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NOUGAT: BLACK OR WHITE, THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF VARIETIES FROM THE NORTH TO THE SOUTH OF ITALY
Almonds, hazelnuts, egg whites, honey, pistachios; then sugar, and from the 17th century onwards, chocolate. These are the base ingredients for nougat, an Italian sweet that consumers associate with Christmas but which its producers are trying to promote outside the traditional season. There are four nougat districts in Italy: Cremona in Lombardy, Alba in Piedmont, Benevento in Campania and Caltanissetta in Sicily. While the first two are in the north, the latter pair are in the south of Italy, confirming that nougat is a mainstay of culinary culture all over the country. Nougat making followed a traditional pattern for centuries, but has progressively industrialised in the last few decades. Production districts have even forged alliances between them, creating in 2004 an Association called “City of Nougat”. The aim of the ten Italian communes and the two chambers of commerce that take part in the initiative is to collectively market and promote their products.
For Cremona – one of the birthplaces of this product – nougat has become a symbol of local produce, in Italy as well as abroad, as testified by all the tourism and gastronomy fairs in the US, China, France and Spain which local producers took part in. In Italy the main event for the industry is Cremona’s Festa del Torrone or ‘Nougat Fair’ , which takes place every year. In Cremona promotional activities for the nougat industry have become and integral of the tourist strategy of the local authorities, that organise specific events outside the traditional season. The biggest firm in the Cremona district in Sperlari, an industry leader for over 170 years in the production of traditional nougat, based on honey, sugar, frothed egg whites, almonds and hazelnuts, available in soft or hard and brittle form. But over the last few year, the firm has widened its product range to offer chocolate (milk or dark), hazelnut and almond-based variants.
Piedmont is another important production area for Italian nougat. In the Novi Ligure area a confectionery pole has been established in 1996, which comprises Pernigotti, one of the historic brands in the nougat industry in Italy that dates back to 1860. According to the latest figures available, this district employs 1,100 people and has a turnover just under 560 million euros. Pernigotti also uses traditional ingredients: almonds, hazelnuts, honey and egg whites, as well as chocolate, of course. But it also offers an interesting brand of soft nougat based on Sicilian lemons. Sebaste from Grinzane Cavour is another Piedmontese company that boasts a long history: it has been selling nougat since 1885. It claims to be to first to have used local hazelnuts from the Langhe area as a main ingredient for its nougat, which had been hitherto produced only with almonds. This nougat is therefore of the ‘white’ variety, with the possible addition of fruit candy, but Sebaste also sells other variants covered in chocolate or fully ‘black’ nougats produced with hazelnuts and dark, milk or ‘gianduia’ chocolate (a special type of nut chocolate from Piedmont).
Further south, the Nardone nougat is found in Campania, in the province of Avellino. The eponymous company that produces it is over a hundred years old and is the keeper of the very ancient tradition of the “cupedia”, the delicatessen that the Ancient Romans used to make using the only ingredients that were available at the time: honey, almonds and egg whites. Produced with almond or hazelnuts, the Nardone nougat can also be stuffed and covered with chocolate. “Pannardone” is an interesting variation, an aromatised nougat with a sponge cake interior soaked in liquor or limoncello. It also sells soft nougat in dark, white, ‘gianduia’ and coffee-flavoured chocolate.
The specialities from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia are also worth a mention. In Sicily the traditional base ingredients of nougat are the same, but with the addition of one of the most characteristic local products: pistachios, mainly produced in the area around Bronte, near Catania. In the same province, one of the most famous local producers of nougat has its base: Condorelli from Belpasso . Counting on its 90 years of history, the firm has chosen the ‘miniature’ option: it sells nougat not only in the traditional bar format, but also in small versions no more than a few centimetres long. The pistachio flavour, covered in vanilla or dark chocolate, is particularly noteworthy. On the whole, Condorelli sweets are glazed – with or without chocolate – and aromatised, but traditional versions of nougat, without any covering, are also available. Still in Sicily, hand made Geraci nougats from Caltanissetta are well worth a try: among the products on offer there are traditional nougats (but with pistachios), with or without coverings, and nougats with almond paste fillings.
In Sardinia, finally, nougat is produced with local types of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, but there are also soft versions aromatised with Sardinian myrtle, strawberry-tree and prickly pears. The Tiu Boele nougat-factory offers all these types of products, distinguishing itself for having recouped traditional manufacturing techniques which guarantee a high degree of quality.