The nougat, where and when:
Cremona, 25th of October 1441
Bianca Maria Visconti married Francesco Sforza. The wedding, which allowed Sforza family to dominate the Duchy of Milan for over half a century, is strictly related to the birth of nougat. According to the legend nougat was made for the first time in occasion of the wedding feast and it had the shape of the Torrazzo, the bell tower of Cremona cathedral. It can be stated that “torrone”, the Italian word for nougat, etymologically derives from “Torrazzo”.
It is a fascinating story
even too good to be true. It seems to have been cited for the first time in a monograph published by the Chamber of Commerce of Cremona in 1914, as stated by Carla Bertinelli Spotti at page 22 of the serious and documented publication “Il Torrone di Cremona” (Cremonabooks, 2002). Anyway, the relationship between Cremona and nougat seems to be more ancient. Some letters in the archives of the city attest the presence of nougat in some apothecaries shops since the sixteenth century. And what about before that?
If we research further
we find that nougat is considered a traditional product also in other Italian regions. Benevento, the main town of the ancient Sannio region, claims to have been the first to invent it. According to another tradition, Latin authors Livy and Martial documented in their writings the existence of nougat in that area, under the name of “cupedia”. However it seems that the historian Livy and the epigrammatist Martial never mentioned this word. There is a similar Latin word, that is “cuppedia”, which was used by Cicero in Tuscolane, by Aulus Gellius in the sixth and in the seventh book of Attic Night and by Plautus in Stichus, and which can be translated as gluttony, the deadly sin, or as delicacy. In various Italian dialects there are similar words: “cupeta”, “copeta”, “copata” and “coppetta”, which identify specialties similar to nougat or croccante, a product made with almonds or hazelnuts kept together using caramelized sugar. In fact “cupeta” and “torrone” variants are traditional products not only in Lombardy and Sannio, but also in Valtellina, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria, Puglia, Sardinia and finally in Sicily, where “croccante” is called “cubbaita”.
The word “cubbaita”
can help us understand in a more objective way this product. Nougat, defined as “roasted seeds (almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts) kept together by a sweet paste made with honey, egg white, sugar and in some cases flavours” is far from being just an Italian specialty. The Sicilian word seems to be derived from an Arabic word, thus suggesting a Middle Eastern origin. Anyway, “torrone” is well known also in France, where it is called “touron” or “nougat”, derived from Latin “nucatum”. In Provence, before the introduction of the cultivation of almonds in the seventeenth century, nougat was produced with nuts. In Spain it is called “turrón”and written documents report the presence of this product since the fifteenth century. The Spanish word is quite similar to the Italian “torrone” and its most reliable origin can be found in the Latin verb “torrere”, which means toast.
Seeds kept together by a sweet paste
Ultimately, when we consider the overarching concept of “seeds held together by a sweet paste,” we discover that nougat is indeed part of a diverse range of confections made in various countries, spanning from the Slavic nations to the Middle East and India, often referred to as “halva.” These authentic creations can be regarded as the precursors of our sweet tooth and quite possibly rank among the oldest confections in the world.
The nougat shapes
Torrone can take any shape and it is therefore available in different formats. The original recipe is the one of crunchy nougat. Crunchy nougat can be eaten by biting into it, if you have strong teeth, or by breaking it into small pieces like candies, which is considered to be the ideal way to taste it. Anyway, since a lot of patience is needed to taste crunchy nougat in this right manner and modern culture is far away from this concept, pastry chefs with a natural instinct for marketing decided to invent soft nougat, a variant of the recipe with a higher water content. Almost all nougat formats are available in both variants: crunchy and soft.
This is the most typical shape for nougat. Nougat dough is spread on the worktop by hand using the rolling pin and kept between two sheets of wafer. Then it is divided into bars of different sizes. Nougat is a classic sweet offered at the end of Christmas lunch. Traditionally it is the head of the family who divides it into pieces and offers them to all guests.
For its appearance it is the typical format sold during fairs. This format is very practical to be cut and sold in pieces, just like parmesan.
The most recent variant of nougat was perhaps invented in Sicily with the aim of creating a refined version of this popular product, according to the belief that “small is more refined”. Small soft nougats, especially in their variants with chocolate covering and in different flavours, are really appreciated by consumers and we can say that they are exactly like cherries: one leads to another.