Traditional and Modern Italian Chocolate Brands to Explore
Ah, Italy – a country synonymous with art, culture, fashion, and of course, unparalleled gastronomic delights. From the wafting aromas of freshly brewed espresso on a Roman morning to the delicate flavors of handcrafted pasta in Tuscany, every corner of Italy boasts of a culinary wonder. Yet, while the world may instantly recognize Italy for its pizzas, pastas, and wines, there exists a rich and delectable world of Italian chocolates waiting to be unraveled.
"Cioccolato" is the Italian word for "chocolate." Its origins, like many European terms for chocolate, trace back to the Aztec beverage called "xocolātl," meaning "bitter water." Introduced to Europe by Spanish conquistadors, the term evolved across languages, leading to the Italian adaptation "cioccolato," which now refers to chocolate in all its forms.
Chocolate, in Italy, is not merely a sweet treat; it's an embodiment of centuries-old traditions, stories, and craftsmanship. Tracing its roots back to the luxurious courts of the Renaissance period, Italian chocolate has evolved, leaving a distinct mark on the global cacao scene. As you embark on this flavorful journey, you'll discover how the land known for its Leaning Tower, Colosseum, and the canals of Venice is also a haven for cacao enthusiasts.
In this guide, we'll delve deep into the world of Italian chocolates – from the brands that every local swears by to the regions that have turned cocoa beans into edible masterpieces. Prepare to be immersed in a world where traditional methods blend seamlessly with modern innovation, all in the name of creating the finest cioccolato. Let's begin our exploration!
The Most Popular Chocolate in Italy
Italy, with its sprawling vineyards, bustling markets, and iconic landmarks, also boasts of a rich tapestry of chocolates that are as varied and diverse as the country's landscapes. So, what does the Italian palate, seasoned with centuries of culinary excellence, prefer when it comes to chocolate?
Mainstream Favorites and Beloved Brands
When it comes to popular brands, Ferrero undoubtedly tops the list. Born in the picturesque town of Alba by Pietro Ferrero in 1942, Ferrero gave the world the inimitable Ferrero Rocher and the globally beloved Nutella and Kinder. In 2022, the Ferrero company did 14 billion Euros in sales. It is a giant in the chocolate industry with 32 manufacturing plants in 5 continents and with products being sold in over 170 countries. These chocolatey treats have not just captured Italian hearts but have wooed palates across continents.
The Modern Italian Palate
While traditional chocolates hold a special place, there's a surge of interest in craft chocolates, with more sustainability and transparency in mind. Brands like Amedei are pushing the boundaries, offering single-origin bars and unique blends, allowing consumers to experience a world of flavors within a single bite.
Where in Italy is Famous for Chocolate?
The rich tapestry of Italy's culinary landscape is peppered with regions and cities that have carved out a distinctive identity with their unique chocolates. From North to South, Italy's geographical diversity is mirrored in the distinct chocolate delicacies that each area brings forth. Here's a journey through the most iconic chocolate destinations in the country.
Turin – The Capital of Gianduja
Often called Italy's 'chocolate capital', Turin's love affair with chocolate dates back centuries. This Piedmontese city is the birthplace of the beloved Gianduiotto, a delightful blend of hazelnuts and cocoa. Furthermore, Turin is renowned for its 'bicerin', a traditional drink made of espresso, chocolate, and whipped cream. The annual CioccolaTò festival in Turin transforms the city into a chocolate lover’s paradise, with stalls, tastings, and artisanal displays painting a delicious tableau.
Perugia – Kissed by Chocolate
When one speaks of Perugia, the iconic Baci chocolates come to mind. Meaning 'kisses' in Italian, Baci chocolates are dark chocolate and hazelnut truffles, each wrapped with a romantic note. Beyond Baci, Perugia hosts the EuroChocolate Festival every year, making it a must-visit for chocoholics around the world.
Modica – A Bite into History
Tucked away in Sicily, Modica boasts an ancient method of chocolate-making that traces its roots to the Aztecs. Unlike the smooth textures we're accustomed to, Modican chocolate is grainy, with sugar crystals offering a distinctive crunch. This unique texture results from cold-processing the chocolate, a method that's remained unchanged for centuries.
Tuscany – Where Modern Meets Tradition
A region more famously known for its wines and Renaissance art, Tuscany also hosts some of the finest modern chocolate makers. Brands like Amedei have garnered international acclaim, sourcing the finest beans and producing chocolates that resonate with both tradition and innovation.
It's evident that Italy's chocolate landscape is as varied and rich as its culture and history. Each region not only offers a unique chocolate experience but also tells a tale of traditions, people, and the passionate pursuit of excellence. So, the next time you're charting a course through Italy, let the trail of cocoa guide you to some unforgettable destinations.
Best Italian Chocolate Brands to Try
Amedei Tuscany originated from a modest artisan workshop, driven by a quest for excellence, which involved the study, passion, and revival of ancient crafting methods. This pursuit led Amedei to distant terrains to discover the world's most exquisite cocoa beans. These beans are processed directly in Tuscany, transforming them into artistic chocolate pieces. Amedei's initial creation was the Toscano Black 70, a 70% dark blend with unique aromatic notes. In 2008, their Toscano Black 63 won the first Golden Bean award at London's Academy of Chocolate, and over time, Amedei secured the highest count of such awards among all chocolatiers. Their dedication to innovation is evident in the 2012 Blanco de Criollo small-batch chocolate and the 2018 Acero 95 which ingeniously used maple sugar. By 2019, their Toscano Brown was recognized as Italy's best milk chocolate, marking Amedei's eighth "Tavoletta D’Oro" award and a first for their milk chocolate range.
Modica style chocolate, born in the elaborate and eponymous city in southeastern Sicily, has long suffered in reputation due to cheap cacao from dubious sources. Simone Sabiani, Modica restaurateur with a restorative eye for food, natural wine, and chocolate. His Sabadì chocolate taps the potential of Modica style, known for cold processing, lack of added cocoa butter, and rough texture, to highlight the raw materials that go into its creation. Sabadì showcases how ethical sourcing, attention to detail, and thoughtful inclusions can match this unique style to the baroque beauty of its rich history.
Guido Gobino's chocolate journey began in 1964 when Giuseppe Gobino, already skilled in cocoa refining since 1950, joined as the production manager. He assumed full ownership in 1980, pivoting the company towards specialized chocolate research and refining local products like Giandujotto and Gianduja cream. When Guido Gobino joined in 1985, he introduced transformative changes, establishing a balance between honoring traditions and fostering innovation, always prioritizing top-quality raw materials. Over half a century later, in 2021, Pietro Gobino infused the company with a fresh, innovative spirit, emphasizing digital advances, internal training, and a renewed focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) concerns.
Domori was birthed from Gianluca Franzoni's passion for nature, gastronomy, and, notably, cocoa. In 1993, post his academic venture in Business and Economics, Gianluca traveled to Venezuela. It was here that he became enamored by cocoa's charm and resolved to revive the prestige of fine cocoa in the marketplace. Committing three years to fieldwork, he explored diverse cocoa varieties, specifically emphasizing the conservation of the exquisite Criollo cacao. The brand name Domori pays tribute to 17th-century Venice, evoking images of commerce, voyages, and exploration. Translated, it means two moors, which references twin bronze statues in Saint Mark's Square, Venice. These statues, different in minute details, strike a bell marking the hour, with one symbolizing the past and the other the future. In Franzoni's vision, these two Domori translate to two toasted beans: the older Moor embodies the coffee bean, while the youthful one represents cocoa.
Venchi is a hallmark of premium chocolate, representing the best of Italian chocolatier craftsmanship. Offering a broad range of delectable products, from chocolates and pralines to their signature Suprema chocolate spread, each product is a testament to quality and tradition. Key ingredients include single-origin chocolates from countries like Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru, complemented by Piedmont Hazelnuts and Bronte's Green Pistachios. This meticulous choice of ingredients is showcased in vibrant packaging, reflecting the spirit of Italian 'allegria'. Beyond the exquisite flavors, Venchi emphasizes a holistic sensory experience in their Cioccogelaterie shops, where customers can curate their own assortment of chocolates and savor the brand's other offerings, including gelato and hot chocolate. The company marries traditional handcrafting with innovative flavors, ensuring every bite brings a delightful surprise.
With over three decades of expertise, 180+ awards, and products available in 25 countries, Andrea Slitti is recognized as one of the world's leading artisan chocolatiers. Behind each Slitti chocolate creation is a dedicated team of artisans who treat every praline with precision and care. Andrea's quest for perfection led him on global journeys to discover the ideal cocoa bean, the right aroma, and the optimal roasting point. The art of selecting top-tier cocoa demands years of experience and a profound passion for the fruit and its seeds. Slitti's real-world Chocolate Factory, situated in Monsummano Terme beside the iconic cafeteria on Via Francesca Vergine dei Pini, offers daily tastings and guided tours. Here, enthusiasts can dive deep into the chocolate-making process, from roasting to conching, and sharpen their senses to distinguish various scents and flavors under the guidance of Andrea Slitti himself.
Baratti & Milano
Baratti & Milano is a renowned name in the world of Italian chocolates, with a legacy that stretches over a century. Established in Turin, the heartland of Italian chocolatiers, this brand seamlessly melds tradition with innovation. With origins as a coffee shop, Baratti & Milano quickly grew in fame due to their delectable confections and became a favorite among European royalty. Known for their meticulous selection of ingredients and precision in crafting, their chocolates and candies are a reflection of Italian elegance and gastronomic excellence. Whether it's their iconic Gianduiotti, made from the finest hazelnuts and cocoa, or their rich cremini, every piece is a testament to their commitment to quality and flavor.
Embarking on a journey through Italy's chocolate landscape is diving deep into the heart and soul of the nation. Each brand, each chocolatier, tells a unique story, with centuries of tradition, passion, and unwavering dedication to crafting the finest confections. As the world continues to change and evolve, Italy's chocolatiers stand as a testament to the power of preserving tradition while embracing innovation. For chocolate enthusiasts, Italy is more than just a travel destination; it's a sensory experience waiting to unfold. Whether you're sampling the rich, nutty flavors of Gianduiotti in Turin or the textured delights of Modica chocolate in Sicily, the magic of Italian chocolate promises to leave an indelible mark on your palate. As you savor each bite, remember that behind every piece lies a story, a history, and a relentless pursuit of excellence that only Italy can offer. Buon appetito!