Sunday, November 13, 2016

Panettone Pleasures, Forno Guarino, Mirabella Eclano (Av)

I’d like to begin this post by saying that I’ve been in a love/hate relationship with panettone for over 20 years.  Panettone, historically known as a ‘Christmas Cake’ in Italian,  is traditionally made with candied fruits and nuts and not a part of my childhood growing up in the suburbs of the USA. 
Yet, living in Italy for over 20 years hasn’t helped much either.  Maybe because my first introduction to a panettone was during a family Christmas gathering.  The economical store bought cake was cut and shared after a loooong meal. I didn’t like it all, primarily due to the very low quality of the ingredients.
Fast forward, about 20 years or so…here, thanks to the blog, I began trying panettone made by top pastry chefs, particularly those from southern Italy.  Artisans, I should say,who have opted for quality ingredients, focused on levitation processes, and a variety of flavors has opened my eyes and palate to a completely new world. 
Artisans and bakeries like Forno Guarino, which I have had the opportunity to taste their products off and on over the past 2 seasons.
Forno Guarino, located in Mirabella Eclano, deep in the Avellino province, has slowly but surely been making an impact in this competitive panettone market.  Avellino is known primarily for its vino, but just ten minutes or so from Taurasi, Forno Guarino (founded in 1982) has been working on panettone in their wood burning ovens for the past four years.  Baker Nicola Guarino in conjunction with top pastry chef Antonino Maresca have created a catalogue of 8 Christmas breads of which I had the pleasure to try five over the last few weeks in different occasions.

The first cake I tried by chance in Ischia.  It as an almost midnight snack served to me by Chef Nino Di Costanzo at his restaurant Dani Maison as a way to keep me occupied while I waited for the 0200 ferry to take me back home.  Natale e’…Christmas is.  

A slice of Christmas on that cool Ischia evening…aromas and flavors of mandarin, chocolate, pisto (spices used in the Neapolitan Roccoco’), almonds, hazelnuts, and must. 

A couple of weeks later, I met up with Laura Guarino who gave me the opportunity to try their chocolate version.  Chocolate and lemon, I should say.  

A panettone featuring slightly bitter chocolate and refreshing bits of candied lemon.

Next stop on the panettone express was last week in t in Naples.  An evening at Gran Caffe’ La Cafeteria.  An event for the press to try more of the Guarino inventory. 

Slices of heaven like their bread produced with the Guarino family’s extra virgin olive and verbena herbs that grow happily in Irpinia.  

Unlike the other cakes in the catalogue, this loaf is a savory one served on this particular evening with anchovy butter and orange peel shavings.

Their classic panettone featuring almonds and candied fruit.

A piece of Campania that included soft chunky pieces of annurca apples.

Each panettone strives on key principles, such as not containing conservatives or preservatives, levitation using lievito madre aka sourdough and highly recommends that each cake be eaten within thirty days. Did I already mentioned they are all cooked in a wood burning oven?  Definitely a challenge.  

Il panettone è fatto per essere mangiato, non lasciato sullo scaffale/panettone is made to be eaten, not left on the shelf , Antonino Maresca.

Ok, Maestro...
Let's eat!

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