Over 150 years ago, at Via dell’Appianato, today’s Via Ricasoli (the Risorgimento was in its early days, and Prato’s main streets and squares would have been named after Cavour, Garibaldi and Mazzini a few decades later), Antonio Mattei, a baker and pastry cook from Prato, opened his biscuit factory and store. Mattei was a craftsman of humble birth, but he played a leading role in the history of Italian cooking.
Pellegrino Artusi, a good friend of his (to whom Mattei had revealed the recipe of the Mantovana cake that he, in turn, had been given by two nuns on their way to Rome to thank him for his hospitality), mentions him twice in his famous book, The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well. When talking about the Paradiso cake:
“Having one day my poor friend Antonio Mattei from Prato (whom I will talk about again)eaten this dough in my house, he asked for the recipe and, being the ingenious fellow he is, he brought it to a higher level of perfection and excellence and immediately sold it in his shop. He then told me that this cake had met with such success that hardly any lunch was served without it around that countryside. And so, people willing to make their way in this world, leap at any opportunity to try their luck which, though it bestows its favours on a whim at times, never befriends slothful and lazy men,”
and about the Stiacciata, he wrote:
“The quantities of this stiacciata and of the Mantovana cake recipe were given to me by the that good man I have already had occasion to mention, Antonio Mattei from Prato. I say good, because he was a master of his trade and honest and hardworking as well. Alas, my dear friend, who always reminded me of Cisti, Master Giovanni Boccaccio’s baker, died in the year 1885, leaving a void in my heart. A person need not be imbued with science and letters to win public esteem; even a very humble art, accompanied by a kind heart and practiced with skill and decorum, can make us worthy of the respect and love of our fellow men.”
Under rough manners and coarse features / Beautiful hearts and pure senses are often hidden / We fear men who are overly courteous / For they are like marble slabs: shiny, smooth, and hard.
Mattei’s children had never been much interested in their father’s business, but among the apprentices working with him in factory there was one of proved talent and passion, Ernesto Pandolfini, grandfather to Marcella, Elisabetta, Francesco and Letizia. He was an
orphan and had been raised by his aunt Italia, who took over Mattei’s business, in 1908, for her beloved nephew. That is how the story of three generations of biscuit makers begins…
The Biscuit Factory
However, what counts the most is well described by Francesco Pandolfini, who is in charge of both the Mattei and Deseo (his creature) lines:
“Antonio Mattei takes all the credit for an extraordinary recipe, that of Biscotti di Prato. Not only did he create a new product, he also knew how to market it and make it forever recognizable: and here is our blue package!When I joined the business, after having completed my university studies, I felt all the weight of this spiritual heritage in my hands. The recipes had been written down on a small notebook by my grandfather Ernesto himself. But we had to find out the secret behind those simple recipes- Biscotti di Prato, Mantovana cake, Brutti Buoni, Filone candito- …each ingredient in the right quantities.
It seemed so easy, the recipes so simple, but it wasn’t in the least simple! We had to understand the most difficult part of all, the whole concept behind those few lines. After twenty years of working in the business, I have understood a few things about it, but most of all, I have realized that tradition is pursued and enriched by devoting time to it, by taking time to learn, by never growing tired of doing the same things and by constantly striving to improve oneself. That is probably how we arouse emotions in those who walk into our store.
And then came Deseo. I’ve had a passion for painting and cooking ever since I was a boy. And so, after several years as production manager of the family business, I felt the need to create something new. A small laboratory for experimentation, that was what Deseo was about in the beginning. That is where I conceived and perfected the recipes of the new cantuccini as well as of the other biscuits we added to the wide Deseo range of products: combining the ingredients, striving to obtain the right texture and working closely with the graphic studio on the new packaging to convey, through images, colors and texts, what our products really are”.
In 2001 Deseo Ltd. was founded to celebrate my 40 years, and give myself a small workshop…
The first operating headquarters, was a small warehouse of 30 square meters in Prato where I started to develop the first recipes of Cantuccini in different flavours?
That because Cantuccini are the story of my family, which since three generations is the owner of Biscuit Factory Mattei, Temple of Biscotti di Prato… or as many call them today, Cantuccini with almonds.
After three years as a lonely company man, I setted up the range of Cantuccini and came Lisa, first Deseo’s employee of and wife of a friend with whom I was used to pour the difficulties I had whenever from kneader, with hands full of cookie dough, I had to run to the table where the phone was…
Now Deseo has grown – in 2011 we reached one million Euro turnover – and in the meantime we moved to a bigger factory and the product range has been expanded: Shortbread biscuits, Cookies, sweet Biscuits with Olive Oil, the Crunch with various flavours and inedited recipes for Savoury Aperitif biscuits…
And for we are curious to explore more we look forward with new ideas… new flavours, new colours, new graphic concepts…
The Lab at Deseo
Marcella, Elisabetta, Francesco and Letizia, the third generation of the Pandolfini family, are equally committed to the pursuit of tradition. That is why, in 2000, they created the Deseo line.
While Mattei embodies tradition, Deseo is innovation; as Francesco puts it “it is the natural evolution of things.
“However, the guidelines behind the Deseo production are the same on which Antonio Mattei’s biscuit factory was based: the use of top-quality ingredients, only natural flavourings, traditional cooking methods, applied to new products and flavours, featuring a sophisticated and modern packaging and ongoing experimentation.
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