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Visiting Majani: ‘The Laboratory of Sweet Things’

November 2, 2014
Mahogany furnishings in the shop
A peek inside the Majani window

A peek inside the Majani window

No culinary visit to Bologna would be complete without a visit to Majani, the maker of Italy’s first solid chocolate.

There are many old shops with appealing window displays in the historic district of Bologna that beg passersby to step inside. While the city is better known for its artisanal traditions of mortadella and salumi; ragu sauces, and sfoglia (handmade egg pasta twisted into wonderful shapes), another not-to-be missed culinary shrine for visitors is Casa Majani 1796.

Steeped in history, the confectionary shop’s elegant window displays, Belle Epoque furnishings, and artistic packaging are only overshadowed by the taste of its gourmet chocolates, known throughout the world.

Mahogany furnishings in the shop

Mahogany furnishings in the shop

Elegant packaging of Majani chocolates

Window display of Majani chocolates

Backstory

The family business began in 1796 in a small workshop, set up by Teresa Majani, which produced high quality chocolates in the shadow of the Basilica San Petronio, the main church of Bologna.

Basilica San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore

Basilica San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore

Originally called The Laboratory of Sweet Things (il Laboratorio delle Cose Dolci), the business was so successful that in 1830, the family purchased a larger space at numbers 5 and 7 Via de’ Carbonesi (its present location), which later became known by locals as Palazzo Majani. The family lived upstairs above the first floor workshop, store and tearoom.

Surprisingly (to me), until the end of the 1700s, the aristocracy and clergy only consumed chocolate in liquid form. But in 1832, the Majani workshop in Bologna became the birthing place for the first piece of solid chocolate in Italy. It was called Scorza (in English, bark) because it looked like the bark of a tree.

Scorza, the first solid chocolate

Scorza, the first solid chocolate

Rich scorza

Rich scorza

Until 1871, Italy was still divided into different states so Guiseppe Majani needed a passport (issued by the Papal State) to travel to Turin in 1856 to purchase the latest steam-driven technology for making chocolate for the aristocracy. Just imagine: He made that trip before the invention of the refrigerator and the automobile.

From there, you might just say that the business took off, becoming a favorite for the city’s social and intellectual aristocracy, earning accolades and medals at exhibitions throughout Europe long before the democratization of chocolate occurred (Think: Hershey’s and Mars) as we know it.

A turning point for the growth of the company took place in 1911, when it won a competition to create a chocolate, their signature Cremino Fiat, to celebrate the launch of the first FIAT car, the Fiat Tipo 4. Aldo Majani added a fourth layer of chocolate to the popular cremino chocolate cube, a favorite with many chocolate lovers. The winning chocolate—made of layers of hazelnut and almond paste alternating with sweet gianduja chocolate—was wrapped in foil and then covered with white paper imprinted with the gold and black FIAT logo. It is still sold in the store today and all over Italy.

Cremino FIAT (screenshot)

Cremino FIAT (screenshot)

Unfortunately, like many businesses in Europe, Majani suffered through tough times during World War II, when the family lost its majority share of the company. But in 1985, Francesco Mezzadri Majani and his mother Anna recaptured ownership and were able to reestablish the family business.

Specialties

In its plant outside Bologna, Majani is one of the few chocolate makers that still starts the process of chocolate-making with raw cocoa seeds imported from Central America. This lengthy and intricate procedure they use is very costly but creates results that are especially pleasing to the palate.

Inside the downtown shop, visitors can arrange for a chocolate tasting of several Majani chocolates (as I recall, it cost about 3 euros per person), including the FIAT, scorza, and tortellino (singular for toretellini), and orange peel dipped in chocolate.

Totellino, navel shaped chocolate version of the pasta specialty of Bologna

Totellino, navel shaped chocolate version of the pasta specialty of Bologna

Chocolate tasting with navel shaped tortellino

Chocolate tasting with tortellino and chocolate dipped orange peel

Scorza and FIAT

Scorza and FIAT

Truly fresh chocolate is seasonal so the company closes down production between June and September. In the fall, visitors at the store can purchase the traditional marron glacés, glazed candied chestnuts.

Marrons glace

A specialty of autumn, marrons glace

One of the very satisfied customers

One of the very satisfied customers


IF YOU GO 

*We visited Majani on a Discover the Flavors of Emilia walking tour offered by Bologna Welcome (official tourism site).

Majani 1796, Via De’ Carbonesi 5, 40123 Bologna

Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-1pm and 3.30pm-7.30pm (closed on Thursday afternoon) 

 


For additional information: Emilia Romagna Tourism (official tourism information site)

For more information on the history of the Cremino Fiat: Packaging in Italy.


Previous posts about Bologna and Emilia Romagna on More Time To Travel: 

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    November 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Fascinating!! And, as always, love the photos…yum!!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 3, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      I loved learning a bit about the history of chocolate in Italy!

  • Reply
    Johanna
    November 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Oh this is so not fair! I love love love good chocolate and about the best I can hope for is Cadburys or maybe Lindt (which let’s face it isn’t bad), but proper Italian chocolate and lots of it … now that’s just too much for a girl as she’s off to bed! Loved learning about the history of chocolate 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 4, 2014 at 8:51 am

      When I took an MSC Cruise, they left a Venchi cremino cube on my pillow each night. That wasn’t bad either:-)

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    November 4, 2014 at 11:17 am

    You had us at “chocolate” :-). Luv the looks of that chocolate-dipped orange peel… No doubt the Italians can make as wicked a chocolate as the Swiss or Belgians…

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 4, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Isn’t traveling a great excuse for eating chocolate? 🙂

  • Reply
    Mickey
    November 4, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Just had my (yummy) share of Dutch and German chocolate on a Viking Cruise down the Rhine. In Heidelberg, a sixth generation shop sells “Student Kisses” once used to woo lovely maidens. We were wooed by the chocolate!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      I’ll have to look out for those “student kisses.” Sounds enticing~

  • Reply
    Mike
    November 5, 2014 at 12:51 am

    I started reading with not as much interest (not a big sweets eater) until I saw that scorza! Yes please! As long as I could also get plenty of the meats, cheeses and pastas too 🙂 I’ve been reading that European Cruises book, Irene…it’s great…and thank you again! 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      So glad you are enjoying Doug Ward’s book, Mike!

  • Reply
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders}
    November 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

    This is so fascinating. The “Laboratory of Sweet Things” name really caught my eye. I love chocolate, so I think this would be a definite stop for me in Bologna. I’d probably buy so many boxes that I wouldn’t need to purchase the tasting — just do one of my own.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 5, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      The packaged boxes were tempting but so were the individual pieces:-)

  • Reply
    Muza-chan
    November 6, 2014 at 1:07 am

    Delicious…

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    February 2, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Don’t you just love Italian chocolate? It is among the best in the world. I have not yet been to Bologna, but I’ve certainly eaten my way around the chocolate shops of Italy, and wish I was back there right now! Thx for this post, Irene.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 2, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      This would be a perfect destination for a chocolate explorer like you, Doreen!

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