You can find cantucci throughout Italy but "biscotti di Prato" is a true local specialty. Biscotti di Prato, called also cantuccini di Prato, belongs to the Tuscan Traditional Products official directory and they also appear on many foodies’ bucket lists. The ingredients are only flour, sugar, eggs, almonds and pine nuts, and no rising agent, butter, oil or milk is used.One of the oldest and most popular producers in Tuscany was Antonio Mattei. Pellegrino Artusi talked about him as a "genius in his art, honest industrious man". He set up his business "Biscottificio Mattei" in Prato in via Ricasoli in 1858, making and selling the almond-flavoured "Biscotti di Prato". He showed a sample of his product at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, where he won a special mention. The shop is still there and the recipe hasn't changed since then. Celebrities as Hermann Hesse have talked about these special biscotti: "I found a ride and soon reached Prato. You know how famous Prato biscotti are!" Just like Hesse did, I decided to take a train to get to the city and discover how these famous cantuccini are made. Only top ingredients are used, explained Angela, one of the Mattei sellers. The dough is made using flour, sugar, local eggs, almonds and pine nuts from San Rossore, paying special attention to the time for preparation and proportions.
The dough is then shaped and laid on the trays for baking. Lastly, the biscotti are baked and then cut (when the dough is still hot) into aromatic biscuits and then packaged. Since the "Biscotti di Prato" recipe is a secret I couldn't take notes of all the preparation instructions, but I bought an assortment of packages as Christmas gifts.
Actually Mattei doesn't just produce cantuccini. Here, you can find many other traditional cakes like the Mantovana (white cake). It's said that the original recipe of the Mantovana dates from the 19th century, when Antonio Mattei received it as a gift from two nuns from Mantua to thank him for his hospitality.
After Mattei the factory has been managed by three generations of the Pandolfini family, the descendants of the best Mattei apprentice and foster son. Today, you can find biscotti di Prato in this and other shops, in Prato and around the world and at many Tuscan tables with a small glass of Tuscan straw wine or Vinsanto. Anyway our advice is to venture out to explore the city of Prato, to get lost in its narrow streets to better savour the sweet taste of this story.