Spring in Italy

Celebrating Easter (Pasqua) or Passover (Pesach)  in Italy is one of the most joyous occasions of the year! It is end of winter and nature’s rebirth. For everyone  it is a time to enjoy the banquet of flowers  popping up everywhere, the Primizie ( first delicious vegetables and fruits) sprouting and the sun shining  longer and brighter. 

Pasqua is considered the most important religious event of the year.  During Holy Week, from the northern regions to the southern tip of Italy more than 3,000 symbolic enactments are staged with countless  rite, processions, feasts, traditions and sacred performances. On Venerdì Santo (Holy Friday) the inhabitants of hundreds villages slowly make their way along ancient roads—sometimes on bare feet—carrying torches to commemorate the Passion.  Then, on Pasqua Sunday the tables of the Italians are vibrant with early spring vivacious colors of fresh flowers, peach tree stems, and beautiful colorful eggs.  

Pasquetta (“Little Easter”)  is the Monday immediately after Easter and also a national holiday, The usual custom used to be a  “fuori-porta” (beyond the gate) short trip  off on a family picnic day.

A popular Italian saying: “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” “Christmas with your family,  Easter with whomever you like” have nowadays changed the traditions and most Italians spend Easter holiday on a mini-vacation visiting the museums opened in major cities, filling up restaurants, or bearing the driving hours on highway to be at a nearby beach  or a hilltop .

The season’s freshest vegetables all play a part in the feast:

  • Artichokes (carciofi)
  • Asparagus  (asparagi)
  • Chard
  • Fava Beans
  • Young green beans
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce

April Recipe: Carciofi alla Giudia (Roman-Jewish Style Artichokes)

Pairing wines with Artichokes

 

Legends of the Dolomites & The Forest of Violins

Legend of the Scenic Dolomite Mountains & Stradivarius Violin forest

These magic mountains range in the northern Italian Alps covering an area that is shared by the provinces of Belluno, Bolzano, Trento, Udine, and Pordenone and owe their name to Déodat de Dolomieu, a French naturalist who first studied and discovered the particular composition that forms their bedrock (double calcium carbonate), unique in the whole Alpine range.

The Dolomites are also known as “Monti Pallidi” in Italian; ‘Pale Mountains’, as their white rocks glow with golden, pink and purple hues at dawn and dusk…here the tale of the magical colors.

Legend of the Prince

Once upon a time in the Dolomites there was a prince to whom a princess appeared in a dream, but she lived on the moon. The two fell in love, but the dark gloomy mountains made the princess sad. She missed the radiant light of the moon. The Prince worried about his love falling ill, so one night wandering the woods he met a dwarf king. The king told him the dwarfs had been chased away, and the prince told the king his troubles. The King of the Dwarfs suggested he could use his powers to cure the princess melancholy on condition he would always live in in the mountains. The prince immediately agreed. The very next night hundreds of dwarfs descended on the dark mountains in the light of the moon and wrapped every peak and every rock with little shiny white threads from the moon until it began to shine pale white so the Dolomites, unlike other mountains, have this characteristic pale color.

Myths and legends aside, the Dolomites enchanting shapes and colors are renowned throughout the world, and in the middle of this  stunning  Dolomite mountain range, there is a real “Forest of Violins”.

“The Forest of Violins” –  The Paneveggio forest, in the middle of the stunning Dolomite mountain range, holds a precious resource. The Norway spruce trees have been producing quality resonance wood for cellos, violins and pianos for centuries. Violin makers have praised the wood’s compact and uniform density, and flawlessness. These trees grow in optimal conditions producing very narrow growth rings which make the wood ideal for transmitting pure, harmonious sound waves. Just as Stradivari, musicians and instrument makers still visit the forest to select their trees which takes ability and great knowledge.

Every year, in the Sounds of the Dolomites summer music festival, the community dedicates trees to imminent musicians. The ‘Woods that Play’ project underscores the link and music and between the resonance wood trees and the genius of musicians and composers.

The first musician to select ‘his’ tree was violinist Uto Ughi. Walking through the forest and playing his Stradivari violin, he listened to the notes vibrate in a nearby tree and exclaimed ”This is the one!”.  A sign was placed next to the tree: ”The trees in this forest vibrated to his magical notes. Thank you, Maestro Ughi”.

The same happened few years later to Veneto violoncellist Mario Brunello. He let  be guided by the sounds of the forest. After the concert “Sunrise on the Dolomites” he placed his cello at the base and began to play. The plaque reads “Nature created us, the genius of man discovered our musical vitality, and its class transforms the sound in strong emotions”.

Recipe of the Dolomites: Canederli allo Speck

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Italy: The History of Chocolate

ITALY: THE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE

In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas and found new and wonderful foods including cocoa. He returned to Spain with some cocoa beans to give to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who were not at all impressed. It was Hernan Cortes, Spanish Conquistador who returned to Spain in 1528 not only with the beans but also with the Aztec recipe to make the chocolate beverage with chili pepper, spices and sugar that chocolate caught the King and Queen’s attention. However, it was mostly a Spanish secret for several decades .

Nevertheless, it became a huge hit with the European aristocracy. Catherine, daughter of Philip II from Spain who married Emanuel I, duke of Savoy most likely introduced chocolate in Italy.

It is quite certain Francesco Carletti, a Florentine and famous traveler, visiting cocoa plantations near Guatemala around 1591 immediately understood the cocoa powder had enormous trade possibilities for Italy and use of chocolate quickly expanded thanks to the Jesuits trade activities. By 1606 chocolatiers were present in Florence, Venice and Turin.

In mid-17th century, chocolate came to the Pope’s court in Rome; in 1662 Cardinal Brancaccio considered it for disrupting lent fasting as a cup of chocolate after mass was healthy.

In 1802, Bozzelli invented the machine to grind the cocoa and mix it with sugar and vanilla in Turin

The people of Turin, capital of the Piedmont region, have had this chocolate love affair for over 350 years. The region and the city of Turin have both played a leading role in the Italian chocolate industry. It is here that some of the largest confectionary companies in Italy were founded.  The first official license to produce chocolate in Turin was granted in 1678 and the well to do in Turin soon got the taste for liquid or hot chocolate. This custom still survives today in the historic coffee bars of  the city in the form of Bicerin, a drink composed of chocolate, coffee and milk. Turin and its Piedmont region is known as the core of chocolate production in Italy.

The oldest chocolate factories in Italy were founded end of 18th century. The first artisanal chocolatier was Majani, founded in 1796 in Bologna and by mid-19th century some of the greatest names of Italian chocolate making began: Caffarel, Pernigotti, Talamone and Venchi. During 20th century first decade, a large scale production came with Perugina, Peyrano, and Streglio, making Italy a world chocolate producing giant.

ITALY’S FAMOUS BRANDS

Majani

Thanks to Teresa Majani’s inventive and initiative,  Laboratorio delle Cose Dolci”  tarted as a small chocolatier laboratory in 1796, ” near the basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. It became the official provider of chocolate products to the Savoy family just around the time of Italy unification- awarded during the Universal Fairs of Paris, (1867 and 1878), Vienna (1873) and Milan (1881).  Majani’s most iconic product remains, still today, the Cremino FIAT, a chocolate created in 1911 to honor the FIAT Tipo 4 car.

Caffarel

Caffarel is not only one of the largest and best known Italian producers of chocolate, but also the company that inspired the Swiss to start producing chocolate on an industrial scale. Founded in 1826 by Pietro Caffarel, the small chocolatier’s lab in Turin’s old historical center, Caffarel used one of Bozelli’s machines to make chocolate the first true chocolate producer. In 1845, he joined forces with a well-known Torinese chocolatier, Michele Prochet. In 1852, they invented one of Italy’s best loved chocolates, the gianduiotto, made with cocoa, sugar and hazelnuts (the “tonda gentile” variety) from the Langhe region in the form of a little boat = barchetta .The barchette can be eaten as a dessert and paired with sweet or sparkling wine like Brachetto d’Acqui or Piedmont’s king of wines, wine of kings… Barolo.. The name Gianduiotto takes its name from Turin’s popular carnival mask Gianduia. Today Caffarel belongs to Lindt.

Venchi

Venchi has opened shops in towns across Italy. Founded in Turin, headquarters today near Cuneo, Venchi specializes in producing  dark and gianduia style chocolate. Its founder, Silviano Venchi, was only 16 when he became a “master chocolatier”.” In 1878, he opened his first chocolate laboratory, in the very central Via degli Artisti in Turin. In 1960, Venchi, Unica ,and Talmone, joined forces and became one of the largest chocolate empires in Italy, until its dissolution, which left Venchi to operate on a much smaller scale. In 2000, Vechi joined forces with another master from Cuneo, Pietro Cussino, famous for Cuneesi al Rum, small meringues of rich, dark chocolate coating and rum-flavored creme filling. With this acquisition, Venchi began focusing on gourmet chocolate, made only with natural ingredients and invested in the world of gelato. Today Venchi is one of Italian chocolate’s best known brands and also a renowned gelato producer.

Perugina

Perugina is one of the best known Italian chocolate brands on the international market. the company was founded in Perugia in 1908 by Francesco Buitoni, Annibale Spagnoli and his wife Luisa, Leone Ascoli and Francesco Andreani. Perugina’s most famous chocolate is and always has been Baci Perugina. Its dark chocolate shell and soft gianduia hazelnut filling inside Baci, meaning “kisses”, Perugina is a symbol in Italy for falling in love, largely due to its marketing campaign where inside the packaging you can find a romantic “quote” written in several languages, a quote one might fail to express in own words but  the melting is not only the chocolate.

In 1988, Perugina, an historical Italian name, was sold to Nestlé. Even though all its production plants remain in Perugia, Perugina is no longer Italian.

ARTISANS OF CHOCOLATE

CIOCCOLATO DI MODICA IGP   

Modica Chocolate has the IGP Denomination and is  produced exclusively in Modica, Sicily, using a traditional procedure and recipe for grainy, crumbly texture. The Spaniards brought to Sicily the chocolate recipe and techniques. The seeds were cooked by a “cold chocolate” method- grinding at 40 degrees, sugar and retain of their buttery quality. The sugar does not melt giving a gritty and crumbly consistency, signature of Modica chocolate. At the end of the process, a variety of flavors, such as vanilla, red pepper, cinnamon, coffee, or citrus can be added.  Nowadays, Modica producers use industrial machines to make their chocolate to be eaten as a delicious solid bar or mixed into a hot drink!

MIRCO DELLA VECCHIA

The master chocolatier Mirco Della Vecchia began his career in the chocolate world, winning various competitions of national and international pastry. Passion for handmade chocolate led him to produce, in the original chocolate factory on Limana (Belluno), pralines, creams, bars and other products, buying cocoa directly from South American producers.  Its latest  is the launch of chocolate shops in franchising “Chocolatiers Mirco Della Vecchia” real “temples” of handmade chocolate.

ROCCATI

A long tradition of Roccati family’s pastry experience   started early ‘900s  employed by the Royal Household at the Savoy residences in Venaria Reale and Rome. in 1909, Pasquale, Teresa and Luigi Roccati stared  their own  “Turin Pasticceria Roccati” in Senigallia, a seaside resort  producing cream puffs, confectionery, nougat, works in caramel, jam and chocolate, all according to the best Piedmontese tradition, enjoying huge success with customers. In 1968,  Mario Roccati decided to devote his passion for chocolate developing and refining ideas that in 1989  the confectionery transferred from Senigallia to Madonna di Campiglio. In 1996, after years of success he moved with his family and transferred  the laboratory in Bologna dedicating to chocolate, and In 2016 reopened in Madonna di Campiglio.

Augusto Perusia

A father and son share the same passion and the desire to realize the chocolate following the ancient recipes of the chocolate-making tradition of Perugia. In early 70s,  he met Buitoni and Spagnoli and learned all the secrets and techniques to make homemade chocolate. In the ‘90s techniques and secrets were in danger of disappearing. In 2000 Giacomo Mangano and his wife Rita decided to re-invent themselves with a traditional chocolate factory in the heart of Perugia and gave back to the city the chocolate as it was once.The first workshop Chocolate Augusta Perusia was in  one of the most beautiful sights of Perugia. A small place but with magic that is where art and culture meet- the Etruscan Arch, the Roman aqueduct, the medieval city walls and the University for Foreigners, famous throughout the world.

Gobino

Guido Gobino, owner of Gobino, come from a family of chocolate making. His father started working in the world of chocolate in 1964 as an artisanal producer of chocolate in Turin with had a long and honored tradition. They decided to invest and reinvent  Turin’s traditional gianduiotto, by creating variations of the classic chocolate. Gobino is also known for his creations and creativity. In 2008, he received the Best Praline in the World award, for his sea salt and extra virgin olive oil chocolates. Between 2009 and 2011, Gobino also won the Tavoletta d’Oro three times for their  praline with a jasmine green tea ganache decorated with matcha, the gianduia spread and the large gianduiotto, sold in slices.

ITALY’S CHOCOLATE FESTIVALS

1.             Eurochocolate: Perugia, October

2.             Cioccoshow: Bologna, November

3.             CioccolaTò: Turin, November

4.             Chocomodica: Modica, December

5.             Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale: Florence, February

6.             Cioccolentino: Terni, February

7.             Chocomoments: itinerant chocolate festival, from September to December