The biscuit maker of Chivasso
There’s a market town just east of Torino, Northern Italy. The town is Chivasso and it’s famed for its hazelnut biscuits. The town is located very close to the River Po which flows from the Alps in the north to the Adriatic Sea in the east. To the south is an area of rolling green hills covered with woodlands, vineyards and small farms. The town has an ancient heritage, the cathedral dates from the 15th century and people have been living here since Roman times.
In the heart of the town, just a stone’s throw from the cathedral is the magnificent mahogany fronted ‘Bonfante’. A small family-run business that has been making delicious hazelnut biscuits ‘nocciolini’ every day since the 1920s. Today Franco runs the business that was started by his grandfather. He is the fourth generation.
Each morning at dawn Franco can be found carefully checking the quality of the hazelnuts that arrive from the Langhe area – just a few kilometres from here. He careful examines the hazelnuts for size, colour and texture. The hazelnuts are quickly roasted and then ground into a rough flour, with the texture of breadcrumbs. This flour is then mixed with sugar and egg white to create the biscuit mixture. The mixture is poured into a special machine that dispenses tiny circular drops onto large baking sheets. Hundreds of thousands are produced daily. The biscuits are then cooked in a very hot oven for just 6 minutes. That’s it, no preservatives, no chemicals, just three ingredients. Hazelnuts, sugar and egg white. When the biscuits have cooled they are packed in beautiful pale pink paper parcels. The nocciolini are then dispatched either for export or for consumption in the elegant and historic cafe downstairs.
Franco runs his business with passion, integrity and enormous pride. The employees are like a family, many have worked here for more than twenty years. They knew Franco’s father and some his grand-father too. This business is Franco’s life. In this small 3-storey building on Via Torino there is the cafe, commercial kitchen and on the top floor Franco’s apartment. He lives above the office – quite literally. As a visitor I am treated to a tour of the facility, the production process is explained and I’m given the opportunity to sample the delicious nocciolini straight from the oven.
Downstairs in the cafe business is brisk – the bar man is serving coffee, tea, dolcetto (sweet wine), all accompanied by a generous handful of ‘nocciolini’. There is a counter filled with delicious sandwiches, pastries and snacks. The locals come in and out constantly, orders fill the air. Franco’s friend Michaela helps with orders, translates for non-italian speakers and supervises marketing and promotion. This business is part of the life of Chivasso. The local people flood here to buy their daily treats, meet friends for a chat or simply to take home a supply of the marvellous nocciolini.
It is rare to be welcomed into a small business like this with such genuine warmth and affection. I feel very honoured to have been able to share in the life of ‘Bonfante’, if only for a day. I left wanting to help Franco to develop export contacts in Britain and France. Small businesses like this are the lifeblood of the community across Europe. They provide a framework for the locals; jobs, security, stability and a product that the whole town can enjoy.
If you’d like more information on ‘nocciolini’ biscuits you can e-mail Janet Simmonds at Grand Tourist