Is the name not ringing any bells? Think of the white packaging with a golden edge and a logo with a kind-looking, smiling woman. How about now?
You may not have paid any attention to the name, but if you’re a lover of Italian cookies and pastries, then the chances are you have tried what Matilde Vicenzi has to offer at least once, especially if you’re an avid traveler. After all, for many of us, Matilde Vicenzi cookies and pastries are often one of the few, if not the only, ways to get our hands on authentic Italian flavors outside Italy.
And yes, when we say authentic, we mean authentic. If you leave in a place where there are no master Italian bakers running a shop close by, then Matilde Vicenzi is how you satisfy those cravings for traditional Italian cookies.
The Three Products that Made a Name for Matilde Vicenzi:
In the 110+ years the company has existed, the product line-up was reworked and expanded multiple times. But Matilde’s signature baked goods remain in the catalog to this day (and they’re just as good as they were).
Millefoglie Puff Pastries
Millefoglie is the Italian version of the famous “mille-feuille,” a French layered puff pastry. While it’s been traced back to at least the 16th century, the modern variation is owed to Marie-Antoine Carême, a famous chef from the early 19th century. He was the one who swapped oil from the original recipe for butter.
Italian Millefoglie is a delicate, crunchy, and buttery puff pastry. The quality of Millefoglie is often determined by the number of layers. The more layers there are, the more effort went into the pastry, and thus the more skilled chef baked it. While not precisely a “thousand layers”, the original Millefoglie di Matilde calls for 192 layers, alternating the delicate thin layers of pastry with butter, folding the dough on itself over and over.
The original Millefoglie d’Italia didn’t contain any filling. After product line-up expansion, the company added various snack pastries like Bocconcini and Delizia mini snacks. But the original still reigns supreme.
Perhaps the most challenging cookie to set yourself apart with, considering this Lombardian specialty has been around since Middle Ages. It’s a small, round, typically (but not necessarily) crispy biscuit made with almonds and apricot kernels. A good Amaretti cookie must have a very distinct bitter-sweet taste and robust nutty aroma.
Once again, what sets Matilde’s original recipe apart is the approach to the cookie. She mixed apricot kernels and sweet almonds at a specific ratio, achieving a crispy and crunchy outer layer and a chewer (but not entirely soft) center for her cookie.
Amaretto di Matilde is a classic that respects the traditions but adds just enough of a unique touch to set itself apart.
Ladyfinger Cookies | Savoiardi
A traditional Piedmont pastry, Ladyfingers are sweet sponge biscuits with long and thin shapes, a flat bottom, and a slightly domed top. The name is tightly controlled: “Savoiardi” can only be used for cookies that use eggs in the recipe and adhere to a specific shape.
Matilde’s Ladyfingers are simple in essence but special in spirit. The company still follows the original 100+-year-old recipe that calls for over a quarter of the overall mass of the cookie to be made up of eggs (or, using modern labeling math, 26%).
The quality of ladyfingers is determined by their absorbing capabilities: the dry, crunchy, and airy texture should easily absorb liquid, becoming soft and pliant. Matilde’s ladyfingers are easily enjoyed with a cup of coffee as they are, but they’re most commonly used as a tiramisu base.
The packaging boldly claims that these are “Il Savoiardo N1 in Italia.” We won’t be claiming otherwise.
What Else Does Matilde Vicenzi Offer?
Over the last century, the list of what is considered Matilde Vicenzi specialties has significantly expanded. It includes other classics like traditional Cantuccini cookies and more novel Ciambelle (ring-shaped butter cookies), as well as Grisbi, a crumbly shortbread cookie filled with flavored cream and crispy wafers.
It also includes “Matilde’s Tins”: a collection of gift assortments, all packed in luxurious metal boxes decorated with colorful images. The decorative imagery ranges from simple yet captivating displays of Matilde’s products to lush Italian landscapes.
Who Was Matilde Vicenzi?
It all started over a century ago with a dream and a recipe book for homemade pastries, and that recipe book rules the company today. It’s the reason, why the Matilde Vicenzi cookies and pastries taste like ones from the bakery on the corner.
(By the way, that recipe book is now carefully guarded in the company museum!)
See, unlike many brands that use given names as a branding tactic to familiarize themselves with potential consumers and create a sense of personal connection, Matilde Vicenzi, the company, got its name from Matilde Vicenzi, the real-life person.
The original Matilde was born in 1866 in Verona. There’s little information about her life, which seems to have been somewhat stable, if not entirely idyllic, according to what little information remains about her. She was a passionate baker, she managed a small baking shop on the outskirts of Verona, and she was married to a man named Sante.
The Artisanal Bakery: Years 1905-1945
The first mentions of her artisanal bakery in official documents date back to 1905, though it’s highly likely she started baking long before that.
The first wave of Matilde’s business expansion started after the death of her husband. Once Sante died, leaving her the sole breadwinner for the family, it became clear to Matilde that for her family to succeed, her bakery had to succeed. And as a small-scale baker, the only thing she could really do to compete with larger establishments was to provide superior taste.
The official Vicenzi website says what set her apart from all competitors (of whom there were many in Verona) was her special “woman’s touch.” What they mean is that Matilde baked each batch as she would bake for her own family: focusing on the quality and taste, and using only superior products, even when they were hard to come by or when cutting corners would seem like a smarter business move.
But her dedication to quality paid off. Soon enough, the demands for her oven-baked pastries and cookies exceeded her native city of Verona, reaching other corners of Italy and turning the small bakery into a profitable family business.
It’s no exaggeration when Matilde Vicenzi is called “a unique example of female entrepreneurship at the beginning of the century.” By all means, there were likely hundreds upon thousands of bakers dedicating themselves to the same products she did: traditional Italian cookies and pastries.
That she, a widow with a small bakery, managed to make a name for herself so large it overshadowed others not only in her native city but reached beyond it was something akin to a miracle. Even more so because she didn’t have signature products people couldn’t get anywhere else. Thousands of bakeries made the same sweets she did every day.
Matilde only had her “special touch,” high-quality products she refused to compromise on, and staunch adherence to traditional Italian standards.
(I.e., people could count on her to make the pastries with as much love as their own Nonna would).
The Expansion from Artisanal Bakery to a Small-Scale Industry: Years 1946-1960
The true history of Matilde Vicenzi as a brand can easily be divided into two parts: before Giuseppe and after Giuseppe.
After Matilde’s death in 1944, her son, Angelo, took over the bakery. He enlisted his three sons: Beppina, Giuseppe, and Mario, to run the shop with him. Giuseppe, then just 12 years old, was helping with the production line.
Then, in 1946, when he was 14, Giuseppe got a gift: Melzi, an automated machine for producing biscuits. It was a weird desire for a teenage boy to own a biscuit-making machine, but Giuseppe was showing interest in the shop’s well-being from a young age. Years in the future, he would credit his grandmother for installing passion for the art of pastry into him.
Melzi spurred the production forward, significantly increasing the output of the shop.
It also forced Angelo’s hand to make a decision that could severely damage the shop’s bottom line if all the extra cookies didn’t find the customer right away: he abandoned bread.
It’s hard to remember almost seventy years after the fact, but while Matilde Vicenzi was still an artisanal bakery, bread was one of its main products. Not what it was famous for, true, but a dependable product that had faithful customers. Giving up bread meant giving up a source of steady income, even sales for other baked goods on the rise.
Luckily, the demand not only matched all the traditional Italian cookies and pastries they were now making with Melzi.
The following significant change came to the company in 1955, when Giuseppe got it in his head to go to England. Mind you; he didn’t know a word of English. But he felt stifled in the field (even though the company kept growing), and he wished to learn of another country’s experience in selling dry sweet products. Giuseppe chose England because he considered the English to be “the inventors of the dry sweet products.”
He isn’t overtly open about his experience at the English trade fair he attended, but it’s pretty clear he came back invigorated - and with a plan.
From Small-Scale Industry to Global Market: Years 1960-2004
Giuseppe’s plan was grand, so it required some time to get into motion. He waited for the right moment, got his funds together, and invested everything he could into the new plant. One that specialized in making Amaretti cookies. By the way, the San Giovanni Lupatoto plant is now the main production center of the company, with seven automated lines that put out over 143 thousand lbs of finished products per day.
The plant’s output was nowhere near so grand back in the day, but it did allow Giuseppe to 1) consolidate the market for Amaretti cookies, becoming one of the leaders in the segment; 2) increase production for the Ladyfinger cookies. And if Amaretti were the success sooner, Ladyfingers played the long game: today, the Vicenzovo Ladyfingers are considered one of the most “widespread” Savoiardi in the world.
Matilde Vicenzi’s bakery was no longer a bakery at all. It was an industrial manufacturer and one of the leaders in the market.
With just one exception: it was still impossible to industrially manufacture her puff pastries. The layering process was simply too complicated for the machinery on the plants.
Giuseppe wasn’t able to industrialize the Millefoglie output until 1975. That’s when he learned that the machine capable of what he needed existed - in Japan. Never a coward when it came to propelling the company forward, he went to Japan, got the machine, and equipped the plant.
According to Giuseppe, that same machine is still used today to make the iconic 192-layered Millefoglie.
The Establishment of The Vicenzi Group As It’s Known Today: Years 2005-2014
In 2005, the company went through a rebranding and was re-established as The Vicenzi Group. After a hundred years on the market, the company was finally expanding beyond Matilde’s original recipes. Giuseppe acquired the entire Parmalat bakery and, with it, two well-known brands. One was Grisbi, known for the shortbread cookies filled with sweet cream; another was Mr.Day, known for snack cakes like donuts and muffins.
Two more brands meant two more plants, one specifically for each brand: the Bovolone plant for Grisbi and the Nusco plant for Mr. Day.
The world seemed like The Vicenzi Group’s oyster. At least until the early 2010s, when the company started to stagnate and suffered a brief crisis.
110th Anniversary and 110 Export Countries: The Vicenzi Group Since 2015
The recovery point for the company happened in 2015, right on the 110th anniversary. It was primarily propelled by Giuseppe’s aggressive export strategy. In 2015, the number of countries Matilde Vicenzi’s products were exported to reached 110.
The Group also opened Vicenzi USA, with a logistic base in New Jersey.
Since 2019, the company has actively been working on transitioning to sustainable production and, as the website states, “grow in harmony with the region and surrounding communities.”
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Image source: all images taken from the official Matilde Vicenzi Facebook page.