Living with passion – lessons from Tuscany: discovering wonderful chocolate!

One of life’s great pleasures is definitely chocolate! I am very excited by the recent successes of the “Valley of Chocolate” in Tuscany.  The area between Pisa and Prato (near Florence) has developed into THE place where great artisanal chocolate is produced.

Many people are already familiar with Amedei chocolate www.amedei.com. For the third year in a row, this chocolate maker in Pontedera has won the Golden Bean award for “the best bean to bar chocolate in the world” from the London Academy of chocolate.  Started by brother and sister Alessio and Cecilia Tessieri in 1990, Amedei produces the highest quality chocolate using the best cocoa beans from Central and South America. Their products include Amedei Porcelana Single Origin Dark Chocolate – 70% Cocoa, an ultra luxury chocolate.  Amedei is also known for their concerns for carefully selecting the farms and farmers they work with and campaigning for fair treatment and living conditions for them and their workers.

Other famous chocolate makers in this area are Federico Salza of Pisa http://www.salza.it, Simone de Castro of Montopoli, Adrea Slitti of Monsummano Terme http://www.slitti.it, Corsini of Pistoia, Cioccolato &C of Massa e Cozzile in Pistoia, Caffe Pasticceria Rivoire in Florence (their hot chocolate is so legendary that I even ordered it on the hottest days of summer), Paul de Bondt from Pisa, Luca Mannori http://www.mannoriespace.it the patisserie champion creator of the “Seventh Veil Cake” (composed of 7 different kinds of chocolate) and Roberto Catanari, the originator of the entire ‘chocolate movement.’

The goal is for Tuscany to become known for the quality and origins of their handmade, high quality chocolate production in the same way as they are known for the production of art, wine and for their landscapes of unparalleled beauty.

None of this is truly surprising as Tuscany’s history with chocolate goes back centuries. Christopher Columbus was not impressed with the chocolate he sampled. Cortes was told chocolate was an aphrodisiac and brought it back to Europe.  Chocolate remained “Spanish” until a Florentine traveler Antonio Carletti described the process of making chocolate to the Duke of Tuscany in the 17th century.  Chocolate quickly radiated out from Florence to the other major cities in Italy.

Contact Serenella here.

Recipes from Tuscany: Cioccolata Calda (Hot Chocolate)

We have been asked to republish and article that originally appeared in 2008 on Italian hot chocolate so her it is.  Enjoy:

Ahh, those reports of storm and winter snows make everyone want to bundle up and get warm outside and in.Recipes from Tuscany: Cioccolata Calda (Hot Chocolate)

So, my mind naturally turns to chocolate.  (My mind always seems to turn to chocolate, no matter what the excuse!)

As the weather gets colder, I dream of the wonderful hot chocolate served in cafes all over Italy. Once you have tasted the Italian version of hot chocolate, it is very difficult to drink the bland versions back home.

In fact, six years ago, a woman on one of my tour groups became so enamored of “cioccolata calda” that she ordered it several times a day everywhere we went – even when the temperature was in the eighties! When we reached one of the pinnacles of hot chocolate, the Caffe Rivoire in Florence’s famous Piazza della Signoria, we were actually sweating.  That did not stop us from ordering the wonderfully thick and delicious concoction.

Italians prefer desserts and drinks that are less sweet-tasting than Americans do and hot chocolate is no exception.  The goal is a bitter-sweet, smooth taste with non-sweetened whipped cream on top.

In Tuscany (the home of “The Valley of Chocolate” that lies between Pisa and Florence), there is no end to the supply of velvety, deeply flavorful chocolate from local suppliers such as Slitti, Amedei, Corsini and many others.  Any of these chocolates make a great start for a hot chocolate drink.  If you cannot find Italian chocolate, any high quality chocolate will work. Remember, the secret is in each detail so use the best possible ingredients!

Italians generally drink their chocolate in a cappuccino cup filled halfway.  Here are two typical recipes below.  Are you up to the chocolate challenge? Read more