There are conflicting series as to how and when chocolate reached Italy. Some historians believe it was around the middle of
the 16th century when the exiled duke Emmanuel-Philibert returned to power, having experienced the delights of chocolate in Spain.
The popular theory is that chocolate was imported by a Florentine merchant, Antonio Carletti, who discovered it while travelling the world in search of new products to sell. The most likely theory is that chocolate was brought in as a medicine through the convents and monasteries.
By the 17th century a growing number of chocolate companies have become established in northern Italy, particularly
around the towns of Perugia and Turin. These companies in turn began to export the newly developed products to other European countries.
A collection of recipes by an 18th-century Italian priest shows the imagination of the Italians in the use of chocolate compared with other countries. Recipes included such dishes as: liver dipped in chocolate and fried, chocolate soup, chocolate pudding with veal, marrow and candied fruit, and chocolate polenta.
The Italians have always been accomplished confectionery and dessert makers. They started using chocolate as an ingredient very early on and thus established themselves as leading experts in the art of making fine chocolates. In 1884, when the Russian Tsar commissioned from the jeweller Fabergé his first golden egg with it surprise feeling of precious stones, Italian producers introduced what may have been the first chocolate Easter eggs containing a surprise gift.
The Italian chocolate industry is centred around Turin in Piedmont and Perugia in Umbria. Production on a commercial level developed in the early 19th century when Bozelli, an engineer from Genoa, designed a machine capable of producing over 300kg of chocolate per day. By the end of the century the industry was booming.
Turin is recognised as Italy’s chocolate capital. Every year during the last week of March there is a huge chocolate festival when you are surrounded by the rich scent of chocolate on every street corner. For the past 300 years, Turin has produced its world famous gianduja – a mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts. Turin is also known for bicerin, a beverage of coffee, chocolate and fresh whipped cream that originated in a coffee shop bearing the same name back in the 1800s. Another delicacy is chocolate filled with grappa, an Italian digestive which is made from grape seeds leftover from wine making.
There are several long-established firms in northern Italy. These include Caffarel, from whom the Italians learned to make chocolate, and Baratti & Milano, from the Turin area; Perugina (now owned by Nestlé) from Perugia, makers of the famous “Baci” (kisses) chocolate with the memorable packaging; and Majani in Bologna who now produce the ultimate in designer chocolates.
Image reproduced from bambini.eu
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