The Mombaruzzo Macaroon has a centuries-long history, that dates back in the Eighteenth century and arrives to our days with the new handcrafting laboratory of the Berta family.
It was the last decade of the Eighteenth century when Moriondo Francesco from Mombaruzzo, economist of the Savoia house, takes fancy of a beautiful woman of Sicilian origin, pastry chef at the royal house. Amongst her recipes, the best is the one concerning an almond cake. Both of them retired to Mombaruzzo and Moriondo Francesco opened a small laboratory where he produced and sold this cake, after having introduced into the recipe a small percentage of bitter almonds, the Armellines, extracted from the apricot's kernel. This slightly bitter note is the one that will characterize the name: Amaretto (the Macaroon). The success and the awards arrived very soon; he won, in fact, the gold medal at the exhibitions of Naples 1882, Milano and Torino 1884, Rome 1887 and 1895. The heirs, Carlo and Virginio, will continue the tradition up to the present days. For better knowing the history of this delectable specialty, it is hereinafter reported the interview realized by the “Palazzo del Gusto” museum of Nizza Monferrato to Mrs. Ada Pessini, the Lady of the amaretto of 2010.
It was Paolina Berta, the grandmother of Gianfranco and Enrico Berta, who had for the first time the idea of accompanying the Macaroons with distilled products. An intuition that had a significant success and revealed itself as a cutting edge point. As an heir and pursuer of the traditions, in 2011, the Berta distillery decides to create a pastry activity inside its structure, introducing itself harmonically in the delightful hill landscape.
It was then decided to renovate the antique tradition of the Macaroons with the grappa, newly processing the historical recipe that requires the use of sugar of uppermost quality, sweet and bitter almonds, albumen of egg and renowned distilled products. That’s how a new cake with a golden look, perfumed and soft to the touch, was born. The addition in the dough of some drops of distilled products, made by Berta, makes the Mombaruzzo Macaroon even more fragrant, more delicate, at a point that makes the rich perfume of the scent of the grapes just pressed emerge. All along lover of the challenges, the Berta family decided in 2011 to expand the production of Macaroons through the acquisition of Moriondo Carlo, an historical trademark in the field of the Macaroons production.
Inside the historical headquarter of Via Saracco 7, since more than a century, typical delicacies are selected and masters of the taste strive to reproduce the ancient recipes of the tradition, that are passed down from generation to generation and jealously safeguarded. In addition to the production of typical cakes, such as the Macaroons, and the grappa, there are also other products made with hazelnut, coffee, candy fruit, hazelnut cakes, tarts, dry pastry, included the so-called “baci di dama”, the “brutti e buoni”, the caramelized hazelnuts and almonds ; all of these are made with excellent ingredients, carefully selected, without preservatives and added flavors, as the genuineness of the dough imposes. Among the novelties figures the traditional ice-cream, made with seasoning fresh fruit, milk, eggs, chocolate and hig quality raw materials.
Mrs . Ada, could you briefly tell us the history of the Moriondo family?
«My grandfather Giacinto had ten sons, among which Carlo, Virginio and my mother Giuseppina. At the time, once the factory of my grandfather Giacinto was up there, in Via Maestra (main street) in Mombaruzzo, Via Saracco (Saracco street) was a country road. Then the street has been renovated, and my grandfather bought this small house where there is even today the shop, in the most important street of Mombaruzzo.
After the honeymoon in 1906, uncle Carlo has been devoted to the production of the macaroons and founded the Moriondo Carlo firm.
Afterwards, also my uncle Virginio got married, and bought the bakery on the side of the shop, starting the production of Macaroons. This was the beginning of the two separated laboratories, Carlo and Virginio Moriondo.»
You have passed all of your life among these cakes, the Macaroons, that have almonds as an ingredient, which is unusual in Piedmont cakes...
«The recipe arrived from one of my ancestor, a cook at the royal residence of La Mandria, where my ancestor was Economist. She was Sicilian and made a cake with almonds, in the pastry only the sweet ones were used, while she added in small doses also the bitter ones that provided that touch of... bitterness. When my ancestors moved to Mombaruzzo, they continued to produce this pastry with small and bitter almonds. The local population after having tried them, said in Piedmont dialect: “Oh, i son bon …i son un poc amaret” that is “Oh, they taste good, they are... a bit bitter” and it's here that the name originated.»
Mrs . Ada, how we arrive to the Macaroon ready and packaged?
«Once upon a time, almonds were crushed within a mortar, what an effort! Then we bought a machine where the almonds are passed, crumbled and put in the pastry mixer with sugar and albumen. In a similar way as for "gnocchi", from the pastry roll we cut pieces equal in length which are then rolled in the icing sugar: we obtain a small ball that is put in the oven.»
And after cooking are they enveloped in the wax paper?
«Yes, as for candies, it is all hand-made. Then they are packaged: my grandfather Even Giacinto and my uncle Carlo used very beautiful boxes.»
Which was your experience with the Milan store?
«I started working in Milan when I was not yet eighteen years old and I had been staying there for twenty years... now I am 86! The store was close to Piazza del Duomo. I usually went there after the all Saint’s day, I stayed there all the winter long and then I returned home in May. In Mombaruzzo the work developed mostly during the summer, with the exhibitions and festivals, and my parents produced also the Torrone sweet. During the festivals they always had a stand for sweets. I was forced to remain at home. For many years we also participated to the Milan exhibition... it was very important then, maybe it still is...»
And was the market of Milan important?
«Yes, in Milan we were making a good job and good sales with the Macaroons. However, we have immediately understood that we needed to produce other cakes, even if the Macaroons never lacked.»
Has it been difficult to keep the secrecy of the recipe?
«Oh yes, people are curious, and a man studied it very well. We had been sending the Macaroons in Paris for some years, and one day this man told us that at the custom border they wanted all the ingredients with the precise doses... and we responded “Really? Then the Macaroons will no longer be sent to France!”. Then, we understood that this guy had his own laboratory and already produced the biscuits... and wanted also the recipe for making the Macaroons! It was only an excuse! Whenever anyone asked us to write down our recipe, then my brother responded that he was not able to write!»
In addition to the retail selling, your stores had also agents that kept commercial contracts or, instead, you personally performed that activity as well?
«We had some personnel, agents, who helped us, but not many; it was necessary to know my brother’s ideas on some things and we didn’t need to enlarge the market. Sometimes when people called us for the supplying orders of a certain amount, I asked my brother “Mario, what are you saying?” and he responded “No, woe woe!”... there could be an issue with the quality of Macaroons! Hence, some clients in the wholesale were good, but he always said “I do only what I can do”. »
Did you use some form of advertising?
«No, our selling method was a word of mouth advertising: we have never spent money in advertising! Think about this: when they called us from a new store that wanted to be supplied, if it was close to another client of ours, my brother called them and asked if it should have been a problem if we served them too. This way, good friendships were created.»