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.



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 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 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 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.



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!


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.


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.


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.


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

Sweet Italian Holiday Traditions


Italian Sweet Traditions

Every year during the holiday season Italy showcases its confectionary delights and traditions. Leavened breads, panettone, pandoro, panforte, struffoli, torrone, gubana and ricciarelli, … just to name a few.

Each table shows strong territorial traditions and symbols. Simple breads enriched over time with different ingredients creating overabundance of choices.

In the 1300s spices became part of the cuisine and doughs made of flour, milk, lard and dried fruit were embellished with pepper, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. During Renaissance, in the kitchens of apothecaries, convents and courts, panettone, panforte, pandoro, and gubana were created expressing a unique territorial identity.  

 Here is a list of some traditional Italian Christmas Sweets and the legends and stories behind them:



Several stories and legends are connected to the birth of the quintessential Christmas cake originating in Milan.

According to tradition, Toni, lowly scullion at the service of Ludovico il Moro, was the inventor of one of the most typical sweet of the Italian tradition. On Christmas Eve, the chef of the Sforza burned the cake prepared for the feast. Toni decided to offer the mother yeast that he had kept aside for himself for Christmas. He kneaded it several times with flour, eggs, sugar, raisins and candied fruit, until obtaining a soft and leavened dough. The result was a great success and Ludovico il Moro called it Pan de Toni to honor its inventor.

Other attribute the origins to the tale of Ughetto deli Atellani who commissioned the pastry chef Toni to create a special bread to impress a beautiful young lady. The cake was made of butter, eggs, sugar, candied citron and orange. It appears the cake reached the desired results, that Lombardy nobility began giving “pan del Toni” as a sign of love and admiration.

However its origins date to mediaeval times when all the bakeries in Milan were allowed to bake wheat bread for Christmas gifting it to their customers. Certain phases of this long evolution are documented. In 1606, according to the first Italian-Milanese, the “Panaton de Danedaa” (Panetone – big bread) was mentioned.

One of the architects of the modern panettone was Paolo Biffi, who supervised the creation a huge cake for Pius IX, in 1869. The current Panettone was introduced by Angelo Motta who proposed the dome and the “paper baking cup”.



This is a typical sweet cake of Verona. Delicate, soft, and tall, the Pandoro stands with honor on the Italian Christmas tables.

Its history is full of anecdotes and legends. The current version of the Pandoro was created in the 19th century as an evolution of the “Nadalin”, the typical 13th century sweet cake of Verona. Its name dates to the Venetian Republic (prosperous thanks to maritime trade with the East) when a sweet conical shaped cake was made and covered with a gold leaf and called “pan de oro” (gold bread).  October 14, 1884, sanctions the birth of Pandoro when Domenico Melegatti deposited the patent for the truncated 8 pointed star cone mold.

Served with a Chantilly cream is a great way to end the Holiday affair!



Panforte is a traditional dessert from Siena comprising fruit and nuts, honey, spices and almonds. The earliest records date back to the 12th century and over time has evolved to become an IGP (protected geographical indication).

Panforte nero or panpepato is the classic version covered in species. The ancient recipe used fruit (oranges, figs, and melons from the Tuscan Rosia plains) mixed with almonds, walnuts, honey (later replaced with sugar), flour and spices. It was prepared in convents or apothecaries were the necessary spices to flavor and preserve food were sold.

Panforte Margherita began in 1879 by the spice merchant Enrico Righi, when Queen Margaret of Savoy visited Siena. She was offered a white panforte coated with vanilla flavored powdered sugar coating with a lighter dough so to see the candied fruit.



Delicious sweet fritters are also known as Turdilli or Turdiddri are a favorite festive dish of the Calabrian Christmas tradition. The recipe uses flour, eggs and wine with the addition of orange zest and cinnamon.

Alcohol is used in the preparation of Tordilli dough – notable examples include Marsala, vino bianco moscato and sherry. The end product is a fantastic sweet that’s suitably intoxicating: Once you have one, you won’t be able to stop!



This is one tradition that continues in many Italian-American households. Struffoli is one of the most famous Neapolitan sweets, together with sfogliatella, pastiera and baba al rum.

Struffoli, are fried balls, drizzled with honey and garnished with candied fruit and its name derives from the Greek “strongoulos” or “stroggulos” (round-shaped).

Their diffusion occurred in modern times when in a Neapolitan convent nuns prepared them to give as Christmas gift to the noble families who had distinguished themselves for acts of charity.

A strong Neapolitan tradition consists of many small balls of dough “softly crunchy”, made with flour, eggs, sugar, butter and flavorings. The dough is fried in hot oil or lard and, once cooled, “wrapped” with honey and “assembled” in a donut-shaped or “pyramid decorated with candied fruit, silver and colorful sugar sprinkles.



A typical cake of Friuli. Snail-shaped and made with sweet yeast dough filled with walnuts, raisins, pine nuts, sugar, liqueur, lemon peel. Gubana represents a bridge between the Italian and Slovenian culinary traditions. The origin of the word “guba”, in Slovenian means “fold”, the shape of twisted sweet. Its history is ancient and was one of the foods served at the banquet in honor of Pope Gregory XII during his visit to Cividale in 1409.



The word is very old and comes from the Latin “mustaceum”, which indicated a sweet focaccia made with grape must cooked on laurel leaves. “Mustacei” were described by Cato, Cicero and Juvenal. Mostacciuoli spread throughout the national territory as they were offered to guests upon their departure as the hosts sign of appreciation.

Today, practically every Italian region has developed its own recipe mostacciuoli recipe. The people of Abruzzo stick closer to the ancient recipe and traditional  mostaccioli made with flour, honey and well-cooked must?? .  In Puglia baked figs are used instead of the must and in Ragusa (Sicily) the “mustazzola” are made with flour, cooked wine and then sprayed with molten honey and ground almonds.


This typical Christmas sweet is found in many regions of Italy in various forms. It seems that the term comes from the Latin “Torreo” (toast) or “torrere” (toast) with reference to the toasted almonds and hazelnuts. There are different theories on its origin. Most likely it is the result of a preparation of honey, egg whites and almonds found in Ancient Rome as shown by some of the writings of the historian Livy.

Many link the recipe to the Arabs who spread it in Southern Italy and the Mediterranean, as it was “Turun” was mentioned in the 11th century De medicinis et Cibis semplicibus.

In Lombardy Cremona, the first traditional torrone is the special dessert of almonds and honey tower-shaped prepared by chefs of the court for the wedding between Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza.

Today the different regional variations of the recipe can be made with a dough more or less soft, enriched with dried fruit, figs, herbs, spices, citrus peel or chocolate.



In a manuscript of the 18th century, the “celteno” recipe can be found. This fruit bread of medieval originates from the mountain culinary tradition, using only readily available ingredients.

The name celteno, then turned into Zelten, comes from the German adverb “selten” (seldom) used to emphasize the preparation of the cake for the Christmas festivities.

It is difficult to encode a recipe as the elements change from valley to valley. Trentino has a richer fruit paste. South Tyrol has various shapes: round, oval, oblong or heart. A common basis can be traced in the presence of flour, eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, nuts, dried figs, almonds and pine nuts.

According  to popular tradition zelten was packed for the winter solstice (Christmas) with the help of the community. A large one was prepared for the whole family.



The IGP Siena Ricciarelli is a confectionery product obtained from processing roasted almonds, sugar and egg whites. These cookies are characterized by a particularly soft white dough.

In ancient times they were called “marzapan biscuits of the Sienese” or “morzelletti” and they were baked in convents or apothecaries where the spices and flavorings could be found.

This tradition is visible still today. The ancient apothecaries near Piazza del Campo preserve frescoed ceilings with gold writing praising Ricciarelli, Panforti and other local sweets prepared in these shops.

The Sienese novelist and playwright Parige tells in one of his novels, a Sienese character, Ricciardetto Gherardesca (whence the name Ricciarello) who returning from the Crusades to his estate near Volterra, introduced the use of some Arab sweets that recalled the curled shape of the Sultan’s slippers.

A first specific reference to the term Ricciarello has recovered from a long list of Tuscan pastries published in 1814. Here we read” the wolf Ricciarelli ‘, referencing its origin in Siena where the she-wolf is its symbol.

Pitigliano & The Bonfire of St Joseph


Pitigliano & The Bonfire of St Joseph

Italy’s Father’s Day March 19th

The traditional Torciata di San Giuseppe (the Bonfire of St. Joseph) in the inland of Tuscany Maremma on the night of Saint Joseph recalls an ancient pagan ceremony where an auspicious purifying bonfire marks the arrival of the new season.
This ancient Etruscan ritual was later Christianized and connected to the feast of Saint Joseph. Religious traditions and folklore are intertwined, creating a moment of joy and happiness in the streets of the village of Pitigliano, culminating on March 19 with the big bonfire.
The village come to life with historic reenactments, illuminated by torches and candles: three trumpets kick off the march of forty “torciatori”, racing in the dark of night. The yellow stone buildings and the arches of the Medici Aqueduct are illuminated by the flames. Flag wavers perform in Piazza del Comune with the ” invernacciu “, a large stick snowman lit on fire symbolizing the death of winter. St. Joseph is invoked to protect the land. The coals from the fire are collected by the women and kept in the homes as a good omen.
Pitigliano is a stunning medieval town in the Maremma of Tuscany, dramatically perched atop a tufa ridge of Etruscan origin. The town is also known as Piccola Gerusalemme, or Little Jerusalem. This part of Tuscany sees far fewer tourists than central Tuscan hill towns and should not be missed. For several hundred years Pitigliano was a frontier town between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal States. For this reason, the town was home to a flourishing and long-lived Jewish community, mostly made up by people fleeing from Rome during the Counter-reformation persecutions. Jews of the town used one of the Etruscan caves for their ritual Passover matzoh bakery. The beautiful  Synagogue built in 1598 still officiates from time to time and was restored in 1995.
A must see in Tuscany!