The cocoa plant has ancient origins and probably already existed more than 6,000 years ago. Maya and Aztecs produced cocoa for Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Cocoa was consumed during important ceremonies and this was due to cacao health benefits, but it was a drink so far form the chocolate we know today. In 1502 it was discovered by the Europeans with Cristoforo Colombo, who tasted a cocoa drink, carrying some cocoa beans in Spain, but nobody appreciated the new plant. Finally the Spanish in the late ‘500 added vanilla and sugar, undergoing cocoa a new kind of treatment, but it was so far from the cacao chocolate we know today. In the early 1600 the cocoa was imported in Italy, in Piedmont by Caterina, wife of Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy. In 1606 Italian chocolate was producedi n the cities of Florence, Venice and Turin. It was an extravaganza for rich people only. Only in 1879 Rudolph Lindt, studying the cocoa beans discovered the process called cocoa conching, which gives a homogeneous mixing, transforming chocolate in a product suitable for the mass market. Based on this process also in Italy was developed a new deal of interest and every chef chocolatier started to created new products, also using and mixing cacao butter to obtain soft and sweet milk chocolate.
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In several Italian regions from Sicily to Campania, Tuscany and Piedmont there is a strong tradition of chocolate making. Each place has adapted the cocoa to the local ingredients at their best. Many chocolate artisan producers have bet on the ingredients’ quality and on a personal process that allows them to stand out from the market. The combinations with fruit, liqueurs, wine and creams have projected the chocolate in an explosion of tastes and fragrances especially in Piedmont, the main producing region of artisan chocolate-based goodness. Everything is based however on the three types of chocolate: dark chocloate (with a bitter and intense taste) that we can define as the purest and “therapeutic” as it is a natural antidepressant, white chocolate and finally the milk chocolate that children like very much because it is very sweet. One of the best combination, however, is with the hazelnut, in particular with the Piedmontese “tonda gentile“ hazelnut. This couple gave birth to famous creams and very refined tastes. Coffee also goes well with chocolate and together they create excellent pralines. Gianduiotti chocolates, pralines with candied fruit, chocolate sculptures, Easter eggs and the creativity of chocolate masters hold up the name of Italian chocolate: for gourmands there is only the embarrassment of choosing.
Originally cocoa was not linked to the idea of dessert. Perhaps for this reason, nowadays savory dishes are offered in important restaurants that use bitter cocoa as an ingredient. The cocoa powder has a strong persistence in the palate and is often combined with spicy chilli in sauces, garnishes and sauces for meat. Sometimes the chefs use it with very salty cheeses that can balance the taste. We found cocoa with pasta, fish dishes, Parmigiano reggiano and more. Salty or sweet, in any dish the cocoa retains all the properties giving unmissable sensations: a good challenge for chefs and gourmets.
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