September 25, 2023
‘Folks thought I used to be loopy:’ The Sicilian man upending panettone custom

(CNN) — When pondering of Sicily, it is easy to think about white sandy seashores, timeless structure and a bunch of delicacies like arancini, caponata and cannoli. However panettone wouldn’t be among the many first issues to come back to thoughts.

The favored Christmas cake is historically baked within the north of Italy, notably within the metropolis of Milan, the place it was invented. That is virtually 1,000 miles — the size of the entire nation — from Palermo, Sicily’s major metropolis. However not removed from Palermo, Nicola Fiasconaro is upending panettone custom — and exporting his upstart creation all around the world.

It began in Castelbuono, a tiny village framed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Madonie, certainly one of Sicily’s highest mountain ranges. Right here, the Fiasconaro household has lengthy owned an ice cream store and bar within the city’s major sq., and within the late Nineteen Eighties, Nicola was a younger pastry chef with a penchant for innovation: “My father used to purchase 2,000 industrially made panettones from the north, to promote in our bar in the course of the holidays, however I challenged him to make our personal,” he says.

In a land the place custom is paramount, it was a daring concept: “No person was making panettone in Sicily. Folks thought I used to be loopy. They requested me ‘Nicola, why do not you make cassata, cannoli, pignolate?’ that are the standard recipes which have at all times distinguished Sicily. However I assumed that panettone shouldn’t solely come from Milan, Piedmont or Veneto, the place that type of baking faculty was born.”

Thus the very first Fiasconaro panettone got here to be. It was known as “Mannetto,” as a result of it contained manna — a candy resin extracted from ash bushes, which acts as a pure sweetener: “Northern tradition, however Southern elements,” explains Fiasconaro. “The second yr I began placing native hazelnuts in it. To start with, after I introduced my panettone to Milan or Verona, it was laborious to speak about my native elements, however after simply a short while, one or two years, they began to love it.”


Fiasconaro makes use of domestically sourced elements, similar to almonds and hazelnuts.


A worldwide export

The massive break got here in 1995, when Fiasconaro attended a commerce meals occasion in New York, the Fancy Meals Present: “We weren’t even well-known in Sicily but, and I used to be a visitor at one other firm’s sales space,” he says. “I introduced two or three panettones and a small catalog. One purchaser stopped by and tried it — after which instantly ordered a container filled with it — 7,000 panettones value.”

The container arrived a couple of weeks later and Fiasconaro’s panettone began being offered in about 30 outlets round New Jersey and New York. From that preliminary cargo, the corporate has since exported to 65 nations, with the US, Canada, Australia and European nations main gross sales: “Panettone sells higher the place Italian tradition has discovered a house overseas,” Fiasconaro explains, “however we at the moment are increasing to nations like India and new areas just like the Center East.”

Through the years, Fiasconaro’s artisanal cake has additional embraced its Sicilian roots with the addition of native pistachios, oranges and almonds, in addition to conventional candy wines zibibbo and marsala. At the moment, about 30% of Fiasconaro’s panettones are offered overseas, from a manufacturing that peaks at round 18,000 kilograms (about 40,000 lbs) a day in excessive season, and can attain 1.7 million kilograms (3.7 million lbs) this yr, the equal of about 2 million panettones.


Mario and Nicola Fiasconaro are aided by a workforce of 220 pastry cooks.


Fiasconaro acknowledges that these numbers counsel an industrially made product, however he is adamant that every part remains to be firmly within the artisanal realm: “It is all made by hand, by 220 pastry cooks, all the way in which right down to packaging — it is like jewellery, however in pastry,” he says.

Meaning it takes longer to make; an industrial panettone, based on Fiasconaro, will be produced as little as 12 hours, whereas his can take as much as three days. It largely has to do with the absence of yeast, and the reliance on sourdough as a substitute, which requires a protracted fermentation: “This is similar methodology utilized by nice pastry cooks up to now — I did not actually invent something,” he says.

Match for a Pope

At the moment, Fiasconaro has panettone for all tastes, together with some off-kilter recipes with cherry jam and pink chocolate. It has additionally partnered with Dolce & Gabbana, the famend style designers who additionally hail from Sicily, for a particular line of panettones in collectible tin packing containers.
The corporate says it has despatched the candy bread to a few completely different Popes, a handful of heads of state and even astronauts: a number of panettone-based Fiasconaro confectionery was aboard an October 2007 House Shuttle Discovery mission, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli loved them whereas in orbit.

Fiasconaro’s store in Castelbuono opened in 1953.


Through the years, the cake has amassed recognition and awards, however maybe the very best indication of its high quality is how the Milanese have embraced it: “At the moment we promote extra panettone in Milan, the house of panettone, than in Palermo,” Fiasconaro reveals. The person himself was named Knight of Labor — a state honor for distinguished entrepreneurs — in 2020 by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, for his contributions to the native economic system.

“Sicilian panettone exists, and it is turning into a logo of ‘Made in Italy’ on the earth,” says Fiasconaro.

“It makes us proud and exhibits that the export system within the south of Italy is beginning to bear fruits — we could not be happier about it.”

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