In 1858 Italy was still a “mere geographical expression”, as Metternich had said thirty years before; Tuscany was a Grand Duchy governed by Leopold II – still for a short time – and the second war of Independence against Austria was being prepared.
In that year in Prato, in Via Ricasoli 22, Antonio Mattei opened his Biscuit factory with resale, and began to bake a dry almond biscuit, a recipe he developed, which would become the traditional Prato Almond Biscuit; that biscuit immediately would have crossed not only the Grand Duchy borders, but the future Italy.
Thus, began the story of a very strong bond, which those who are not from Prato can hardly understand, between Biscottificio and the City. For more than a century and a half it has not really been a Sunday, or “feast” in the houses of the people of Prato, without the so-called “cantuccini” in the Blue Bag, or one of the other good products baked by Biscottificio, all now deeply embedded in the Italian gastronomic tradition.
The fame of Mattei products, in fact, soon began to spread beyond city and regional boundaries: the merit medal in 1861 at the Italian Exposition and the honorable mention at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, are the proof. Like the quotations, because the Biscotti di Prato have had illustrious fans: in addition to the Artusi’s, which shows the recipe of Torta Mantovana in his famous recipe book, the products of Antonio Mattei has been mentioned also by Malaparte, Ardengo Soffici, Sem Benelli, Hermann Hesse, and the Presidents Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Bill Clinton.
In 1904 the business passed to the Pandolfini and Ciampolini families, but it was Ernesto Pandolfini, on his return from the First World War, around the 1920s, who gave Biscottificio a real breakthrough and the current imprint.
The “grandfather” Ernesto who had worked as appentice at the Biscotti factory and who continued on the same high quality and creative line as the founder, conceived and developed new products, such as the Candied Cherries Loaf, the Brutti Buoni, the Crispy Sweet Toast; which today are classics, rigorously regulated in receiving and cooking almost as much as Prato Biscuit.
Paolo Pandolfini, who took the reins of Biscottificio on the death of his father Ernesto in the 1960s, had the merit of cementing even more deeply the bond of his biscuit factory with the city of Prato. In the years of the Italian economic boom the city became one of the most famous and studied textile districts in the world, and the industrialists of the time contributed not a little to the spread of Biscottificio products, sending them and giving them to every part of the world.
Conversely it is said … that some big “businesses” would not have materialized without a nice tray of Biscuits from Prato or Brutti Buoni … which happens even now, … they say.
Even today the Biscottificio of Antonio Mattei is owned by the sons of Paolo, the fourth generation: Francesco, Marcella, Elisabetta and Letizia Pandolfini.
Having joined the company all in their twenties, the different management areas are shared with the same passion and care for tradition that they inherited from their parents and grandparents.
As has always been the case since 1858, the production is still done in the same laboratory, in the thirteenth-century family building in the historic center of Prato, with the same love and respect of exceptional quality raw materials and artisan methods: in addition to having kept the same processing methods, the cookies in the traditional blue bag, for example, are still closed and hand-tied one by one.
From 2018 then the Biscottificio has a new Florentine “house”. In fact, in the very central Via Porta Rossa in Florence the Museum and Shop of Antonio Mattei was opened; a small store where you can find all the Biscottificio specialties, including fresh desserts (Brutti Buoni, Mantovana Cake and the Candied Cherries Loaf, for example), that it is possible to taste in the room where the History of Biscuit Factory is told through work tools and historical images, accompanied by a good Café of the historical Torrefazione Padovani, or a delicious Tea of La Via del Tè.