Marc Vetri, an authority on Italian cooking and owner of eight restaurants in Philadelphia, is 20 years my senior but shares the same memory of panettone: “There was just always one there, always the same dried-out, store-bought panettone. Nobody ever loved it, but we always ate it.”
This isn’t necessarily the case in Italy. Unlike the panettones imported to the States, even the supermarket brands in the motherland tend to have finesse and panache. And then there are the freshly baked loaves from neighborhood pastry shops like the award-winning Pasticceria Veneto in the town of Brescia outside Milan, where Iginio Massari crafts a sourdough panettone that has been called “exuberant and voluptuous” by the Gambero Rosso guide and is widely considered Italy’s best.