my grand kids. My daughter has been asking for a translation….delighted to finally see something here. We all sang it as we heard it and it came out as:

    Moosha Missile
    Panne cavil
    Panne ricotta
    Poof e la botta

    Sit child on your knees facing you, take his/her hands and rub your cheeks and sing, then for last line, puff out your cheeks and take both his hands and botta (wham). We all loved that rhyme. So glad to find some info about it here”.
    Or. “Jeanne….Mascha masilla,
    Panna cazelle,
    Panna ricotta,
    Tofala botta

    Thank You Very Much…Ciao!…Tony

  9. Dave Says:

    My Grandmother also sang this song to us. She was form Campobasso. My version was: Moosha Masha, panna casha, panna ricotta, tofala botta, tofala botta

    I sang it to my girls and they sing it to their kids so I guess it keeps getting passed along……….

  10. Mike Says:

    I saw your web site and saw the Italian game my dad played with us. The “panne cazelle . . .” My wife has a similar game with words like: weeshe weesh, bocca da beesh, bocca da rhue, ta tina la goo. played on the child’s cheeks facing her. and at the end would gently pat the cheeks. I could not find a translation like the one posted for the ” panne” game. Can you help?

  11. Marie Says:

    I have been looking and looking for this little rhyme also. Finally! Thank you so much. It is a cherished part of my childhood and we still sing it to this day to little ones in our family.

  12. Linda Davirro Says:

    My gramma from Campodipietra in Campobasso sang the rhyme to us with our cheeks puffed up and . The endings were cut off so it made it hard to translate. My last living aunt always thought it had something to do with a cat and was a nonsense rhyme, though! It’s great to see so many interpretations. It’s something we want to keep passing on to the next generations.

    My gramma sang it to my ears (phonetic version) and my guess

    Moosha mashale, —heap up the mush
    Pane cashale, ——-bread and salt?
    Pane ricott, ——–bread and cheese
    To fa la bot. ——-I always thought the last line was Tutto la boc(ca) – all in the mouth

  13. Rosilyn Parrish Says:

    My father would pinch my cheek and this is what I heard. Spelling as it sounded
    Pa chicka Pa Pa
    If someone can help me I would love to be able to tell my two other sisters just what my father was saying. He has since passed and I have always wondered. His family was Calabrese.

  14. Susan Pugliese Says:

    Is anyone familiar with this Italian ditty? I’m looking for the real Italian words as I am going by ear. My grandfather from Montecalvo would recite this ditty while holding my hands, then stroking my cheeks, then his, and back and forth then at the end gently tap my cheeks with my hands, saying what sounded like “Boosha la, Boosha la Boosha la!”

    My father believes the rhyme and meaning was: (spelling uncertain)

    Mooshi, mooshu – Pussy Cat, pussy cat
    Hai detto, il gatto – said the cat
    Dove anda – Where have you been
    A casa briogole – The house of the boss
    Che ti da – What did he give you?
    Pane e gaz – Bread and cheese
    Boosha la, Boosha la Boosha la! – Go back there, go back there, go back there!

  15. Emma McNaughton Says:

    I’m so glad to find this thread! My dad used to sing this to my brother and I when we were little, and now sings it to my one year old, who loves it. Dad is Italian, originally from Rofrano, Campania and came to Australia when he was three, therefore his recollection of the correct lyrics may be impaired (not to mention that the Rofranese dialect is pretty obscure), but this is more or less how we sing it…

    Miccio Micello,
    Tu e la stato?
    Tu e la casa,
    Chi te dato?
    Pane casa,

    This was sung with dad facing me, taking my wrists in his hands and using them to stroke his cheeks and mine in alternate turns. The shikka, shikka, shikka at the end accompanied ‘surprise’ tickles (as Miccio Micello runs away with the food he stole from the house!).

    It’s so interesting to read other interpretations of this nursey rhyme- I appreciate everyone’s input!

  16. Briana Marino Says:

    I just came across this site and I have been trying to learn the meaning of a similar nursery rhyme my grandfather used to sing to me in Italian. I feel like something got lost in translation when he used to sing it to me. Does any of this make sense.

    He’d take my hands in his and first rub my face then rub his face line by line the last line he would slap my face over and over with my hands. (not hard of course)

    Moosha machille,
    yati yati yeal
    amoosha machille
    and a bellish kafoni a bellish kafoni

    I tried to spell phonetically because I do not speak italian. So I don’t even know if anything I just typed makes any sense or means anything.

  17. Elisha (Basta) Orton Says:

    My grandfather did the nursery rhyme like this:
    Mooshimi Oow, Che pane, Che ricotta, Che ok Bella Bella Botta!

    He would hold us on his lap and close to his face and tickle our face with his “whiskers”.

  18. Alyssa Says:

    Third generation Italian American here. My grandma (whose parents immigrated from Italy, Calabria and Naples) would sing this to us and would “pop” our blown up cheeks at the end. I’ve been scouring the internet to find it ever since she passed away. So happy I finally did! Can’t wait to share with my family:)

  19. Judy Carrozzo Says:

    I remember it as “muciot, panelot, kimonese, yedicet, friske, friske, friske
    I was told it was “ little kitty, what did you eat? Bread, milk? ?? No, I ate fish, fish,fish”
    Anyone have any idea on this?

  20. Michelle Says:

    My Grandma would say a variation of this nursery rhyme (family from Campobassa, Molise region.) I’ve been trying to figure out the wording. We would travel to visit my Grandparents and Grandma would hold our hands in hers and recite as she brushed our cheeks, the last line would be pats.

    I think the first and last lines below are correct, I’m unclear of the middle section. In my own home my parents were unable to recall the verses in Italian and would insert nonsense rhyming words to play the game. My non-Italian mom would insert words like “rigatoni macaroni” and my Italian father who didn’t speak the language but had an abundance of the slang of the time, would say things like “Joey Jimbroni”. I wish I could hear my Grandma say this authentically one more time!

    Also, with my name being Michelle my parents misunderstood the first line to be calling my name. When my siblings came along they were surprised the rhyme was still recited with “Michella” :)

    Micio micello
    Pane e cacello
    Pizze e ricotte
    Buffete botte!
    Micio Micio Micio Micio Micio

  21. sandra perez Says:

    So happy to see this site. My Nonna and Zie would sit us on their lap facing them and say while stroking our cheeks softly with two hands:

    Buscia, buscia pane
    Buscia Buscia pane

    Then as you were calm and soothed:

    They would pinch our cheeks over and over with gusto and say:

    Pickety Pickety pane,
    Pickety Pickety pane

    We know it has to do with bread, but nothing else. Of course, we would laugh hysterically when the pinching the cheeks part came even when we knew it was coming..

    My Nonna came from a town near Salerno and my Nonno came from Calabria. If anyone knows the meaning of these words, and proper spelling which is probably in dialect, I would greatly appreciate it. Love this site!!

    Sandra Iamarino Perez

  22. Xavier Says:

    Love all of these comments. I was wondering if anyone had heard of this version:

    Moushi Moushe

    Gati gate



    Cushi cushi cushi cushi

    My grandfather’s father (1st gen immigrant) brought this over to the US with him from near Naples. All the spellings are phonetic as I remember them. Is it just different ways to say cats? They would end by tickling your face or back. Depends on the variation hahaha.

  23. john picone Says:

    My Grandma was from S. Elia a Pianisi, and she would sit us on her lap, take our hands, and sing something very close to all these. I think it was something like this: she’d take our hands and gently pat our cheeks with our hands and we’d already be giggling:

    then I think she’d pat our cheeks harder and faster, bounce us on her knee and say
    “zupp’ la zupp’ la zupp’la zupp’la…”

    we’d always say “Do it again! ” I never asked her what it meant, but I always thought it was about making soup? with cheese? Someone told me oce that “Zuppa la botta!” meant a smack to the face, but i don’t know… I miss granma and those old days in New York

  24. Aldal Says:

    My grandma from Abruzzo would sing this song to me when I was little while stroking my cheeks. Phonetically, it sounded like:

    Pan e latte
    Quisa mangiare sera
    Mooshi mooshi mooshi mooshi

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