Totally Hand Made Nougat in Italy
The other day, a good friend of mine and also my partner in crime in many blog tours, Romena Brugnerotto of RominVenice, asked me, as well as our other partner in crime Roberta Zennaro of Gamberetta Rossa, if we wanted to visit the world famous nougat maker Torronificio Scaldaferro on the Riviera del Brenta, along the Brenta River near Venice.
Well, what do you think my answer was?
But yes, of course!
Seriously – was I going to pass over the opportunity to see how nougat was made and maybe to try some too?
So a few days ago, on a actually rather warm sunny November afternoon, we were welcomed by Pietro Scaldaferro, the owner of this amazing business: the only company in the world which prepares nougat totally by hand, including the packaging!
At the entrance of the laboratory, we were welcomed by the inebriating perfume and warmth of honey and nuts!
Strangely enough there were no loud noises of machinery going on, which you would expect in any food factory. This is because every single step of the production is done by hand!
And as you enter you can spot bags of almonds from Puglia, hazelnuts from Piedmont and honey from Sicily, Trentino and the Venetian lagoon.
But first of all: what is Nougat?
Basics of nougat
Honey and sugar are cooked in a bain-marie to avoid for the temperatures to get too high (that would compromise the aromas), and then they are added to the whipped egg whites that, in contact with the hot dough, swell as a soft white cloud.
For about 6/7 hours the mixture continues to turn inside copper containers, thanks to the work of a mechanical arm that allows it to dry and creates the basic dough for Torrone aka nougat.
Torrone by Scaldaferro
The Torrone by Scaldaferro, what you call in English nougat, is prepared totally by hand.
Instead of being sold in bars, it is manually portioned into small balls, called flakes. This keeps the product soft; it is neither rolled or pressed, keeping the bubbles of air inside.
It is sold in mono-portions so you do not have to cut it in pieces with a knife. Also for the same weight, the volume is 3-4 times bigger, since the product is much richer in air.
It does not contain any preservative, or colouring agent or additive.
Every packet is unique, because it is all hand made, and each worker has got her own style of preparation. And the packaging complies with criteria of maximum recyclability and less environmental impact too.
This is the only company in the world making nougat in this way!
How is Torrone made?
How is it prepared and how do they get so much air in?
Simple…they cook the basic sticky dough (honey, beaten egg whites, cane sugar, vanilla pods) in a bain-marie for 8 hours.
Once the dough becomes elastic and harder, they add more honey and the almonds or other types of nuts, like pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
Everything is mixed in quickly and then a strong brawny guy extracts the very heavy dough and gives it to the ladies to be portioned into small balls by hand. Once it has cooled down for around 24 hours, it is then packaged, again by hand.
The company has a series of old original machines, called caldere, ranging from the 1930s and 1950s, all in copper, which through the day start different stages of production, on an hourly basis. They are the true corporate assets, made of copper that releases ions, to favor the whipping.
The beaten egg whites contain about 90% of water and the rest protein, one of which is albumin.
Albumin, when beaten, swells and creates bubbles of air.
When pouring the honey, the bubble crystalizes. That is why this kind of nougat is so light and having a very low percentage of water, it only keeps for up to a year, without the need of any preservatives or colorants, as long as it is stored in the proper way: no more than 20 degrees and in an airtight container.
Because of the large amount of honey, thought, it absorbs humidity quickly and if you leave it in contact with the air for more than 10 minutes, it will start to melt.
Once the honey, sugar and egg whites are combined and ready, the staff adds the sugar caramel into the dough and then the nuts. Then the dough is cooled for 24 hours and packaged one by one.
Rare honey in the Torrone
Scaldaferro is not just the only hand made nougat maker in the world, but also it specializes in the use of rare honeys: 11 types of single-flower based honey.
Their philosophy is that each different flavour nougat will satisfy a different type of person.
This is why they created a range of limited edition products, since the amount of honey available is becoming more and more scarce.
They create maximum 2000/3000 pieces per year. And the lack of honey is the reason why Mr. Scaldaferro is forced to use foreign honey, because in Italy the amount of honey is getting so small.
Some of the honey used
Ciliega Ferrovia, the Railway Cherry – here is a funny story.
The first news of the Ciliegia Ferrovia is in 1935, during the fascist period. It was born on the edge of the Adriatic coast railway line, which went from Ancona to Brindisi,
The southern workers who went to central Italy traveled along it. The workers ate bread and cherries and spat the pits along the railroad.
The first tree was born from a cherry pit near a railway station of the Ferrovie Sud-Est, about 900 meters from the outskirts of Sammichele di Bari. The inhabitants of this country called it “Ferrovì” because the tree was born a few meters from the tracks, along the driveway that leads to the Masseria Sciuscio.
For some years the tree was taken care of by the railway attendant of Rocco Giorgio. Later it spread over the territory of the south-east of Bari until it became the main cultivar of Turi, Casamassima and Conversano, neighboring countries that boast one of the largest productions in Italy.
Bulgarian Damask rose honey – another interesting story.
The Bulgarian Damask Rose is grown only in Bulgaria, in the Valley of Roses.
The Valley of Roses is covered with damask roses, from Kazanlik to the east. The valley is famous for its rose-growing industry which have been cultivated there for centuries, and which produces close to half (1.7 tonnes) of the world’s rose oil. The biggest rose grower there has also a honey production since 1800, the only one in the Valley of Roses. Scaldaferro has the exclusivity on the honey produced by this honey grower!
Therefore the Torrone with Rose honey has no essence, no aromas: only rose honey.
Other interesting honeys are: rosemary honey, strawberry tree honey, Sulla honey, Tuscan coriander honey, orange and Szechuan pepper honey, Salt of Malden honey, Venetian lagoon honey, Sicilian almond honey.
And to these particular unique honeys, Pietro adds different unique high quality nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios – all matched to a different type of honey. An incredible work of sensorial and pairing research!
Scaldaferro roast the nuts by themselves, that way they can control the release of the correct amount of essential oils from the nuts. They select the best nuts, all of the same size.
The company only uses Italian prime materials, most of the time DOP products: Pistacchio di Bronte, Slow Food Presidia, Nocciola (hazelnut) Trilobata della Langhe dop, Mandorla (almond) Filippo Ceo, Noce (Walnut) Lara di Adria. The sugar is Italian too and the amount they use is much lower than the one used by the industrial companies.
Torrone is not Croccante
Torrone, nougat, is not Croccante, brittle bar. There are, by European laws, different percentages of honey and nuts. Torrone requires a percentage of 50-55% of nuts maximum, to be called such. If the percentage increases, than it is Croccante.
Listening to the request by the users, Scaldaferro also provides soft nougat and thin slices of nougats, so they are easy to bite.
Tasting the Torrone: a sensorial experience!
As Pietro told us, the main characteristic of this product is to be very balanced, giving a good salivation and not being too sickly sweet.
Pietro suggested matching his Torrone with different cheeses. So you can use torrone all year long, not just for Christmas. It can be used both as a starter and as a dessert, served on a spoon with some cheese.
For example with the Torrone with Honey from the Lagoon (Barena), you should try it with Gorgonzola cheese.
With the rose honey, you should match it with a drunken Traminer cheese, like one from Latteria Perenzin, paired with a Passito wine, with an aftertaste of almond. Absolutely no Prosecco o dry sparkling wine.
A torrone is good not for the flavor you taste immediately, but for the sensation and aftertaste it leaves at the back of your mouth.
Pistachio and Coriander Honey torrone should be paired with Robiola di Roccaverano – in this case start first with the torrone and then the cheese.
The Orange and pepper Szechuan Torrone with a Monteveronese dop – here first the cheese and then the torrone.
The History of Torronificio Scaldaferro
Beginning of the 1900s Great grand-father Marco used to sell biscuits for various companies, but he understood that between the two wars there was a niche to produce high quality products.
So as an entrepreneur, he asked for help to people expert in baking and opened a small bakery in Mira Porte (Venice), producing focaccia, mustards, biscuits, wafers, sweets, and nougats.
In the 1920s a railway line was built and the workers changed the coal in front of the laboratory. So he put the panettone to dry out. The fragrance spread and people came down and bought them.
Later Marco passed his knowledge down to his three children: Pietro, Germano e Bianca. At time they were also the only people to own a little motorized van in Mira.
Since then, they specialized in nougat and created a line of gluten-free products, a line of nougat with extremely rare, Italian single-flower honey, a line of chocolate products, and just recently a line of natural ice-creams.
They are famous all over the world for the quality of their products, keeping the family’s surname as a trademark, an indication of the seriousness and personal commitment to the creation of the confectionery that distinguishes them.
We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Franco Marco Scaldaferro, who is 85 years old and has been for many years, as well as a very good entrepreneur, also a very well known writer.
He recently handed over the business to his son Pietro, a lawyer by trade, who now runs the company full time and has brought a lot of innovation.
Every morning he opens his factory at 3 am, with the beginning of the cycle, and closes at 9pm in the evening. He started when he was 6 years old by unloading the trucks and adjusting the temperature of the ovens.
With the tornado of 8 July 2015, Torronificio Scaldaferro suffered serious damages. A wing of the building was totally devastated with huge losses, but the roof was rebuilt in record time – so quickly that for that Christmas they still managed to produce their famous Torrone.
Pietro told us that the biggest problem of this company now is that they do not have generational change:
We need people who have got passion but also want to work…this is a serious problem we have….being a seasonal work, we always need first to train people and then they leave.
We run for 6 months the nougat section and for 6 months the ice cream parlor. So it is hard to find capable people with expertise on both fields. In all sections: production, patisserie and sales.
Young people are not used to work anymore…
You can’t even go ahead and program anything, if you do not have reliable well-trained expert staff. …It is harder and harder to find manual workers, like people who can stir the nougat by hand and also to extract it from the large containers.
Looking for the sweetest job? 😉
Anyway, their shop is only open November and December so if you are passing by you must make sure to stop, but Torronificio Scaldaferro also sells online – so don’t worry, you are not missing out!
If you are looking for the best of hand made nougat in the world, combined with the best Italian products which can be found, here is Scaldaferro Torrone: simply perfection!