Imagine walking in the heart of the old city of Prato, Tuscany, hearing the bells singing and the smell of freshly baked biscuits from the shop. Right at the back, since 1858, Antonio Mattei opened up the historical bakery that is now run by the third generation of his family.
With his hands kneading and mixing water, flour and eggs he came up with a recipe of his own invention that was bound to become Prato’s traditional biscuit.
His original recipe was awarded a prize at the Exhibitions in Florence (1861), London (1862) and Paris (1867) and it is still kept as a secret of the Pandolfini family, which inherited the old bakery in 1908. Nowadays the four siblings of the family carry on the tradition of the biscuits, proudly spreading their town’s image and flavour throughout not only Italy but the world.
With time, they also opened another biscuit factory called Deseo, in a small laboratory for experimentation. Combining ingredients and finding new textures, they conceived the new cantuccini and other specialities. Committed to high quality and creativity of Antonio, they offer the traditional product in new packaging with a modern touch.
But what is so special about his biscuits?
Writing down his recipes on a small notebook that has been passed over generations, the ingredients itself seemed basic, the recipes so easy …but there was a whole concept hidden behind those few lines.
What makes the recipe unique is the secret ingredient, nowadays still a legend, combined with passion and hard work. Devoting time and constantly striving to improve, refining the recipe to find the perfect combination and balance between all the elements.
Not only was Antonio an artist, creating a new product, but he was also ahead of his time, understanding the market and making his biscuits forever recognisable with its shape and taste. Since then, no Sunday or holiday was celebrated without the blue-papered cantuccini at home, becoming the mainstay of Italian culinary culture.
If you visit a Tuscan family, it is very likely that in the kitchen cabinet there is a glass bottle filled with an amber coloured liquid and a jar with long biscuits inside: Cantucci e Vin Santo.
These two goodies are not only Tuscany’s most famous sweet ends after a meal but also a very traditional custom to welcome guests or celebrate special events.
Biscotto comes from the Latin ‘biscotus’ which means double baked. When preparing these delicacies, the dough in the form of big sausages is baked, then the biscuits are cut and baked again. The result is a hard, crunchy and very tasty sweet treat called also “mattonella” (brick).
Since most people consider them too hard, they are commonly dipped into a small glass of Vin Santo.
Vin Santo means holy wine and is a symbol of Tuscan hospitality. It is usually produced from the typical Tuscan grape varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia; when the grapes are ready, they are pressed and the juice, high in sugar level, is fermented without the skins and left to age in small barrels for a few years (note that using old barrels gives the wine unique perfumes from the previous production). The result is a sweet wine with a warm amber colour and smooth flavour, despite its alcoholic strength (16-17%).
Why is it called holy?
Many legends have been invented over the years, these are the three most significant ones. According to the first legend, during the period of the Black Death, a monk in Siena distributed this wine to the sick, helping them to miraculously heal. Second legend says that during the Oecumenical council in Florence in 1449, the patriarch of the Greek-Orthodox Church, after drinking wine during a break throughout the mass, exclaimed ‘This is the wine of Xanthos!’ Even though he was probably referring to a sweet Greek wine from Thrace. The last interpretation, perhaps the most belieavable, refers the adjective ‘Santo’ to the fact that the preparation of the wine takes place around the time of the holy week before Christmas.
If you visit Tuscany, you can also try some rebellious combinations like Vin Santo dipped in your coffee, as a spoon for your Cappuccino foam or with wine, but don’t expect a proper tuscan to not comment or look at you suspiciously.
For more visit ---> www.antoniomattei.com