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One of the Top Ten Italian items – PANETTONE – it’s that time again!

December 17, 2009

How Italy’s bakers cope with the seasonal demand

Growing up in an Italian household, we knew nothing of fruit cake as the seasonal treat for Christmas. That was what the “mangiacakes” would eat. That heavy, rum soaked, dried candied fruit ladened cake that really didn’t taste like much but well, rum. No for us, it was panettone. The fluffy, dome shaped, dotted with sultanas and candied citrus peel tasty treat. Panettone is THE Italian Christmas cake.

Italians will eat about 40 million of them over the holiday season this year. Seems like this tasty treat is becoming quite the popular item elsewhere too: an estimated 1 million have crossed the Atlantic this fall. The celebrity chef, Delia Smith, recently caused a surge in demand in Britain with a recipe she created for trifle made with panettone. Obviously, this is great news for the big manufacturers of the Milanese speciality.

Some of the cafes in Milan simply squeeze out a few batches of panettoni into their normal Christmas baking schedule. But for industrial producers, they will make 12 million this season – but that’s still not enough.

A company like Bauli, hires lots of seasonal workers to work on dedicated production lines: up to 1,200 of them at peak times, more than its permanent staff of around 800. Production of panettone lasts for four months, starting in September. The arrangement seems to work for Bauli. The two other big Milanese brands – Motta and Alemagna – were bought by Bauli. These were the two big brands that pioneered the manufacture of panettone in the early 1900’s, from Nestle.

The little Christmas cake that could! 🙂

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