This afternoon at the university, I attended a guided tasting tour of Italian chocolate by Francine Segan, a noted food historian, public speaker, and author.
She has been featured on Food Network, Today, and in multiple magazines around the world, among many other things!
I don’t know what was more fascinating–the history of the decadent treat we all know and love, or Ms. Segan herself.
Her vibrant personality and extensive knowledge of all things culinary captivated us all. I have to be honest…sometimes my mind drifts during ‘lectures’ even if it is on a topic in which I am interested, but not this time!
I have never heard much in the past on Italian chocolate in particular. I always figured Belgian or Swiss chocolate was supreme. Ms. Segan informed us of the significant footprint that early Italian chocolatiers had on the chocolate we enjoy today (every single day if you’re anything like me!).
They were the first to take the cacao bean from other European countries (who mostly enjoyed it with sugar) and transform it into an ingredient that could be used in savory dishes, and even pair it with other complimentary flavors such as orange and hazelnut.
In fact, Italy has an additional classification of chocolate. The typical white, milk, and dark chocolates are joined with another type–Gianduiotto.
Its upside-down boat-like shape is made up of a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and hazelnuts. I knew I liked Italians. We didn’t taste this little beauty, but something tells me it could rival Nutella!
Fortunately, we did taste a variety of authentic Italian chocolates, from white to extra dark to stone ground Sicilian chocolate with a lovely hint of orange. The latter was my favorite–nothing like anything I have ever tasted before. Unlike the others that melted on my tongue rather quickly, this one required a bit of ever-so-slight chewing. The amazing thing was that after, literally, two chews, it instantly melted, coated my mouth, and left behind a few tiny chunks of the chocolate. It reminded me of the reason we add nuts to our desserts, because we want texture, right? Here, the chocolate itself added the texture, all because of the delicate and quite laborious way it was processed. Go Sicily!
And a fun fact: In Hershey’s early days, when they were still trying to figure out how to stabilize milk, they began selling chocolate with slightly rancid milk. Think about the last time you ate a Hershey’s kiss–it had a twinge of sourness, yes? Once they implemented the new way of stabilizing, the customers didn’t like it! So, a tiny bit rancid (but completely safe) milk it was.
Overall, it was a very pleasurable experience. I was delighted to meet Francine Segan and hear about her journey, as well as converse with other food lovers in attendance.
Chocolate really is a wonderful thing. Appreciating good chocolate and savoring its flavors makes quite a difference in your experience of eating it. I am so grateful to have opportunities like this to learn more about ingredients, others, and even myself!
***Update: Last night, I threw in a square of leftover Italian dark chocolate from the event (how it lasted that long I have no earthly idea) into my spaghetti sauce, and I have to say that it was the absolute BEST sauce I have ever made. I usually add a dash of sugar to cut some of the acidity, but I just added the chocolate this time. It offers such a depth of flavor that you can’t get from granulated sugar. Perfection. Please try it.