The Italian Almanac

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Italy's Chocolate Capital

Turin is celebrating its reputation as Italy's Chocolate Capital with the Cioccolato' chocolate show. Festivities feature 6,000 chocolate makers from Piedmont's historic chocolate district, other parts of Italy and the world, with tastings, exhibits, cooking courses, tours and river cruises, starting from Piazza Vittorio Veneto in the center of town. Guest of honor is Enric Rovira, the Catalan chocolate design artist.

The ChocoFarm in the middle of Piazza Vittorio Veneto treats visitors to the tasty stages of chocolate making, from the base to its final form. The fully functioning gianduia factory, created by Piedmontese chocolate maker Silvio Bessone, operates from 10:00 to 19:00. Gianduia is a hazelnut-and-chocolate confection for which Turin is famed and Bessone is an acknowledged master gianduia maker. Spalm Beach, also in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, recreates an Italian beach club, complete with sun umbrellas, lounge chairs, cabins and a lifeguard tower, where visitors can enjoy chocolate spread or "spalmato" on bread.

Visitors to the Piazza Palazzo di Citta' can taste Piedmont's premium, locally produced gianduia for a minimum contribution of two euro. Proceeds will benefit poor children in cocoa producing countries. The Museo Accorsi Ometto shows visitors how aristocrats of the 1700's indulged in hot chocolate, when it was still a privilege of elite circles. The concoction is served up to visitors at the end of the culinary tour of a period kitchen, dining room and specialized utensils.

Turin's chocolate-making roots began in 1559, when Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, the general leading Emperor Charles V's Spanish military forces, brought cocoa beans home to Piedmont. He served them up the following year in a steamy drink during festivities to celebrate the change of the Savoia capital from Chambery to Turin. Chocolate was served in the region exclusively as a hot beverage until 1826, the year entrepreneur Pierre Paul Caffarel introduced the production of solid chocolate. Caffarel is still a leading Italian chocolate brand.

Cocoa scarcity spawned the invention of Turin's famous gianduia in 1852. A Napoleonic naval blockade prevented cocoa from reaching Italian ports. Chocolatier Michele Prochet found he could combine prohibitively expensive cocoa with locally grown, toasted hazelnuts, to produce the delicious new confection. Gianduia was commercialized in 1865, becoming the first chocolates wrapped in glittering foil.

Gianduia was also central to the fortunes of Italy's chocolate multinational Ferrero. Pietro Ferrero started the industrialized chocolate maker in the Piedmont town of Alba in 1942. His first product was a hazelnut and chocolate spread called "giandujot," a precursor to the company's world-famous Nutella.