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

Valentine’s Day: Traditions and Romantic Sites

Facts, traditions and unique events to celebrate your love in Italy

Romance is a necessity for Italians, it is in the air, food, wine, literature, films, music and most of all in the language.

It is no surprise that Valentine’s day is a big deal in Italy and a strong part of the Italian cultural tradition.

The history of Valentine’s day in the culture of ancient Italy

About eight hundred years before St Valentine was born, Valentine’s day traditions set its roots in ancient Roman culture when Juno Februtis, god of purification and fertility, was worshipped on 15 February and the celebration of Lupercalia was believed to bring purification and fertility on the city of Rome.

Legend says that on the eve of ‘Lupercalia‘ – February 14th – the names of young Roman women were drawn from an urn by young men, and became ‘betrothed’ for at least the following year.  Some, though by no means all, of those unions later became marriages.

So, modern Valentine’s day traditions related to becoming ‘engaged’ on 14th February seem to go back as far as the culture of ancient Roman weddings.

After the Roman Empire

The rise of Christianity meant that Christian leaders weren’t keen on keeping ‘pagan’ traditions nor did they want to alienate the Roman population.

So ‘Lupercalia‘ was re-defined as a Christian festival of love as Valentine’s date February 14th dedicated to the 3rd century Roman Martyr Valentine.

ROMANTIC PLACES IN ITALY

That’s Amore is why Travel and Leisure has ranked three Italian cities among the top 10 most romantic destinations in the world: Venice, Florence and Rome.

But also, Italy’s picturesque seaside villages, beautiful countryside, lakes, and historic cities are filled with romantic settings, views, hotels, and restaurants.

Portofino, Liguria : I Found My Love in Portofino

This song, inspired by the style of Louis Armstrong, became an all-time summer classic. It was composed in Liguria, though not actually in Portofino but nearby  at Paraggi near Santa Margherita, almost by accident by Fred Buscaglione and his friend Leo Chiosso.

“Love in Portofino” turned out to be an incredible success, a song at international level. The album sold 160,000 copies, and performed by Johnny Dorelli, Dalida,  Paul Anka, and recently by Andrea Boccelli.

Portofino, The half-moon shaped seaside village with pastel houses, restaurants, and cafes lining the harbor , a romantic castle, and a tiny church, sit atop the hill overlooking the village. This town and the surrounding coastal towns of Liguria bordering with the Piedmont Langhe region, and Tuscany not far from Lucca,  have inspired poets, writers, and lovers from around the world.

The lyrics:

 I found my love in Portofino because I still believe in dreams the strange twist of destiny, in Portofino, took my heart .

In the sweet charm of the morning, the sea brought you to me I close my eyes and next to me in Portofino, I see you. 

I remember a corner of the sky where I uset to wait for you I remember your so beloved face and your mouth to kiss 

I found my love in Portofino those kisses I won't forget, my pathway is no longer sad in Portofino, I found my love 

I found my love in Portofino, down in that small Italian bay, and everything was so divino, In Portofino, I found my way 

The sun was shining that mattino And so my words were just a few. I close my eyes and so vicino, in Portofino, I still see you 

There was a place made just for lovers the sky and sea and friendly bar tables and chairs and lazy waiters a curly boy playing guitar 

And when it's night in Portofino the stars twinkling up above I close my eyes and so vicino, in Portofino, I found my love 

 

Verona, Veneto

Rome & Juliet and the Shakespeare tragedy

The history of Verona, Italy, is tied up inextricably with love and romance.  Celebrated as one of the great world heritage sites, Shakespeare chose to set ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the beautiful town of Verona, where Valentine’s Day is celebrated in a special way .

‘Verona in Love’ (‘Un Cuore da Scoprire’) takes place on 13th and 14th February every year. It’s a tradition stemming from the links between the town and Shakespeare’s play of star-crossed lovers.

In Verona’s Piazza dei Signori (Gentlemen’s Square) is where most of the celebrations take place. The wonderful Valentine’s market is set up here with stalls set out in the shape of a heart – it’s known locally as the “heart of Verona”.

The stalls sell locally produced culinary delights, heart-shaped decorations, paintings, ceramics and more.

It is also a great musical event, where entertainers play a variety of music to celebrate the “festa degli innamorati”. 

A stop at Juliet’s house is a must and is a certain focal point where the front door is completely covered in love letters. “Dear Juliet” prize is dedicated to the thousands of people all around the world who write to Juliet. Every year on Valentine’s Day the club awards the most beautiful ones in the suggestive Juliet’s House.

The town also releases thousands of red heart-shape balloons from the bell tower to mark the end of the Valentine’s Day celebrations.

 Locks of Love or Lucchetti dell’Amore

The tradition of locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts began in Italy after the release of the best-selling book “Ho voglia di te” (I want you) by the Italian author Federico Moccia in 2007. It gained popularity when the movie with Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti was released.  In the story the young lovers tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on Rome’s Ponte Milvio and inscribe their names on it. They lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River  suggesting their loved is forever lasting.

Now you can find these locks in many places in Italy – from Valeggio sul Mincio to overhead signs in the Cinque Terre. (Many towns now ban this practice for aesthetics but also safety. Many have been ordered removed like the Accademia Bridge in Venice. It is now a crime to put a lock on Florence’s Pont Vecchio where over 5000 locks were recently removed).

History of Italian Chocolates

Carnevale! Traditions and events in famous cities

Venezia

Every Italian city in February is invaded by masks, confetti, lights and colors to create a unique party atmosphere. One must have a sense of humor  “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale “It’s Carnevale and any joke or prank is thus forgiven”!  Of ancient origins, today it is a folkloric event of tradition and entertainment. Carnevale dates back to the Roman Saturnalia celebration in honor of the New Year. However, the etymology of the word “carnevale” is derived, probably, from Latin “carnem levare” – remove meat. The expression indicated the banquet held on the last day just before the period of abstinence and fasting of meat of Christian Lent. In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar Carnevale starts the day after Epiphany, January 6. Undisputed protagonists of Carnevale are the Masks, from the Arabic “mascharà” which means ridicule or satire. Many masks still represent the typical characters of the Commedia dell’Arte, part of popular uses, spirit and history. These masks have survived over the centuries as they preserve aspects of local traditions.

Here are some of the best known and most representative characters of the carnevale tradition:

  • Arlecchino (Harlequin)- from Bergamo/Lombardy, Arlecchino is a mischievous greedy unintelligent slow thinker servant. Although less intelligent than most of the other characters, Arlecchino is never short of spontaneous and creative ideas to solve a problem in a plot. He wears a pouch on his belt called “scarsela” which is always empty and carries the “batocio” (stick).
  • Arlecchino

    Arlecchino Mask
  • Brighella– an eclectic young servant is bully yet smart. Also from Bergamo, it is one of the oldest masks, dating back to the Middle Ages. The name Brighella comes from the word brigare (Italian for quarrel, trouble, intrigue).
    Brighella

    Brighella Mask
  • Pantalone, a 16th century Venetian mask, is a Venetian merchant, rich, greedy yet naïve. From merchant to nobleman he deals with people trying to take his gold, always losing against wit and improvisation
    Pantalone

    Pantalone Mask
  • Colombina is another Venetian mask. Often the female version of Arlecchino. Colombina represents a lively and clever maid and subject of interest for Pantalone.
    Colombina Mask

    Colombina
  • Pulcinella from Naples/Campania is a philosophical, eternally melancholic, dreamer typical of the Neapolitan culture. Pulcinella has a spirit all of his own. His melancholic approach to life makes him coast problems, situations, live adventures. A positive approach to life is his winning strategy.
    Pulcinella mask

  • Dr. Balanzone from Bologna, doctor and finicky talker who pretends to be a great scholar, but is very often a scammer. The name most likely comes from “balle” meaning lies in Italian.

    Balanzone
  • Gianduja from Piedmont is a mask representing a cheerful gentleman, with common sense and courage who loves good wine and good food. Gianduja name is result of two names- Gioan (John) and douja (Piedmont dialect for pitcher) =  great drinker and patron of local taverns.

    Gianduja
  • Scaramuccia literally means “small, fast fray” giving the idea of a soldier who does not involve himself too much in the battle.  This is his way of fighting too- a little touch here, a short attack there.

    Scaramuccia
  • Stenterello, a Florentine mask, is young, penniless and hungry but because of  his cunning and ingenuity he always manages to get by.

    Stenterello
  • Rugantino is a typical Lazio mask, characterized by arrogance. His name derives from the term “ruganza” meaning arrogant.

    Rugantino

From North to South, Italy celebrates carnivals of ancient traditions known internationally attracting every year thousands of visitors from around the world.

But the Italian Carnival is not only masks, it is also floats, parades, festivals and rituals.

Here are some of the most famous festivities:

Venezia

Venice: the Italian Carnival par excellence Among the most famous carnivals of Italy, a special mention goes to the Carnival of Venice, in Veneto Region. The first official document with which the Venice Carnival was declared a public holiday dates back to 1296, and it is an edict by which the Senate of the Serenissima Republic declared public holiday the day preceding Lent. Set up by the Venetian oligarchy to give to the population a period dedicated to the fun and festivities, its dominant feature is the masking, thought to cancel any classist system, sex or religion. Today the Carnival of Venice is a picturesque festival considered unique for its history, forms and atmospheres. Known and appreciated throughout the world, the festival each year attracts thousands of tourists. During the two weeks of Carnival everyone can attend and take part in numerous events and the many open air shows that invade the Venetian city. Among the most fascinating moments of the Venetian carnival is the spectacular Angel Flight (or Flight of the Dove), which is also linked to tradition. This spectacular event includes a live acrobat making descent from the top of the San Marco Bell Tower to Palazzo Ducale.

Putignano

Putignano, the Carnival of the Murgia Apulia is the Italian region with the highest number of Carnival celebrations: from Massafra to Gallipoli, from Dauno in Manfredonia, it is a continuous succession of masked parades and dancing. The Carnival of Putignano, a village in the province of Bari, located in the Murgia of Trulli and caves and immersed in the Itria Valley, offers the longest ever Carnivale as it starts on December 26 and ends on Shrove Tuesday with an evening parade and the Carnivale funeral. This carnivale dates back to 1394, making it one of the oldest carnivals in Europe. Tradition says that by acting in local dialect verses and improvised satire arose the custom of “Propaggini”. A custom which is still the heart of the local carnival tradition. For several hours in a row, dozens of poets take stage to recite satirical verses in rhyme in dialect. Putignano’s carnival is also a magnificent procession of papier Mache floats through the streets of town.

Acireale

The Carnival of Acireale, one of the most beautiful in Sicily Considered one of the most beautiful carnivals of Sicily, the Carnival of Acireale, a magnificent baroque town in the province of Catania. The festival has an ancient tradition that began in 1500 as a big spontaneous demonstration in which the local population participated numerous and began the custom of throwing rotten eggs and oranges on the streets. At the beginning of 18th century this carnival practice was banned. It was refined and enriched thanks to the “abbatazzi”: popular poets who improvised rhymes on the streets of Acireale. The “cassariata” was introduced in the 19th century where stately horse carriages, reserved for the city nobles would throw bursts of confetti to the spectators. It is only in the 1930s when papier-mâché masks pulled by oxen turn into floats surrounded by characters and satirical groups on the move. Today it is even more spectacular, as the Acireale Carnival features flowered floats which attract thousands of tourists each year. One more reason to visit Sicily and above this splendid town and the beautiful surrounding places, from Catania to Etna, without forgetting the beautiful sea surrounding the island.

Cento

Cento, the Carnival of Surprises The Cento Carnival (a beautiful city of Emilia Romagna) is an event that takes place in the picturesque town of Cento, in the province of Ferrara, Emila Romagna region. This Carnival has ancient origins as evidenced by a 1615 fresco of the painter from Cento Gian Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercin. It represents “the Berlingaccio”, a local mask during a feast offered to the people on Shrove Tuesday. Still maintaining its historical connotations, since 1993 it has become a very important folkloristic event, thanks to the twinning with the Carnival in Rio. The parade of floats begins in the early afternoon and crosses the old town several times. Musicians and people in masks dance the streets. This takes place on the five Sundays preceding Lent. Fano, among the oldest Carnivals in Italy ‘Semel in anno licet insanire’, meaning “once a year madness is allowed”, this ancient Roman license seems to have found fertile ground in Fano, in the Marche region, home to one of the most famous carnivals in Italy. Over a month of festivities: the streets and the city’s people are stripped of the usual habits, they jump into the whirlwind of parties and parades that the Fano Carnival offers in a carefree spirit.

Few know that Fano began Carnival celebrations in medieval times, more precisely during the reconciliation of the two most important families of the city, the Del Cassero and the Da Carignano. The Carnival of Fano is one of the sweetest carnivals in the world,as there is a real battle fought with tons of chocolates. Tons and tons of sweets, candies and chocolates are thrown from the floats ontot he crowd

Ivrea+

Ivrea: Carnival of oranges Famous throughout Italy and abroad, is the Historic Carnival of Ivrea, a town in the northern Piedmont region. The Carnival of Ivrea is one of the oldest festivals and proclaimed in 1808. The festival has several characters and historical figures enacting the battle, a rebellion against tyranny; an insurgency that finds its culmination in the spectacular historical procession and in the striking Battle of the Oranges, which fills with colors and perfumes the city and involves all participants. The spirit of the Historic Carnival commemorates the expulsion of the tyrant from the city which took  place in the Middle Ages. The teams of orange throwers defend their squares while parading through the streets of the city. The procession of Mugnaia distributes sweets and gifts to the population.

VIAREGGIO, ITALY – March 12: allegorical float at Viareggio Carnival held March 12, 2016

Viareggio: The Carnival of the floats Among the many attractions of the Tuscany region. The Carnival of Viareggio greets thousands of people every year from Italy and abroad. It began in 1873 as a masked rebellion of the rich merchants unhappy to pay high taxes. Over the years its main feature has become undoubtedly the big, colorful and lively float which feature political and satirical figures of modern day. The huge caricatures with extraordinary mechanical with movements with complex and grandiose scenic effects. They are a perfect combination of artistic skills of the workers of our country and the new technologies. Viareggio is a lovely seaside resort town full of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture and a stones thrown Pisa and Lucca.

No festivity would be complete without a sweet delight: Chiacchere, Bugie, Crostoli, Cenci, Frappe….different names but same delicious light pastry.