Panini is the signature dish in Cafe Mellow, so we thought we would offer you a history of this delicious sandwich.

In Italy, “Panino” is the word for a sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread.   Examples of bread types used are ciabatta, rosetta and baguette.  The bread is cut horizontally and filled with deli ingredients such as salami, ham, cheese, mortadella, or other food and sometimes served warm after having been pressed by a warming grill.  A toasted sandwich made from sliced bread is not called “Panino” but “Toast” by Italians and is usually filled with ham and a few slices of cheese, and heated in sandwich press.  A popular version of panino in Central Italy is filled with porchetta, slices of pork roasted with salt, rosemary, and sage.

In the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, the term Panini has been adopted to refer to pressed and toasted sandwiches; there is widespread availability and use of sandwich presses, often known as “Panini Presses” or “Toasted sandwich makers” is common.

Photograph of a succulent  Panini - History of the Panini

Although the first U.S. reference to Panini dates to 1956 a precursor appeared in a 16th-century Italian cookbook.  The sandwiches became trendy in Milanese bars, called Paninoteche, in the 1970s and 1980s.  Trendy U.S. restaurants, particularly in New York, began selling Panini, whose popularity then spread to other U.S. cities, each producing distinctive variations of it.

During the 1980s, the term Paninaro was used to denote a youngsters’ culture typical of teenagers supposed to eat and meet in sandwich bars such as Milan’s “Al Panino” and then in the first US style fast food restaurants opened in Italy.  Paninari were depicted as fashion-fixated, vain individuals, delighting in showcasing early 1980s status symbols such as Timberland shoes, Moncler accessories, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and articles from Armani, Coveri, Controvento.  They were lampooned in the Italia 1 comedy show Drive-in by Enzo Braschi.  A track entitled “Paninaro” appears on Pet Shop Boys’ albums Disco and Alternative.

Cafe mellow's "Genoa" Panini

Cafe mellow’s “Genoa” Panini

Machines

Panini are cooked in specific grilling machines called either Panini Presses or simply Panini Machines.  Domestic Panini Machines are usually made of teflon-coated metal or glass-ceramic, whereas professional units are made out of glass-ceramic or cast iron.  A few brands offer special features on their machines, such as cooking plates that can be removed for safe cleaning in the dishwasher.