Industrial, cheap, sweet: the post-war memory of taste is made up of snacks, fizzy drinks and packaged ice creams. Here the real flavors of the Made in Italy (which we don’t like to admit) must be tried to understand a nation.
Grandmothers who bake cakes and knead noodles, mothers who mix jam and prepare dinner. The idea of Italy is a bit of a stereotype – even for the Italians themselves. The times when everything was cooked at home and the food was genuine and artisanal are long gone, since the 1960s at least. With the arrival of the first supermarkets during the economic boom and growing prosperity, progress has meant ready-made, industrial, packaged foods, a symbol of innovation and therefore of hope for the future. From an agricultural country we have transformed into an industrial economy which has affected values and tastes.
Memory is known to play bad jokes on us and if today we like to remember a bucolic and comforting past in which cows were milked by hand and millers pedaled their bicycles in the wheat fields to their white mill, it is only because we saw it in TV advertisements. We were children and with hindsight everything seemed better: nostalgia is a mental mechanism of human defense because looking at the past is comforting, while the future appears uncertain and dangerous.
Let’s be honest, however, the past, the real one, was not all pink and white, it was not “si stava meglio quando si stava peggio” (it was better when it was worse) and all these typical and delicious artisan products that we call Italian cuisine were not the favorites of the generations back then. Other than legume soups, lasagna and blue fish, the Mediterranean diet from the post-war period to today has also consisted of authentic junk food.
In Italy, the Boomers grew up with Star cubes to make broth, Liebig meat extracts, sachets of Idrolitina to make sparkling water, Algida ice creams and Mio cheeses. The Millennials of today were then weaned to “fruit juice” Billy, orange but without oranges, Galak white chocolate bars without cocoa, fish fingers and Catarì pizzas – not just homemade tortellini. City children thought that the cows were purple like the one on the Milka package, and in fact, if we hadn’t liked fast food so much, the Slow Food movement would not have been born in 1986, in Piedmont…
Those flavors, those products, those sweet memories are indelibly written in our memory and part of the collective gastronomic heritage, so much so that although we don’t crave mashed potatoes and risottos in bags, those childhood sweets are often missed… Although some have disappeared forever, others have survived and still retain their charm – incomprehensible to foreign eyes or who are less than thirty years old. But they must be tasted to understand a little more of the spirit of a nation, as they cost just a few euros.
Alcohol, cigarettes, fried foods, the list of things that are “bad” and addictive also includes snacks. It is difficult to define them simply as snacks, because these cakes packaged in single portions were invented in the 1950s in order to use the machines created for the large-scale production of panettone, during the rest of the year. The first was Mottino, a small panettone from Motta, a pioneer brand of the Italian confectionery industry. The real revolutionary snack, however, is the Buondì, also invented by Motta in 1953 for breakfast or a snack. It was popular, at a good price, and was a success – so much so that it is still sold today: before then, desserts were only homemade or pastries, and only for special occasions, while thus becoming no longer a luxury, but a common food. In the seventies, products that everyone has eaten at least once appeared on the scene: the Fiesta, the Tegolino, the Girella and the Tarts. From the eighties, snacks gradually took on a negative connotation, were accused of being the cause of childhood obesity in Italy and today – although the recipes are much improved – they are a forbidden guilty pleasure.
Ice Creams, other than artisanal
Artisanal ice cream is a novelty, or rather, it is on a large scale. Artisan ice cream parlors could be counted on the fingers of one hand, even in big cities, and eating a cone was a real luxury. Until the 1960s, ice cream carts were turning on the street and one of the best known Italian products in the world was not available to the general public. Then packaged ice cream changed everything, making ice cream a low-cost pleasure that everyone could afford. To get an idea, according to AIDI data – Italian Confectionery Industries Association – in the 1950s we consumed about 250 g of packaged ice creams per year, or about 3 or 4 ice creams. It was in the year 1948 when Angelo Motta, the one of the snacks, invented Mottarello, a fiordilatte ice cream on a stick that brought with it the flavor of a new lifestyle, evoked by the American ice-cream which at the time meant well-being and economic wealth. In the 1950s, the first Cornetto arrived and the “walking ice cream” became a symbol of the new generation: consumption tripled in less than ten years. Today artisanal ice cream dominates the market, but packaged ice creams stand out in every bar, and basically everyone recognizes the flavor of an Italian summer such as that of Cornetto, Coppa del Nonno or ice cream biscuits.
Italy is the home of Nutella, but also of many other chocolate-based products aimed at children. Cremalba, which later became Supercrema and eventually called Nutella in 1964 to attack foreign markets, was born in the 1920s as a low-cost alternative to chocolate. Hazelnuts, vegetable oil and little, very little cocoa, to feed the workers with two slices of bread and a cheap product: a kilo cost only 500 lire (about 25 euro cents). First solid and in a block and then spreadable, it was also successful among children, so much so that the Ferreros understood the potential of those small consumers. In 1968 comes the Kinder Chocolate, brilliant and profitable due to “more milk and less cocoa”, followed by the version with puffed cereal, good and healthy, but even less expensive than milk. In 1974 the chocolate egg’s turn, Kinder Surprise, with collectables hiding inside. Still today there is a market of amateurs, trading and collecting what’s inside these eggs. Every Italian child has made a fuss over a snack with that unmistakable taste of sweet and sugary chocolate. This memory, stamped in each of their minds can be re-lived in any supermarket.
The Spuma and Soft Drinks Made in Italy
In America they drank Coca-Cola, in Italy in bars and oratories, spuma. Spuma (froth) is a drink, not a brand, and indicates a carbonated soft drink, sweet and flavored with spices and citrus, a mix that creates a flavor that is difficult to define. Blonde or black, it was the alternative to soda and was found everywhere. However, when international brands spread their drinks into practical plastic cans and bottles in the 1980s, glass bottles gradually disappeared. But not entirely, and today they register a new youth. If snacks, chocolate snacks and industrial ice creams are products for children, spuma and other Made in Italy drinks are back in fashion, even on bartender counters. The slightly vintage labels have been dusted off: Acqua Brillante is a valid substitute for tonic along with gin, Chinotto Lurisia is also popular with adults and Spumador has launched new lines of Cedrata, Sanguinella and Menta for today’s adults. After all, they are none other than yesterday’s children.