Most food-based businesses these days start out with a business plan. Planning for profit is important, of course, but what about a business plan that includes saving those profits for a trip to your homeland of Italy? That’s part of the plan for the island artisan I profiled on CBC Radio’s All Points West this week.
Traveling to Italy sounds like a very specific part of a business plan, but it was a clear dream for Mirella Trozzo of Qualicum Beach when she started her small baking company ten years ago. A couple of weeks ago I visited Mirella at her home-based business, Biscotti di Notte, where she has built a lovely little commercial kitchen in the garage. The whole business came about by way of a sort-of challenge from her husband: “I always wanted to visit Italy, I have never been since I got here, and my husband, typical Italian, seven years older than me, said, ‘where are you going to get the money?’ and since I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I guess I needed to start some sort of home-based business, and that’s what I did.”
The name of her business, Biscotti di Notte, means Biscotti, for the Italian twice-baked cookie commonly dunked into coffee, and Notte, for night. She started making the biscotti late at night, when her two young boys were asleep and she could get some time to herself. Once she had perfected her recipe, things started to take off: “I brought some to my son’s elementary school, and the teachers there went nuts for them and wanted to buy them, then some cafes started buying them from me, and now I’m also in Quality Foods, and they have a number of stores on the island, and I’m actually starting to have a problem keeping up with the demand.”
The first thing that makes them stand out is that they are actually different from most other store-bought biscotti. Mirella only bakes them once, but she bakes them on special stones in her oven and makes them in rectangular metal moulds she had specially made. It took her a year to perfect the recipe, which was adapted from her family’s original recipe. It’s a very labour intensive process, but Mirella is pleased with what she came up with: “I really love the result, the texture is beautiful and I try to stay true to using the best quality ingredients whenever possible, pure vanilla or vanilla beans, I roast all the nuts myself before putting them in the batter. And then I have come up with different flavours, so for Seedy Saturday I have an all-seed biscotti, and for our community event Fire and Ice I came up with a chocolate, lime and chilli biscotti, where you get the sweet chocolate when you first taste it and then you get the hot chilli.”
Mirella hasn’t restricted her business strictly to the biscotti, I brought in a couple of other treats as well…including an Italian shortbread, which is more ball-shaped than traditional flat shortbreads. It’s stuffed with roasted pecans, and coated with icing sugar. You also have a piece of chocolate cinnamon vanilla pizzelle there. Mirella says the pizzelle is the oldest cookie in the world, tracing roots to the 8th century in her home region of Abruzzo. This is the very flat wafer pressed and baked in a decorative iron press, traditionally made with the licorishy flavour from anise, but Mirella has come up with some more modern flavours.
But you know what? She’s been at this for ten years now and she still hasn’t made that trip to Italy! Life happens, she says. Two young teenage boys, so there are tutors and braces and sports and it just hasn’t happened yet, but she knows that someday soon it will, and she wants to use the trip to learn how to make even better products.
I really hope she gets there. She came to Canada when she was just a baby, and I just know she will love Italy when she goes for her long-awaited visit. In the meantime, you will find Mirella at the Errington Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Come back to this page in a little bit, because I’m adding some photos of her wonderfully vintage decorated commercial kitchen which you can visit on certain days.