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Great Italian Chocolates: From Christopher Columbus to the City of Torino

A few months ago, my husband and I were at the pretty little beach town of Anna Maria Island, Florida.   Every time we go, we take a walk down the beach that leads to our favorite gelato shop state-side, and this day was no different. 

We stood in line behind a family speaking so softly it was difficult to make out the language, but he and I gave each other a look.  Italian?  When they ordered the chocolate and hazelnut gelato our suspicions were confirmed, and we immediately struck up a conversation with them. 

What is it about chocolate, hazelnuts, and Italy?  The most perfect of combinations.  Italians know it and we do too!  So, where did this chocolate and hazelnut idea come from? 

When considering the most beloved products from Italy, few receive more love than chocolate! 

Chocolate has made quite the name for itself in Italy, but, like coffee, it is relatively new to the country when we consider the land’s very ancient history.

Spain gets all the credit for introducing chocolate to Europe, but, lest we forget, it is Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, who we must thank for its arrival into our modern world!  While his first run-in with cocoa beans was during his first voyage to the Americas in 1492, it would be several years later before even he know what to do with them.

During his 1502 voyage things became a bit clearer as he realized the natives were making a drink out of these beans.  However, it was not until the 1540s when Dominican friars embraced the chocolate drink and introduced it to the king of Spain that it became widely known in Europe. 

As with other delicacies (such as coffee, as we’ve already discussed), new phenomena were up to the Pope in Rome to determine if they were to be accepted or not.  The issue in question with this chocolate drink was, “does it break the rules of the fast?”  Pope Pius V declared it did not break these rules and it became more widely accepted and consumed. 

Fast-forward to 1678, and the first chocolate house, with the permission of the House of Savoy, opened in Torino, forever establishing the city as a chocolate lover’s paradise!

Through the years, chocolate went from a drink (think hot chocolate somewhat as we know it today) to, with the addition of vanilla and sugar, solid treats, chocolate bars, truffles and the like.  Torino didn’t stop there though. 

Since cocoa was still quite expensive, but hazelnuts grew plentifully in the area, chocolate makers began to experiment with mixing the two.  To their delight, it was an exquisite combination! 

Today, the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts has created a world-wide obsession.  Chocolate-hazelnut spread.  Chocolate-hazelnut gelato.  Chocolate bar with hazelnuts.  The products are endless, and beloved throughout the world.  Thank you, Torino!

The city of Torino (Turin) today is still famous for its chocolates and still home to some of the world’s finest chocolatiers. 

Mia Emilia’s La Perla Chocolates come from a chocolatier in Torino who began his work out of both passion and disappointment. 

Sergio Arzilli grew up working in his father’s pastry shop and did so until his mid-thirties when he was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. 

No longer able to work with the pastries he knew so well, but still very passionate about quality ingredients and confectionary treats, he turned to chocolate instead.  Why not produce chocolate with the finest ingredients and highest quality?  Then he could produce a product he could enjoy himself.  And so, La Perla began in Torino in 1992.

They continue to produce the finest quality and flavors, experiment with different recipes and varieties of chocolates, and give great pleasure to their customers in Torino and beyond. 

One thing Italians have figured out is how to live in moderation and enjoy every minute of it.  Rather than buying and eating an entire bag of chocolates in one day, they prefer only a small treat of the highest quality and satisfaction.  Guilt free.  Couldn’t we all learn something from that philosophy?