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I still remember the first time I tried Nutella. I was studying abroad in Switzerland, and the hit of sweet chocolate-hazelnut was a revelation. I couldn’t believe that the spread hadn’t yet made its way to America. Fast-forward (more years than I care to count) to today, and Nutella has become widely available Stateside, prompting the migration of other regional dessert-y spreads — like the Belgian speculoos, which is made from shortbread cookies — to American grocery-store shelves and kitchen tables. In that time, I moved to Italy, where I discovered another (better) nut-based delicacy that I foresee filling pantry shelves far and wide: pistachio cream.
Pistachio cream is a beloved treat in Italy, a staple at markets and in cupboards across the country. A popular cake I’ve had here is torta nua, which is essentially a sponge cake that often has a seductive layer of pistachio cream. I’ve eaten many a slice with a caffè on the side (a combination I highly recommend — the strong espresso balances the cake’s sweet nuttiness beautifully). I also love to drizzle pistachio cream over my morning yogurt, slather it on toast, or just eat it by the spoonful. And I am not the only non-native Italian who feels that way: Other foodies across the Atlantic have taken note of its crave-worthiness, just as they did Nutella. This is, in a way, predictable: Both products are sweet spreads made with nuts. But as with many comestibles, the taste of pistachio cream can vary by brand. Those who do it right concoct a spread that’s not as cloyingly saccharine as Nutella and more nuanced in flavor.
My favorite pistachio cream that’s available widely in the United States comes from Giannetti Artisans, a small woman-run business started by an Italian American whose parents immigrated to the States before she was born. It’s based in Chicago but produced in Italy, with its founder splitting her time between the two countries. This cream beats out others I’ve eaten because, well, it tastes of actual pistachios. The company adds roughly 20 percent more of the nuts to its spreads, something I’ve noticed from comparing ingredient lists. Like other quality purveyors people talk about, such as Pistacchiosa, Giannetti Artisans uses olive oil as a lubricant when grinding the nuts. This process can make competitors’ creams too savory — Pistacchiosa, for instance, tastes too olive-oil forward to me. The flavor of Giannetti’s is more balanced.
In what could be seen as a nod to the star of its product lineup, Giannetti Artisans actually makes two kinds of pistachio cream. Both are made with pistachios sourced from Bronte, a region in Sicily that is so famous for the nut that some grown there are legally protected with a DOP designation (or denominazione d’origine protetta, which translates to protected designation of origin) to distinguish them from lesser varieties. The brand’s premium pistachio cream contains DOP nuts and costs a couple bucks more than the version it makes with non-DOP pistachios (that still come from Bronte). I’ve tried both, and they more or less taste the same — the premium spread just delivers more of its star (and status) ingredient’s flavor in each bite.
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