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Anna Majani, Grande Dame of Fine Chocolate, Dies at 85

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

When Anna Majani stepped into her family’s factory in Bologna, Italy, to begin work among the cocoa toasters, marble tables and molds for chocolates eaten by kings and poets, nobody took her seriously.

It was 1954. She was a woman, she was all of 18 and she had already caused a scandal in town, becoming pregnant by a soccer player at 15.

But Ms. Majani stayed on, rose to vice president and became the company’s creative heart, earning widespread credit for turning her family’s chocolates into design objects and for imbuing the brand with her charisma.

Ms. Majani died on Feb. 28 at a hospital in Bologna. She was 85.

The cause was Covid-19, her son, Francesco Mezzadri Majani, said. In addition to him, she is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Anna Majani was born in Bologna on Feb. 4, 1936. Her mother, Luisa Cavedoni, was a homemaker; her father, Francesco Majani, was the owner of the chocolate company founded by his ancestors in 1796, according to the company’s official history, which calls Majani Italy’s first chocolate-making concern.

It soon became the official supplier for Italy’s Savoy kings. Majani was also known for its Fiat cremino, a four-layer almond and hazelnut chocolate created in 1911 in partnership with the Italian carmaker for the launch of a new model. Fiat’s president, Gianni Agnelli, once told Ms. Majani that her company sold more Fiat chocolates than he sold cars.

Other chocolate makers emerged and thrived in Italy in the following decades, including Venchi and Ferrero, famous for its Nutella spread — but Majani, although smaller, is among the few that still start production with raw cocoa beans instead of buying already-made chocolate from third parties.

The business declined under Ms. Majani’s father, who seemed more interested in good food, women and hunting dogs. By 1985, when she took control, the family had sold most of its shares.

Ms. Majani mortgaged her house to reclaim ownership, and together with her son — whom she referred to as a “brother” because they were so close in age — built it back. He took care of the finances, and she designed dozens of new shapes, textures and packages for their collections.

She created the Don Juan, a chocolate filled with Armagnac brandy, and the Damascus, chocolates wrapped in foil with pink and blue damask patterns. She covered Easter chocolate eggs in black satin and garnished them with rhinestones, then made the “uovo platò,” a flat version of the traditional chocolate egg.

Even in her later years she would go to the factory daily, eat a dark chocolate with cane sugar (“my medicine”) and spend the day checking packages along the production line before leaving for the theater or the opera house.

Ms. Majani was a sought-after hostess in Bologna. Her parties were, naturally, fueled with trays of pralines, chocolate ice cream and other delicacies.

One scorching summer, when the actor Marcello Mastroianni stopped in Bologna for a few days, Ms. Majani invited him to a cocktail party at her apartment. Despite the heat, she served him mugs of dark, thick, hot chocolate.

“She thought she had chocolate in her veins,” Mr. Mezzadri Majani said.

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