Before I moved to Trieste from NY, I really knew little or nothing about this city or this region of Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG). Unlike other parts of Italy, this region is not covered by the travel press as much as other more popular destinations in Italy and therefore it is refreshingly still relatively undiscovered. That’s precisely what makes it fascinating to me.
However, as “unknown” as Trieste seemed to me, it’s funny how so much of it somehow reached through to me throughout my life. For example, as a child I would travel between New York and Genova on the Italian Line transoceanic ships, to come summer in Italy. Those ships belonged to Italia Societa’ di Navigazione S.p.A., a passenger shipping line that operated regular transatlantic services between Italy and the United States. During the late 1960s the company turned to running cruises, and from 1981 it became a global freight operator. The company, founded in 1932, was the result of a merger of the Genoa-based Navigazione Generale Italiana (NGI), the Turin-based Lloyd Sabaudo, and the Trieste-based Cosulich STN lines, promoted by the Italian government.
During those summers in Italy, a lot of time was spent playing cards with friends and family. Everything from Asinone, to Briscola and Scopa (a tradition passed down to my children and their friends in the US). The cards we used were referred to as the “Carte Romagnole” and, as it turns out, the brand was MODIANO, a Trieste based manufacturer still in operation today. Apparently Modiano made sets for every region, and as Italian campanellismo would have it, everyone would fight over the fact that the cards were really of their region or city (ie. “they’re called Napoletane!“)
Modiano was founded in Trieste in 1868 by Saul David Modiano, a native of Thessaloniki, and it began as a cigarette rolling papers company. In 1884 the company began making lithographs and specialized in artistic reproductions and playing cards, and soon established itself worldwide. In the early twentieth century the company became famous for its artistic billboards, featuring renowned illustrators like Marcello Dudovich and Sàndor Bortnyik. In 1988 Modiano was taken over by the Grafad of the Crechici family, with the promise not to fire anyone and keep the business in Trieste.
Today the company produces 10 million decks of cards a year, 40% destined for Italy and the other 60% exported to the USA, Spain, Germany, Holland, Greece. It ranks first in the Italian playing card market, it is the absolute leader in sales in Greece and the bulk of its business is in supplying casinos worldwide. The factory is still in Trieste in San Dorligo della Valle.
Another brand with roots in Trieste that permeated my childhood was STOCK, famous for its brandy and digestifs like Fernet Branca. I remember stealing spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream affogato (drowned) in the famous brandy from my grandmother when we’d go out for an afternoon aperitivo. It was a distinct bottle ubiquitous in every bar and household we’d visit. When I arrived in Trieste and had to get my Tessera Sanitaria, the national healthcare ID card, I was sent to the Roiano neighborhood of Trieste to the “Stock” building, a large red brick structure which had clearly been previously repurposed to house the health offices, a large grocery store and a couple of bars. I casually asked if the name had anything to do with the famous brandy company and was promptly informed that it was the original building where the distillery had once stood.
In 1884, Lionello Stock founded the Camis & Stock company in Trieste, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and distributed its products throughout the empire. Its flagship product was cognac, but following the end of WW1, trade between the countries from the empire became more difficult. Stock bought a distillery in Božkov (a village near Plzeň (Pilsen) Bohemia) and founded a subsidiary called Stock Cognac Medicinal. At first, spirits were produced and then transported from Trieste to be bottled there.The plant began gradually operating independently and shipments from Trieste came to an end.
In 1927, the Pilsen company Stock Cognac Medicinal Božkov u Plzně began with its production of a bitter liqueur Fernet Stock. It was however hit by the Great Depression in 1929 and then seized by the Nazis as Jewish property in 1939, and ending up as national property by the end of the WW2. Although Lionello Stock regained possession briefly in 1947, it was nationalized in 1948. Fernet Stock’s popularity increased through the 1960s and 70s, and following the Velvet Revolution, its sales increased even more dramatically with the introduction of novelty flavors. In the nineties, sales of the popular liqueurs grew by 500%. In 1993, the distillery’s original owner Stock Trieste became its majority shareholder. In 2007, Stock Plzeň was sold to Tenebro, a company belonging to the U.S. Oaktree Capital Management group and as of 2012 production moved entirely over to the Czech Republic.
Trieste snuck its way into my life yet again through a little tin of lozenges that my mother often kept in her pocketbook, a tin of PASTILLES ANBERRIES. The tin had an unmistakeable old world look with its golden and turquoise designs and vintagey looking fonts. I remember the gummy oval shaped lozenge, with a depression on the bottom so that it would stick to your tongue while the sweet-tart flavor would fill your mouth.
The Pastilles got their start in England in the mid-nineteenth century and were originally know as Allenburys. Prepared following a traditional English recipe to treat sore throats, their most popular flavor was the Black Currant and Glycerine lozenge first sold in 1892; containing concentrated black currant juice, rich in active ingredients. In the 1920s and 1930s they were advertised in various magazines for use in quieting coughs while at the theater or cinema and as a sore throat salve for actors, singers, orators and smokers.
At the end of the 1950s, Pastilles Allenburys with Black Currant and Glycerine began to appear in Italian pharmacies thanks to the distribution work of the pharmaceutical company Eurospital SpA of Trieste and were rebranded as Anberries.
Another Trieste based product that I often saw in pharmacies when my children were little were the baby-pink and blue tubes of cream called Fissan used to calm heat and diaper rashes. This too was a product born in Trieste (along with the popular Badedas bodywash which became infamous in the 70s with sexy/steamy commercials with the tagline, “Things happen after a Badedas bath”).
In 1930, Triestine entrepreneur Osiride Brovedani met Arthur Sauer at a pharmaceuticals fair in Milan. Sauer had developed a skin care product from milk albumin, which he called Fissan, deriving the name from a Latin synthesis : “Fissuram” meaning healing the cracks. Sauer asks Brovedani to market the product and thus began a successful partnership lasting 40 years. 650 hospitals adopted the brand’s products throughout Italy and the company became nationally famous. From 1970 to 1985 Fissan achieved leading positions in Italy (it held 90% of the sector market), growing in popularity also thanks to the sponsorship of the Triestina soccer team in the early 1980s. In 1985 the Fissan brand was purchased by the British company Beecham, taking over the Trieste factory operations. In the early 1990s, the company was taken over by Smith Kline, and then in 1993 by Sara Lee, then Cover and then it was finally bough out by Unilever in 1999. In the meantime, other well-known brands were produced in the Trieste factory, including Badedas bodywash. Operations ceased in 2006 when production was moved out of Trieste.
In the 70s it became “a thing” to dip your nose in the head of a beer like the models did in the DREHER beer commercials, little did I know that Dreher was also a Triestine brand. The Dreher family was a dynasty of master brewers, famous throughout Bohemia since the seventeenth century. In 1760 the young Franz Anton Dreher, who worked as a brewer in the family brewery, decided to move to Vienna bringing with him his technical knowledge and resourcefulness. In 1773 he succeeded in founding his own brewery producing light beer typical of the Bohemian tradition. Commercial success was almost immediate and in 1806 when Franz Anton Dreher was named “dean of the master brewers of Vienna”.
In 1870 the Dreher factory of Trieste was born. Franz Anton’s grandson, Anton Dreher took over a failing beer distillery started by a consortium of Triestine entrepreneurs, among them Elio de Morpurgo, Revoltella and important shareholders such as the Bank Rotschild, Michele Sartorio and others. In 1865 they formed the “First Company for the manufacture of beer in Trieste” located in the area that is now via Giulia. In 1866, despite the profusion of means and the thousand people who worked there the production did not take off, indeed it suffered several losses. Anton Dreher took over the factory and soon, with the annexation of Trieste to Italy, following WW1, Dreher beer of Trieste became famous throughout Italy. For decades, the Dreher factory stood in Trieste and it also housed a tavern popular with locals. Then in the 1960s, with the aim of decentralizing production, a brewery was built in Puglia, in Massafra, province of Taranto. In 1974, Dreher beer in Italy was taken over managed by Heineken Italia S.p.A., with administrative headquarters in Milan. The Dreher factory in Trieste closed in 1976.
Another two iconic brands from Trieste that had gained national and international fame and which, long before my arrival to Trieste, I had had contact with as a consumer belonged to two historic coffee giants. Hausbrandt and Illy. Trieste is where the first coffee shop opened in 1748 thanks to the brisk coffee import business playing out in the Port of Trieste under Austro-Hungarian rule. I remember the smiling coffee pot “Moka”, the first animated Hausbrandt logo, created by Luciano Biban (born in Venice but Friulian by adoption). Biban became one of the leading Friulian graphic artists thanks to his surprising ability to combine advertising and art. That logo was everywhere in the 60s and has survived throughout the decades. I remember that logo in every bar along the Adriatic coast where we spent summers visiting friends and family.
The brand “Specialità Caffè Hausbrandt” was founded in 1892 in Trieste by Hermann Hausbrandt, a former Austrian merchant navy commander. The coffee company distinguished itself by offering ready-made products, totally processed and sealed inside special metal containers in their plant in the Port of Trieste.
Illy coffee first came to my attention in the US in the 80s with the birth of the wave of “new Italian” products; from trendy grocery stores like Dean & Deluca to De Laurentis’ bakeries and new Italian cuisine featuring much lighter and fresher fare than the traditional Italo-American standbys. Founded in Trieste by Francesco Illy in 1933, his 1935 invention of the illetta, was considered the blueprint for modern espresso machines and revolutionized coffee preparation. Illy’s innovative method of packaging, based on pressurization, enabled Illy’s initial exports to Sweden and Holland during the 1940s. Francesco Illy’s method remains the standard for preserving and enhancing coffee’s freshness during transport and storage. In 1965 he moved the company to its current Via Flavia headquarters, and it is still in Trieste.
I’m sure that there are many more brands that have originated here and that I have yet to discover. It’s funny how I’ve been in touch with so many of these “Made in Trieste” products throughout my lifetime, never knowing where they originated from and, it’s amazing that these blockbuster brands didn’t do more to popularize this city and this region. It makes me happy to see how much greatness has come out of this city and how much more is coming out, especially when you look at the fields of science, medicine and technology not to mention the large and historic companies like Generali, Lloyd Adriatico and Fincantieri.
Trieste and FVG are now into their renaissance on many fronts and I am happy to be here to see it happen.