Californian Italians

A view of the Panini car collection

Between Modena, Cognento, Fiorano and Maranello, you can find a certain creative energy that is not so different from the US state that pulls the world along towards the new. Matteo Panini and Alessandra Cagliari are an example of how passion, commitment and success combined can open wide the windows on the world

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Should we wish to see just how taste and design evolve, then observing a specific category of products over a 100-year time frame is an unequivocal way of understanding how the world around us changes.

Matteo and Alessandra are an example of just what it means to be Italian in Modena and its surrounding region.
A change influenced not only by the evolution of technology and consumption patterns, but also by the culture and habits of certain countries or territories. The US, and California in particular, has made an indelible stamp on our lifestyles, influencing the design of many industrial and consumer products. Design is certainly not an end in itself, as shown by the creative fervour of an area such as Silicon Valley, which has spawned not just the seductive style of Apple products, but the entire universe of signs and symbols around which the digital world has developed. This influence does not necessarily have to be seen just locally. Indeed, materials, forms and exaggerations of a certain way of communicating with objects can also be recognised immediately in far-off countries. If, then, we meet two people, with a keen sense of aesthetics and taste, who are so in tune with each other that they have even married, the confirmation is absolute. Alessandra Cagliari and Matteo Panini, parents of two beautiful little girls, engage in very different activities: she belongs to a family that has built its reputation over 100 years in the production and selling of coffee; he belongs to another very well known family, Panini, which, in the 1950s, started off the phenomenon of collecting football stickers – a success that has gone way beyond national borders.

Today, Panini stickers are found in more than 110 countries and have not lost their fascination as objects to collect and swap. The family has not betrayed its rural origins, however, and has continued to work breeding livestock and producing wholly organic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It is also a Modenese family that has a great passion for cars and can boast a truly unique collection.
When former Maserati owners De Tomaso decided to auction off a number of cars when the company was being sold to Fiat in 1993, Umberto Panini, Matteo’s father, made a generous offer to buy them all, thus ensuring that an automotive treasure trove was kept in its native Modena. Two characters such as Panini and Cagliari deserve to be better known. They truly are an example of just what it means to be Italian in Modena and its surrounding region. As this issue of The Official Ferrari Magazine is devoted to the California, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore just how much of the US is present in Italian design. Panini and Cagliari’s extraordinary collections of cars and coffee machines cover a rich and varied timescale.

There is, for instance, an amazing Maserati created for Stirling Moss on the occasion of the 1958 500 Miles of Monza, which was a kind of Indianapolis 500 run on the oval of the Autodromo to provide a challenge for US cars that had arrived in Europe for the first time. This shows just how Modena’s innate creativity was further stimulated by US-made racing cars. It’s even there in the showy advertising on the Maserati Eldorado for an ice cream of the same name from the years when racing cars in Europe bore the national colours and race numbers and nothing else. It’s a skilful interpretation of American iconography.
The Maserati Eldorado had offset steering, a pronounced tailfin and that white colour scheme, much closer to US codes than the traditional Italian styles, which were usually red.
We have that same sensation of American design – stainless steel and as stately as 1930s skyscrapers – when we look at many of the strictly “made in Italy” coffee machines of the 1950s that are in the Cagliari collection. Even if the design is Italian, as is the cremoso-style coffee (with a foam on the surface created with technologies that made it possible to operate with ultra-high water pressure so as not to scald the powder), the influence of the great designers who contributed to producing such a distinctive American style is obvious. One thinks of Studebaker cars, iconic Coca-Cola bottles, William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building in New York, or William Eppelsheimer’s fabled cable cars on the streets of San Francisco.

Above all, wandering through the various rooms where the machines are proudly exhibited feels like walking back in time: from the stately filter machines of the pre-war period to those more reminiscent of skyscrapers or the glorious radiator grilles of 1950s US cars, and then on to designs inspired by the curves of television sets from that decade and, later, to machines taking their design cues from the epic space race between the then USSR and US. From all of them – and this says everything about “Italianness” – comes an excellent coffee that is now famous the world over. California versus America, Modena versus Italy. Specificity within specificity. If California brings out what America represents, the same happens in Modena and its surrounding region (which, of course, includes Maranello and Fiorano) in relation to Italianness.

Here people think big and they do so with two important ingredients: determination and rigour.
Here people think big and they do so with two important ingredients: determination and rigour, yet without foregoing that taste for the beautiful and refined that transforms every activity into pleasure. With his fascinating agricultural business, where the dappled cows eat only natural foods amid collections of immaculately cared-for vintage tractors and other agricultural machines, sculptures and marvellous automobiles, and where visitors can savour the history of luxury GT racing, in addition to the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Panini really is the perfect representation of this way of life. Cagliari, with her Modena company and its meticulous collection of coffee machines, which is being continually expanded and updated with rare coffee machines, and where there is an aroma of the Italian coffee that so many, the world over, have come to refer to as simply “espresso”, is also testament to a lifestyle that is in the DNA of this region. It is no surprise, then, that Cagliari and Panini ended up getting married…

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