Even if it originated far from Europe, chocolate-making has now become one of the continent’s excellencies. The Belpaese may be less famous than Switzerland and Belgium abroad, however, those who have visited Italy know that we have nothing to envy when it comes to chocolate.
Though it may not be evident, Italy has has as many identities as it has towns, cities and regions. However, chocolate unites north, central Italy and south. Starting in Turin and nearby Cuneo, the chocolate-making tradition connects the two Northern cities to Perugia and Sicily. Whilst Turin and Cuneo are renowned for their hot chocolate and gianduja, Perugia represents the commercial center of chocolate in Italy and Modica distinguishes itself for the cold processing of chocolate, a legacy from the Spanish.
It wasn’t love at first sight, however. Amongst the first Italians to bring it back home, Columbus only considered chocolate an exchange good. It didn’t become popular in Italy until Francesco D’Antonio Carletti (1573-1636) decided to import it, after a visit to an American plantation. His imported chocolate delighted the Medici, then regents of Tuscany, home of Carletti. Duke Cosimo III preferred it with lemons and Francesco Redi, the court doctor, prepared a jasmine-infused version whose recipe, sought after by everyone at court, he vowed never to divulge. After the Dukes, the Vatican took an interest, with Cardinal Brancaccio in 1662 advising to drink hot chocolate after mass but still imposing confession after drinking it.
We now know that chocolate in Italy was produced in 1606 already, particularly in Florence and Venice. The playwright Goldoni, mentions chocolate in his comedies repeatedly, a testament to the popularity of this delight. In Venice, Giacomo Casanova, was a great advocate of chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities, and of course advertised that he used it widely.
At the end of the 17th century in Turin, the production of chocolate reached 250 kg per day. Nevertheless, it was only in the 19th century when chocolate production really took off in Italy. In 1802, an Italian invention allowed to refine cocoa paste and mix it with sugar and vanilla. It was instead the difficulty of cocoa supply that prompted an Italian firm, Caffarel, to mix hazelnuts with cocoa, creating chocolate gianduja. After 10 years, the first chocolate tablet was invented and it was now possible not only to drink chocolate but also to eat it.
In 1907, one of Italy’s most famous chocolate producers was founded, Perugina. It started out as a candy maker and after 10 years started dealing in chocolate instead. Today, its “Baci Perugina” are part of popular culture and it is in Perugia that every year the renowned Eurocholate festival takes place.
Chocolate-themed tours and itinerary ideas
Central Italy is home to many chocolatiers. If you want to find out more about the history of chocolate in Italy during your stay, see below:
- Perugina chocolate factory and chocolate-making classes: the aforementioned brand now has a museum and offers classes too. Only 40 minutes by car from Cortona, the museum is located in San Sisto.
- Only 2 hrs by train from Florence and 1 hr by train or car from Cortona, Perugia is an enchanting city in the heart of Italy. Beyond Perugina, there are several artisanal chocolatiers interspersed in the city center’s streets. The Sandri confectionery, in Corso Vannucci 32, is the oldest pastry shop in Umbria, opened in 1860 by the Schucani family. Another historical shop, Talmone, can be found in Via Maestà delle Volte 12. Antica Latteria Perugia, in Via Baglioni 5, is the perfect place where to indulge in hot chocolate with cream maritozzi. Selling over 20 varieties of chocolate, the Augusta Perusia chocolate shop is a more recent addition to Perugia’s chocolate history but a noteworthy one. With plenty of palaces, fountains and other historical riches, this will prove to be a great day-trip. If you’re visiting Italy soon, why not go on our chocolate tour of Perugia?
- In Pisa, Salza is not to be missed. A pastry shop in Borgo Stretto, it offers a great selection of sugary delights. Pisa is 1 hr by train from Florence.
- Pontedera, near Pisa is home not only to the iconic Vespa scooter but also to Amedei, winner of many awards including the Oscar of Chocolate in 2011. For a one-day trip, pair a visit to the Vespa factory museum with one to the Amedei factory. Pontedera is only 1 hr by train or car from Florence.