Jun 8, 2009

La Cioccolata: beans of bliss

Susan of MY2K is one of the first bloggy friends and followers to visit this site. She's a loyal reader and aficionado of my little kitchen, and she posts incredibly interesting stories about Mayan glyphs and the mysterious civilization's multi-faceted culture. She and I share the fascination for all things Mayan and among these, chocolate. One very interesting post of hers dealt with cacao beans used as currency. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

"For the ancient Maya, cacao beans were money. A rabbit was worth ten beans, as an example. They really did have money growing on trees. The fruit that surrounds the bitter seeds is sweet and was eaten by both monkeys and early man. Later, early civilizations discovered the seeds to be a wonderful, bitter, enticing food when roasted. The name kakawa is the original name from the Olmecs in 1000 BC. By the time of the Maya, cacao beans were even counterfeited. It was possible to remove the delicious center and substitute dirt or less valuable pieces of food before passing it off as cash."
You can read the full post HERE.

***

The word “chocolate” in fact comes from the Aztecs of Mexico, and is derived from the term xocolatl which is a combination of words meaning ‘bitter waters.’ Indeed, the unsweetened hot, frothy beverage with stimulant properties the Aztecs made of pounded cacao beans and spices was probably extremely bitter. Chocolate was reserved for warriors, nobility and priests. The Aztecs esteemed its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Taken fermented as a drink, chocolate was also used in religious ceremonies. Between a bloody game of pelota and a savage human scarifice, a nice cup of steaming xocolatl was the best way to replete. Bitterness notwithstanding, the Aztec king Montezuma so believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac that he purportedly drank 50 golden goblets of it each day (I can see where the legendary namesake revenge comes from).
To quote Susan, from one of our droolsome chocolate-induced conversations, "Aztecs, Olmecs, Maya, Spanish, English - they fought with each other but they kept the name for chocolate intact!" And we thank them on behalf of humanity.

How bland can a day be without a triangle of honey flavored Swiss Toblerone? What’s the use of getting out of bed if there are no chocolate shavings in your cappuccino? If you know me a little by now, you'll comprehend how I cannot resist the temptation of Nutella. Can you recall the excitement upon walking in your first chocolatier? I purposely got lost during a guided tour of one of Torino’s most famous chocolate factories just to manage a second go at the sample table.
It’s my addiction. I’m not a dessert person, but chocolate is my weakness. Blissful is the midnight snack that begins with a chunk of glossy brown heaven wedged between my teeth and a salty crust of bread to go with it.


Italy competes with France and Switzerland for the best European chocolate. In the region of Piemonte alone, there are more master chocolatiers than in Belgium and France combined. In Tuscany, there is such a concentration of fine chocolate makers, that journalists have dubbed the area between Florence and Pisa the Chocolate Valley.
In the course of the weeks to follow I will set an appointment with you. Once a week, I will illustrate examples of the many Italian chocolate excellencies that dot our Peninsula. Let me begin this choco-monograph by telling you of one very chocolaty city in particular.

***

TORINO, the Gianduja capital of the world
Can you even begin to imagine a city where a special type of milk chocolate first prepared in 1852 by Pierre Paul Caffarel has inspired a famous praline, a Commedia dell’Arte character mask and self-appointed nickname? This decadent preparation of chocolate containing about 50% hazelnut and almond paste, is the symbol of the most epicurean Italian city of them all. The Napoleonic gem, Torino.


Caffrel’s invention of Gianduja chocolate was out of necessity. Due to the long Napoleonic Wars, the transport of spices, coffee and cacao beans across the Atlantic was severely curtailed, and Europe began to experience unacceptable chocolate shortages. To extend their meager supplies of cocoa, Caffarel began blending ground hazelnuts into their cacao. The result was a creamy, flavorful delight, and it became an instant success.

Gianduja is a Carnival and Commedia dell’Arte marionette character who represents the archetypal Piemontese: sweet, guileful and overly polite. During the 1865 carnival celebrations in Torino, masked Gianduja began handing out a new chocolate truffle, the gianduiotto.

Gianduiotti are now the specialty of Torino, bite-size chocolate mouthfuls whose shape is similar to an upturned canoe. Gianduiotti are individually wrapped in gold-colored tin foil, and melt in your mouth leaving you inevitably addicted for more. Like it is said of cherries, uno tira l’altro, or “one pulls the next [into the mouth]”.




Trivia Note:
Asti-born writer and broadcaster, Bruno Gambarotta, wrote a comic gastro-thriller entitled "Il codice Gianduiotto" (English: The Gianduiotto Code). The novel is a parody of the Dan Brown bestseller and centers on the mysteries of the secret formula for the perfect Gianduiotto.

41 comments:

  1. How interesting! I didn't know all the history behind cacao...I just knew I liked it in all forms,especially giandujia. Yum!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh the chocolate smear around her mouth is perfect. We now know what made her smile.
    One beautiful warm evening we sat outside with our dinner guests. The food had been great, for after all I made it but I couldn't tell you now what it was.

    Dessert however was simply broken up pieces of a 75% and 65% cacao bars of chocolate served in a large martini glass. The coffee was strong and aromatic. There was also fresh fruit but no one cared. I thought the women present were going to fight over the last piece. I suppose I could have shared the last bar of chocolate that was still in the house. Umm, I think not.

    ReplyDelete
  3. LOL...the parody sounds hilarious! Love Italian chocolate!!!! Simply divine!!!! I think it does get overlooked as the Swiss have done such a great job of marketing theirs. But let me tell you, I ate my way through Italy...and devoured all of its delicious foods, and visited its famous chocolatiers! Thanks for all this fascinating history!!! Loved this post! ~Janine XO

    ReplyDelete
  4. haha wonderful post and i am sure you are breaking diets around the globe today. moans of pleasure turn to pain as tummies cry mercy! there is something almost spiritual to the combination of peanut butter and chocolate...my weakness. visited Hershey Park up in Pennsylvania a couple years back...more sin there than Vegas. lol.

    glad you are back. thanks for stopping by, have missed my greetings from Italy!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Lola you make everything sound delicious. I have never before realized that food has a history.

    After reading your blog for the past year, I have learned so much.

    One big thing I have learned also is how much total shit I eat.

    Keep connected with your sisters if for no other reason then for your little boy.

    Love Renee xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  6. I must lose weight and have began the journey. Boy could I use a little piece of chocolate about now :)!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yummy! I could smell your post before I even sat down at my computer! I will be in heaven with the next mouthful of chocolate here. Thanks for all the nice things you said, btw. You are awesome, Lola.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sssssiiighhhh! If I end up finishing the bar of dark chocolate from Trader Joe's that I've been hiding from, I shall lay the blame at your feet, Lola! :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Torture!

    Now i am dying for a bite of chocolate. Just one little piece, but I've none in the house! I suppose it's my own fault, i know better than to come visiting you Lola dear, without a glass of wine in hand, a piece of bread, or cheese...and now chocolate too!!

    I wonder if the store is still open? :)

    Thank you for sharing this most interesting and informative post.

    x lori

    ReplyDelete
  10. Toblerone and Nutella...me too! I've had many a delicious cup of chocolate in Mexico. Can't live without it. Love that they call that area 'The Chocolate Valley'!
    Catherine

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oh yes, I remember all those wonderful chocolate shops in Torino. I'm looking forward to your chocolate updates. I've got to read that book too - sounds hilarious.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love the idea of chocolate as currency. I wouldn't want for anything as I'd keep all my money for myself. How could I possibly hand over chocolate?

    ReplyDelete
  13. We are having real chocolate weather here, so your post is a real treat! Off shopping in a minute, and you have just added another item to my list!

    Gianduiotti - learned something new, once again - they sound gorgeous. x

    ReplyDelete
  14. a BIG chocoalte fan me... both for treats and for my childhood in Mexico with its Olmec history...of cacao...My mother used to write in ecstacy over her pollo molle..Mmmmm

    great post!! I was in there with you...

    and I will keep an eye out for this book, the Da vinci code as a book was a joke, written badly but great ideas..

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yum Yum Yum.........

    you are like chocolate :-)

    best wishes
    Ribbon

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ooooooooh, Lola! I've have just spent the last goodness-knows-how-long catching up on all your recent posts and what a sublime pleasure it has been. It was like curling up with a book so excellent that time just vanishes and when you finally look up from the last page, you wonder where you are. You know that feeling? Also, I am now starvingly hungry and would like nothing more in the whole world than to sit down and share a meal with you, a glass or three of a good red wine and talk of life and love and books and films and cooking. And laugh, of course, lots of laughter.

    One day you will have to bring Mr. E to England to see the Queen and Big Ben and the Millennium Wheel and to visit the National History Museum....and then to our house, here in the bucolic English countryside. Mr. E can climb trees and chase the lambs in the field opposite while you and I and Guy sit on the verandah in the SUN (maybe!) and sip Pimms and eat strawberries and talk about our travels. Okay? Good!

    (Word veri is 'dishies'! How appropriate!)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Grrr....me again. Oh drat! Did you notice that the Reach Out award has a typo? Bridges spelt with a double s? Idiot me! I've corrected it now, so if you want one without a string of ssssssssssssss's, it's up there on my blog!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I just found a whole new use for your blog, Lola! I checkmarked "get email notices of followup messages" when I commented. And now, in my email, I get such great new emails: the comments on your blog. They are all interesting and fun. And they all make me think, 'go get chocolate, go get chocolate'.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Most interesting. And to think of the variations brought into chocolates it must rank among the best discoveries ever.

    With cocoa seeds as currency it must have encouraged their plantations.

    ReplyDelete
  20. MMMMM chocolate! I could give up many things, if I had to, but never chocolate. And something slightly salty with chocolate? Heaven!

    It's so nice to meet another passionate Nutella aficionado!

    Thanks for this fascinating post, dear Lola.

    (You may be relieved to know that my very brief fascination with emoticons has passed. . .)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Oh Lola! You've made me drool all over my keyboard and yet I daren't, for the sake of my thighs, indulge in a second cup of hot chocolate today - well, then again, maybe a small one, eh... ;-)
    xxx

    ReplyDelete
  22. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Nutella! I had my first taste of that heavenly substance only about three years ago. Fantastic, and instantly addictive :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Well! Bang goes my diet again!!
    You've discovered yet another of my weaknesses - I'm an addicted chocoholic and since we have a chololate factory on our doorstep I think I will have to organise a break in.
    Great post and I loved the way the Aztecs stopped their slaughter to have a Mars Bar! From a great fan of yours ~ Edoardo Luciblù

    ReplyDelete
  24. I like chocolate, thanks for share. great information. I like to read your content. and great picture also. I'll wait you on my blog, we can share information. thanks

    ReplyDelete
  25. Yumm, Chocolate, nutella, all of this dazzles my taste buds! Thanks for info!

    ReplyDelete
  26. On a visit to Barcelona we found some fantastic Chocolate shops, truly amazing, Europe is full of them :-)

    I cannot stand English chocolate, it is make all wrong and full of stuff..yuk.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Very interesting indeed! I am intrigued by the aztec word xocolatl, it's so amazing!
    And now I need a Gianduiotto....

    ReplyDelete
  28. Lola...I'm not sure, but I think my statcounter shows that you visited this morning and tried to leave a comment...if you did visit and leave me a few words, I want you to know that they never made it into my comment box...I wanted you to know that because I value your friendship so much, and I wouldn't want you to think I didn't value your thoughtful words!!! You have been a wonderful new friend, and I am so grateful and honored to know you!!! I will miss your blog a great deal while I am off-line, but look forward to catching up with you as soon as I return!!!! All my best to you!! Love, Janine XO

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thank you so much for visiting my blog :) I have not been blog-hopping as much as I should. I am actually from Switzerland originally (half Swiss, half Hungarian) and quite the chocoholic, so am delighted you are doing this series. Gianduja is one of my mom's favorites.

    ReplyDelete
  30. The amount of work/research you put into your posts can be astounding at times! I never knew so much about chocolate.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Great post. I also liked the blog you link to, MY2K, and have become a follower of it. And yes, you depict the Piemontesi very well: 'sweet, guileful and overly polite'. I'd also add they are the only Italians to have qualities similar to those of the English. The cunning of the Neapolitans, with an English touch, and a taste for la cuisine à la francaise: a potent mix.

    As for chocolate, ça va sans dire, but I will not repeat the orgasm 'm' once more. I try to be respectable once in a while.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Lola,
    Your posts are always so incredibly informative as well as extraordinarily entertaining! You have a wonderful way with words, and a gift for writing that brings everything to life! And your photography is perfection! Because of your unbeatable combination of talents, I find myself trying to eat my computer screen all too often when I visit your blog...LOL!!!!Thank you for your lovely note...I am glad you returned in spite of my Blogger glitches with the comments!!! I am also so glad to know that you will be taking a hiatus soon as well as I was truly mourning my absence from your beautiful blog...now I can rest easy, knowing that we both will be having a fabulous break, and that I won't miss many of your terrific posts! Have a fantastic time with family in the U.S! I'll very much look forward to catching up with you when you return!!!! Love to you my friend! Cheers! [When I return, we'll break out two glasses and some Perugian chocolate.. :-)] ~Janine XO

    ReplyDelete
  33. Lola I am sending you great big XXXX and little oooo.

    Love Renee xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  34. How could I have missed this post? Just fascinating, and now I want some. Chocolate, that is.

    I found the bit about the cacao currency among the Mayans most interesting.

    Thanks, L! ♥

    ReplyDelete
  35. Wooohoo...Lola! Congratulations on Post Of The Day at David's Authorblog. He is indeed the guru of best blog discoveries!

    Lots of love and hugs and kisses and I hope you've recovered from all that movie work and are spending quality time with your loved ones....and cooking and writing and photographing, too!

    ReplyDelete
  36. WOnderful job Lola Darlin'...now I know why I'm addicted to chocolate...it was once money...addictions follow the same path I guess lol...congrats on Post of the Day Nomination!
    Sandi

    ReplyDelete
  37. Congrats on post of the day nomination. I came by from David's. I'm wishing I could run out and buy some Nutella since I've not tried it.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Congratulations on POTD, Lola - very well deserved. You put a lot of reseach into this and it was a very tasty post - yum! yum!
    I've just read part 2 as well, equally yum! yum! ~ Eddie

    ReplyDelete
  39. As torinese native and... Addict, let me say that I rarely read a so perfect introduction about what chocolate means in Torino. Great job indeed !

    ReplyDelete
  40. You had me at "chocolate"! Great post. And congrats on your Post of the Day nomination. I just stopped by to say hello. I'll be back again soon!s

    ReplyDelete

Grazie for visiting and taking the time to comment!

Please do not include URLs in your comment as they will get lost in the anti-spam queue, which I do not check for valid comments.

If your comment never appears, kindly send me a message on my Contact page, thanks!

Ciao
Eleonora

Share!