Italy and Chocolate - The Perfect Match

Italy and Chocolate Italy and Chocolate

La prima volta che la cioccolatta ha avuto a che fare con l'italia fu nel 1502 durante il quarto viaggio in sud America di Cristoforo Colombo. Fu uno spagnolo, Herman Cortes ha portarla in Spagna. La cioccolatta fu scoperta da altri esploratori ma rimase poco conosciuta fino alla metà del 1600. Durante la metà del 1700 Torino diventò la capital della cioccolatta a livello mondiale e cosi' la cioccolatta divenne conosciuta anche da tante nazioni europee. All'inizio del 1900 aziende come la Ferrero, Perugina e Buitoni divenero piu famose producendo diversi tipy di prodotti alla cioccolatta.

Italy's first association with chocolate dates back to the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1502, when he traveled along the coast of Central America and tasted a drink made from the cacao bean. It was a little more than 25 years later, though, when the bean -- and a recipe for a chocolate drink -- was brought to Spain by Hernán Cortés.

Francesco Carletti, a merchant of Florence, traveled around the world from 1594 to 1602, and wrote about the paste and beverage made from the cacao bean. The chronicle of his voyage was not published until the early 1700s, but it's noted that he submitted a report to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando I de' Medici in 1606…and word travels fast.

In the mid-1660s, Francesco Redi, an acclaimed scientist, who became court physician to Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his son and successor, Cosimo III, developed numerous recipes for flavoring drinking chocolate with fragrant flowers and scents. By 1678, a chef in Turin (Piedmont), Giovanni Antonio Ari, was selling a chocolate drink, called bavareisa; and in 1763, bicerin -- a hot drink made from chocolate, coffee and milk -- was being sold in Turin at Caffè al Bicerin. The popular concoction, made from the original recipe, and recognized as "the traditional Piedmontese drink," is still served at the café.

Although Spain held a monopoly on trading the beans for over 100 years, English and Dutch smugglers were able to spread the cocoa beans throughout Europe. By the mid-1700s, the invention of the steam engine made grinding cocoa beans an easier task, and by the late 1700s, Turin was the chocolate capital of Europe, producing and exporting chocolate to Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland, and also teaching Swiss chocolate makers their craft.

Over the years, chocolate had advanced from a medicinal drink to a drink for nobility, but with the advent of a mechanical means of grinding the beans, more beans were being processed at a lower cost, and the price of a chocolate drink became more accessible. In 1796, Teresina Majani opened a shop in Bologna selling chocolate drinks and other Italian specialties.

In 1826, Pier Paul Carrafel purchased "from Bozelli of Genoa a machine to make chocolate" and opened a chocolate shop in Turin. No description of the machine is provided, but accounts state that the machine would provide a daily output of 700 pounds. Two years later, a Dutch chemist invented a hydraulic press to extract cocoa butter from the beans. Using both machines, Carrafel was one of the first companies to industrialized chocolate production in Italy.

Majani was also a leader in chocolate making. In 1832, the first edible chocolate, Scorza -- named for the bark of a tree -- was created from four cocoa beans selected from South America. The dark chocolate bark is still made today and is sold online and at Antica Casa Majani, the original location of the shop in Bologna. In 1911, Majani created Fiat candy to commemorate the first car produced by Fiat and, under an agreement; it has produced additional chocolate candies to honor other Fiat models.

The most popular chocolate confection of all, though, may be Gianduiotto, a blend of chocolate and hazelnut paste first made by Carrafel in 1852. Insufficient supplies of cocoa beans -- caused by a series of wars starting in the early 1800s -- had Italian chocolate manufacturers looking for ways to produce confections. Adding a paste made from the local sweet hazelnuts extended the volume of chocolate and made a delicious flavorful combination. In 1865, the candies were handed out during Carnival by a popular character named Gianduja, and the name of the candy also became known as gianduia.

Other pioneer chocolate companies in Turin are Batatti & Milano (1858); Pernigotti (1860), known for its torrone; Venchi (1870), producer of chocolate covered confections including the popular Nougatine, with a center of caramelized ground hazelnuts; Peyrano (1915), using cocoa beans roasted, on the premises, over olive wood; and Streglio (1924). Leone (1857) moved from Alba to Turin in 1880 and Guido Gobino joined the family business in 1985 to make artisanal chocolates.

Ferrero, one of the most well known chocolate companies in Italy, was started in Alba (about 30 miles south of Turin) in 1946. Owner Pietro Ferrero used the original hazelnut and chocolate gianduia recipe to eventually create a creamy version that became Nutella. Ferrero also produces Ferrero Rocher and Mon Chéri chocolates.

In 1907, Francesco Buitoni (related to pasta maker Buitoni), started a small confectionery business in Perugia (Umbria). His heir, Giovanni, took over the business in 1913 and opened a shop selling Perugina products. In 1922, the chocolate and hazelnut confection, Bacio (kiss in Italian), was successfully introduced; and in the 1930s, they became even more popular when sold wrapped in love notes.

Another popular product is the Italian chocolate egg. Sources note that the eggs were created around the same time that Alexander III, Tsar of Russia, commissioned the Fabergé eggs. Many of the elaborate decorative chocolate eggs, usually containing a gift -- sometimes as elaborate as the decorative egg itself -- are just as stunning as the bejeweled version.

Italy has several chocolate festivals each year, the most popular being CioccolaTò in Turin and EuroChocolate in Perugia. Additionally, chocolate artisans are opening shops throughout the country, matching local ingredients with specialty cocoa beans to create a new generation of Italian chocolates.

Janice Therese Mancuso is the author of Con Amore, a culinary novel; and founder of Thirty-One Days of Italians, an educational program to promote Italian and Italian American history, culture, and heritage. For more information, visit,, or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..