The Torrone in Cremona

Cremona is considered the Torrone capital. The legend says that this cake was officially born for the wedding banquet of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza on 25 October 1441. The cake of the banquet was a compact preparation with almonds, honey and egg whites, modelled in the shape of Cremona's belltower, which was at the time called Torrione (today's Torrazzo) which explains the etymology of the name.

The legend that the "torrone" was "invented" with its name, shape and ingredients on that occasion, however, shadows a long historical process, which is at the heart of the Italian culture. Italy, in the center of the Mediterranean, has been for thousands of years a crossroads of cultures from the West and the East of the Old World.

In 1441 Cremona was a flourishing commercial center, thanks to its position along the wide Po River, where merchants of spices and precious cloths from the East and the Mediterranean came to trade their goods. In the 13th century it was made the capital of northern Italy by Frederick II who established his court (and celebrated cooks) here.

The reign of Frederick II, an intelligent, highly educated sovereign, was a melting pot of the Western Latin culture with the Arab Muslim tradition, and it is very possible that the Torrone, based on almonds, honey and egg whites, came from the sunny Arab lands to Cremona.. As a matter of fact this kind of preparation was already mentioned in an Arab text, translated by Iambobino da Cremona in the early 13th century, as "turun".

The ingredients and form gave this preparation easiness of transport and good conservation also in hot climates as in the Arab lands and in the Po plain around Cremona. Therefore it is very possible that the torrone had been known a long time among the local population, and the preparation for the 1441 wedding is explained by the necessity of a recipe that would keep the shape of the monument.

The wedding was however the occasion that established the Torrone as a typical product of Cremona, and a symbol of the city in the world. After that year there are mentions of a large production of the torrone, often presented as a gift from the city's ambassadors to the courts of Italy and Europe.

In Cremona the torrone was produced at first by the "speziali" then little by little larger laboratories developed moving towards a more industrial production, around some families as the Sperlari and Vergani, famous brand names of the classic white torrone from Cremona.

The basic recipe of 1441 was in the centuries enriched and gave rise to many variations, and in the following centuries there appear preparations which include coffee or lemon flavor. In the 19th century Ferdinand I king of Naples asked the torrone confectioneries of Benevento for his wife Maria Carolina of Austria: and the confectioners invented the Torrone della Regina where almonds were replaced by candied fruit.

This gave rise to a new fashion of making the torrone with the tasty Avola almonds and walnuts. Then Innocenzo Borillo, a confectioner from San Marco dei Cavoti developed for the torrone a chocolate glacing, and his invention in 1898 was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur.

Earlier in the 19th century (the official date was 1838) an Abruzzese confectioner from Arischia, a small village at the foot of the Gran Sasso had the idea of making a tender chocolate nougat, whose recipe is still a (not well-kept) secret based on local ingredients: high quality hazelnuts, chocolate, honey, almonds and the pure water of the mountain.