At the Christmas Day table, there may be some argument between panettone diehards and pandoro instigators about which cake is better, but few dispute that the gooey white, sticky nougat-type confectionary made of sugar, egg albumen and almonds is delicious. All over Italy, this candy, known as torrone, appears at the end of the traditional yuletide meal, sometimes in long, rock hard or scrumptiously soft bars or, nowadays, even as individually wrapped pieces that may be coloured or covered with chocolate. Yet many of its devotees, whilst claiming their chosen torrone is the best, cannot agree on its origins, which are shrouded in mystery.
The city of Cremona in Lombardy has long proclaimed itself as the home of classical torrone. It maintains that the sweet was served there for the first time at the lavish banquet after the marriage of the Tuscan-born mercenary Francesco Sforza to Bianca Maria Visconti on October 2, 1441. Thanks to Bianca Maria, who was the daughter of the Duke of Milan, Sforza would succeed to this title and find support and an ally in his friend Cosimo de’ Medici. The torrone served at the marriage celebrations was made in the shape of the Torrazzo, the bell tower of Cremona’s cathedral. But it may well be that torrone arrived in Cremona long before Sforza and his nuptials. In the 1200s, it seems that the gourmet Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II frequently visited the city, bringing with him a plethora of cooks to cater at his grand feasts and ceremonies. Through trade and the crusades, he was familiar with and fascinated by Arab culture, including the food, so he could have brought the torrone recipe with him. He may also be responsible for why we eat it at Christmas time because legend has it that the emperor always ate an exotic sweet, perhaps torrone, on his birthday, that is, on December 26.