Italian chocolate: the history and craft of a divine sustenance
It is common knowledge that Italy has been the setting of great political transformations, as well as the battlefield between factions and countries, where armies of all types met and fought. It is therefore likely that the chocolate was introduced in the “Boot” in this way – imported by soldiers.
However, what is certain is that Francesco Carletti, a Florentine and famous traveller, visited the cocoa plantations near Guatemala around 1591. He immediately understood that this cocoa powder used by the Indians to make their hot chocolate drink had enormous commercial possibilities.
At the beginning of the 1600s, it seems that it was Infanta Catherine Michelle of Spain, wife of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, who brought chocolate to the Italian court.
The use of chocolate quickly expanded due to trading by Jesuits. But first, as with other doctrinal questions, the Church had to investigate if the consumption of chocolate could be considered an interruption of the required fasting. The issue was resolved in 1662 by Cardinal Brancaccio, who determined that a cup of chocolate after mass should be considered healthy. In vestries across the country, bustling servants began serving up steaming cups of this wonderful, exotic beverage.
While the church and monks helped to legitimize chocolate, several famous individuals contributed by singing its praises. The Count of Cagliostro claimed it had energizing powers and Goldoni, in one of his works, has a character who states, “Long live chocolate, and whoever invented it.”
At the beginning of the 1800s in Turin, Bozelli began experimenting with a machine that was able to solidify chocolate by mixing cocoa, vanilla, water and sugar. The city of the Savoy monarchy became the hub in which techniques for preparing chocolate were refined and then exported to the rest of Europe.
Thus, chocolate workshops sprang up throughout the heart of the city. Streglio, Baratti, Feletti, Peyrano, and Croci use imagination and passion to create chocolates in over 60 different varieties: from praline bonbons to soft chocolate truffles. Even today, just by walking into one these shops, located in Via Cernaia, Via Mazzini, Piazza San Carlo and Via Po, you begin to understand what chocolate means to Turin. In Piazza Castello, you will find several famous cafes, including one where Cavour used to come to enjoy gianduiotti, a kind of hazelnut chocolate.
This specialty was created in 1806, when, due to a blockade imposed by Napoleon that hindered the arrival of cocoa, the chocolate makers decided to add crushed hazelnuts to cocoa to extend their stocks. This mixture became the basis for gianduia cream. In 1865, the chocolate maker Caffarel-Prochet introduced what was known as givu in local dialect, later gianduiotto, in honor of the stock comic character Gianduia. It is made in the shape of a wedge, and was the first chocolate to be wrapped, quickly becoming an icon in the art of chocolate making.
At the beginning of the 20th century in Turin, Pfatish, from Bavaria, began producing sophisticated chocolate cakes, including a salami-shaped cake from Nice, Gianduia cake and Montebianco cake. But Turin did not stop here with innovations in the field. Bicerin, for example, is a hot drink made of coffee, cocoa, and cream. It is delicious, particularly in winter. In the summer, try a Pinguino (literally, penguin), a sort of ice cream on a stick, made out of various flavors of cream covered in melted chocolate.
Turin’s chocolate making district continues today to be one of Italy’s most important centers for chocolate production, but other parts of Italy are keen to provide competition. Perhaps we will discover other artisans in an upcoming article. In the meantime, we have provided a list of some of the historic cafes you can visit in Turin, the heart of Italian chocolate.
Piazza della Consolata, 5 – Turin
Telephone: +39 0114369325
Piazza Castello, 27 – Turin
Telephone: +39 0114407138
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 5 – Turin
Telephone: 011 19503395
Piazza Castello, 9 – Turin
Telephone: +39 011547990
CAFFÈ SAN CARLO
Piazza San Carlo, 156 – Turin
Telephone: +39 0115617748
Piazza San Carlo, 204 – Turin
Telephone: +39 011545118
Piazza Carlo Felice, 50 – Turin
Telephone: +39 011541992
Via Sacchi, 42 – Turin
Telephone: +39 0115683962
Piazza Carignano, 8 – Turin
Telephone: +39 011542009