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  • Writer's pictureJane Griffin

Panettone and other Italian Holiday Traditions

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Like many traditions, the origin of Panettone is debated. Probably the best known story is that Panettone came to be due to a baking mistake. According to a document from the year 1495, at the court of the Sforza family, the rulers in Milan, the head chef asked his assistant, Toni, to keep an eye on the dessert that was baking in the oven. Toni, who could not resist the idea of taking a nap, accidently burned the dessert. Instead of despairing, Toni improvised with some of the leftover dough by adding candied fruit and raisins. When Ludovico il Moro tasted the dessert, he was so enthusiastic about it that he renamed it "pan del Toni" in honor of its young creator. Over time, this delicious dessert became known across all of Italy and its name gradually transformed into Italian's beloved "panettone".

Panettone is a staple of Italian holidays, and has been gaining traction in other parts of the world too. Just go to your local gourmet grocer or Trader Joe's and you can find panettone during the holiday season.

And, while panettone is good, another Italian (and our family's) favorite is Pandoro. Indeed, it is the eternal rival of Panettone. Pandoro, which means the bread of gold, is star-shaped, covered with confectioners’ sugar, with a soft and compact dough, it has a smooth consistency, and a full and velvety taste. Its origins are found around the same time as Panettone, in the 1500s, but in the magnificent court of Venice. At that time, it was common for Venetian chefs to dust their creations with gold dust of thin sheets of gold leaf for their wealthy clients to serve at their lavish banquets. It was in the late 1800s that pastry chef Domenico Melegatti from the city of Verona received a 3-year license from the Kingdom of Italy to produce pandoro. He was the first to transform this golden leavened cake into a delicious Christmas dessert. Since then, Christmas has never been the same. Melegatti trademarked his version (without real gold!) and now, Pandoro's undisputed origin is the city of Verona. Read more about Melegatti here.

For other holiday treats, check out our recipe section, Ricciarelli and Salame Dolce are always a part of our holidays!

While these dessert traditions are truly rooted in Italian culinary history, other traditions are often altered or origins obscured. This is the case of the Feast of Seven Fishes, which supposedly is a tradition in Italy, especially southern Italy. A few years ago, the New York Times reported on this long-standing Italian tradition, but, ironically, if you ask Italians many have never heard of it! While it is a tradition to serve fish on Christmas Eve, it seems the tradition of Seven Fishes actually evolved by Italian who emigrated to the United States, and that is where the tradition took hold. One Italian culinary journalist explained it by stating "The Feast of the Seven Fishes" is the fruit of the crossing of many local Italian traditions that, in Italy, never crossed. And, as it turns out these local traditions ultimately crossed and blended in the many Little Italy communities in the U.S.

Nonetheless the origins of the traditions, the holiday season is truly a time to celebrate family traditions, so, from our family to yours, we wish you an enjoyable, tradition-filled holiday!

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