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Episode #200: More than Nutella: A Tasty Look at Italian Chocolate

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Italy is home to some of the best chocolate in the world, though it is often overlooked in favor of nearby Switzerland. Italian chocolate has a long and storied history, dating back centuries to when the country first began importing cocoa from the Americas. Today, Italian chocolate is known for its high quality, unique flavors, and traditional methods of production. Choosing a chocolate dessert on any menu on your trip to Italy is sure to offer up a treat.

Show notes

As we near the time for end-of-year celebrations and a time many of us will be treating ourselves and others, what better way than with some delicious Italian chocolate or cioccalato? In this episode, Untold Italy founder Katy talks about locations and brands to look out for. We explore the history, production methods and some of the most famous Italian chocolate makers. Katy shares her favorite brands and styles and where to find and taste some of these chocolatey treats. As well as bringing them back on your trip to Spain, for some, the best Italian brands are available to buy online – the perfect gift for the upcoming holiday season. Better still, treat yourself to a trip to get to try the best chocolate in Italy in person – check out some Black Friday travel deals

DISCOVER: As we head towards Black Friday and the holiday season, check out our guides to deals, gifts and books.

What you’ll learn in this episode

As with many other things, Italians are not so good at marketing their fine chocolate. It’s a bit like their amazing wine – the rest of the world knows some famous varieties like Chianti, Prosecco and Barolo but the average consumer needs to dig quite hard to find out about other varieties. We all know Nutella, the delicious chocolate hazelnut spread and Ferrero Rocher the delicious gold-wrapped crunchy chocolate balls but there are many other Italian chocolate brands and Italians do chocolate like they do most other things – incredibly well.

Hot chocolate

  • Hot chocolate in Italy, known as “cioccolata calda,” is a popular treat during the colder months and often had for breakfast. It’s a rich, creamy, and indulgent drink that’s perfect for warming up on a chilly day
  • Hot chocolate is a favorite with Katy’s kids but it is not like you.  might find in other countries – a more milky, frothy consistency – the Italian hot chocolate is very thick chocolatey and rich
  • Hot chocolate is generally served in small cups, as it’s quite rich and indulgent. It’s often accompanied by a plate of biscuits or pastries, which can be dipped into the hot chocolate for an extra treat
  • One of the most famous types of Italian hot chocolate is “cioccolata densa,” which literally translates to “dense chocolate.” This type of hot chocolate is even thicker and richer than regular hot chocolate, and it’s often served in small cups with a spoon for scooping
  • Italian hot chocolate is also often flavored with spices like cinnamon or vanilla, which add extra depth and complexity to the flavor. Some recipes even call for a small amount of espresso or coffee to give the drink a little kick
  • In Italy, hot chocolate is often served with a side of whipped cream or a dollop of Nutella for an extra indulgent treat. It’s also sometimes accompanied by a plate of biscuits or pastries for dipping

Piedmont

  • For a more sophisticated take on hot chocolate, head to the northern region of Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) and the capital Turin (Torino). This is the home of the ultimate hot chocolate drink known as Bicerin. Bicerin means ‘little glass’ in the local dialect. It is usually served in a little glass filled this very rich and decadent dark hot chocolate. It is not a milky beverage but almost the consistency of a pudding. You have the thick chocolate and then there is espresso coffee and finally a layer of semi-whipped cream. The typical way to drink it is in layers and not to mix it up. You want to taste each layer and their differing temperature. Katy tried Bicerin earlier this year and she found it delicious and the perfect afternoon pick-me-up
  • The region of Piedmont is where arguably all the best chocolate in Italy comes from. It’s here that you’ll find the major factories for Ferrero makers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. This is due to the abundance of hazelnuts growing in the region and Piedmont actually produces over 50% of the world’s hazelnuts
  • There’s definitely a time and place in life for Nutella and Fererro but if you want to try a true Italian chocolate delicacy you’ll need to head back into Torino town and visit the atelier of Guido Gobino where you’ll find a stunning array of magnificent creations. They are best known for Giandujotto and Gianduja which are basically Nutella on steroids and are seriously good chocolate
  • Only the very best melt-in-the-mouth chocolate is blended with hazelnuts. The creation of these sweets dates back to the Napoleonic era. Turin was home to the Kings and Queens of Savoy, which is why such decadent and luxury brands originate here
  • On our Untold Italy Piedmont Tours we, of course, stop off at Gobino to learn more about their treasured sweets. You could also do a chocolate crawl of sorts and visit artisan makers with centuries of experience Guido Castagna, Peyrano and Caffarel. You can find a variety of Caffarel here
  • The tasting experience and enjoy watching how they wrap your purchases are all part of the extraordinary chocolate experience you can have in Turin. If you can’t wait to try these delicious chocolates when you’re in Italy, if you’re in the US you can buy Gobino on Amazon (they also ship to Canada)

Guido Gobino Gianduiotto Chocolate from Italy, 25 pieces

  • Another popular Italian brand that also began in Turin in 1878 is Venchi. You may have seen Venchi when traveling to Italy because you will find it in most cities in Italy including the airport in Rome. Venchi is famous for chocolate and gelato. While it may not have the artisanal qualities of the higher-end chocolatiers, it’s undeniably excellent quality and hard to resist. Katy always allows her kids one last Venchi gelato when they depart from Rome whatever the time of day – because it’s gelato o’clock somewhere in the world right? Buy Venchi chocolate, including Christmas boxes and advent calendars here
  • You can visit Piedmont on your own or join a tour, but we definitely recommend Piedmont as a great place to visit away from the main tourist hotspots and, as well as its history and beauty. It’s an amazing place for food and wine and don’t miss the opportunity to try their incredible chocolatiers

The rest of Northern Italy – Milan, Venice & Genoa

  • Katy loves the old-school charm of Zaini in Milano and the innovation of Vizio Virtu in Venice
  • In Genoa, they know chocolate too with lots of historic sweet stores to explore if you visit this underrated city. But the famous one at Easter time for the most fabulous chocolate eggs is at Romeo Viganotti

Modica, Sicily

  • Sicily might be the home of cannoli and granita, but head over to the Val di Noto to Modica and you will find exceptional chocolate. This is where the Spanish domination in the 16th century brought Aztec cocoa beans and production methods to which the Siclians applied sugar
  • Modica is a small town and has been producing chocolate for centuries. Here was born a truly unique, stone ground and cold pressed grainy style of chocolate which is super delicious and very different from its smooth northern cousin
  • Modica chocolate is also known for its unique flavors. Some of the most popular varieties include cinnamon, vanilla, and chili pepper. These flavors are added to the chocolate during the grinding process, which gives the chocolate a rich, complex flavor profile

Perugia

  • Perugia is a medical college city in the region of Umbria. Perugia chocolate is made using traditional methods and high-quality ingredients, and it’s considered among the best in Italy
  • One of the most famous chocolate makers in Perugia is Perugina, which was founded in 1907
  • Perugina’s chocolate is known for its smooth, creamy texture and rich, intense flavor. They use only the finest cocoa beans and natural ingredients to create their chocolate, and they’re particularly famous for their Baci chocolates. Baci, meaning kisses, are a perfect hazelnut surrounded by cocoa and chopped hazelnuts covered in chocolate. If you haven’t tried them, half the fun is opening up the silver wrapping with blue stars and reading the precious love note that comes with each and every chocolate.
  • Perugina has made many variations over the years including collaborations with fashion house Dolce and Gabbana but we think the dark chocolate version (created by Luisa Spagnoli over 100 years ago) are the best. Hundreds of millions of baci have been sold around the world a great addition to anyone’s Christmas stocking

Perugina Baci Box Chocolate (28 Piece) (14.1 Oz)

  • Dedicated chocolate lovers might like to spend some time at Perugina’s headquarters in Perugia. Here you can visit the Perugina Museum and factory and also take a variety of chocolate-making classes
  • Another popular chocolate maker in Perugia is Cioccolateria Augusta Perusia. This small, family-owned business has been producing chocolate since 1994, and its chocolate is known for its unique flavors and beautiful packaging. They offer a wide range of chocolate products, including truffles, bars, and spreads, and they use only the finest ingredients to create their products
  • Perugia is also home to the Eurochocolate Festival, which takes place every October. This festival celebrates all things chocolate, and it attracts chocolate lovers from all over the world. During the festival, you can sample a wide range of chocolate products, attend chocolate-making workshops, and watch chocolate sculptures being created. The very fact that this festival takes place in Italy, says a lot about Italy’s high standing with chocolate makers
untold italy umbria tours

The perfect souvenir or gift

We always like to add a little chocolate stop on our small group tour experiences. Apart from for personal indulgence (and there is nothing wrong with that at all!), Italian chocolates make great gifts for friends and family.

DISCOVER: As we head towards Black Friday and the holiday season, check out our guides to deals, gifts and books.

One of our favorite gifts, perfect for pizza lovers, is the Ooni pizza oven. Other faves include an online cooking class and some tasty Italian foodie treats. Discover other great products from Italy to buy on an Italy trip or find online to be delivered straight to your door. 

Deals for a 2024 Italy trip

This is the best time of year to book travel if you want to take advantage of some significant savings, as this can be the only discount some of these brands will offer throughout the year.

Start thinking about luggage, tours, accommodation, and experiences. If you’re ready and can book, you’ll find really deep discounts in the upcoming weeks around the Black Friday dates just after Thanksgiving. The good thing is, especially with tours, you usually have the flexibility to change your plans as they have great cancellation policies and the ability for you to change the date of your travel. There’s also some great Black Friday travel deals on travel gear and accessories. 

Places mentioned in the show
  • Piedmont – northern region in Italy famous for its wine and the royal history of Turin its capital city
  • Guido Gobino – chocolatiers originating from Turin – you’ll find a few stores in the city as well as Milan
  • Guido Castagna – amazing chocolatiers with stores in Turin and Giaveno
  • Peyrano – founded in 1915 as a confectionery workshop and transformed into a chocolate factory by Antonio Peyrano after World War 1. Peyrano became a regular supplier the Italian royal family in 1920
  • Caffarel – originating in Turin in 1826 when Paul Caffarel opened his lab, they now with stores all over Italy
  • Zaini – chocolatier in Milan since 1913
  • Vizio Virtu – Venice chocolatier recommended to Katy by local and food tour guide Monica who joined us on episode 185 to discuss the food of Venice
  • Romeo Viganotti – chocolatier in Genoa since 1866 famous for their Easter chocolate eggs
  • Modica – town in the Val di Noto area of Sicily, famous for its cold-pressed chocolate
  • Perugia – a medieval college city in Umbria
  • Perugina – chocolate makes in Perugia, which has a factory tour, museum and chocolate making courses
  • Augusta Perusia – artesan chocolatiers of father and son making chocolate according to the old recipes of the chocolatier tradition of Perugia
  • Eataly – an upmarket gourmet Italian grocery chain found in Italy’s main cities like Milan and Rome as well as a few outside Italy, in NYC etc

Food & Drink

  • cioccalato – Italian for chocolate
  • bicerin – hot drink from Turin made of espresso, drinking chocolate, and milk
  • gianduja – paste mix of chocolate and hazelnut
  • gianduiotto –  chocolate ingots made from gianduja, individually wrapped in a gold or silver foil cover

Resources from Untold Italy

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