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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Eating pizza in Bologna
- Visiting the oldest bakery in Bologna
- Italian pasta etiquette: What you need to know
- Celebrating mortadella in Bologna
- Salame Rosa: Mortadella’s cousin
- CSI Bologna: The pickpocket
- Celebrating World Pasta Day
- A day in Bologna
- The warm hands that make pasta in Bologna
- A road trip on the Via Emilia
- Brisighella: Forget the spa and start pumping…olive oil
- Casa Artusi: A living museum of Italian home cooking
- The Malatestiana Library in Cesena
- Sant’Agata Feltria: On the trail of the white truffle festival