SWEET SMELL OF HERITAGE百年可可香
TEXT LIM FONG WEI / 林方伟
A bite into Venchi chocolate, which has been around for nearly 140 years, could transport you to its birthplace in Piedmont 意大利 Venchi 巧克力有近 140年的历史，每尝一口，都能感受到有别于法国和瑞士巧克力的“意大利灵魂”。
Whenever I travel to Italy, the search for gelato becomes an epic adventure. Last year, when I was there to cover the Venice Biennale, friends had recommended a gelato store that I simply had to visit, so when I had some time off, I took to Venice’s many narrow twisting alleys to hunt it down.
Finally, I located it, around the corner from a Chinese restaurant. Venchi, said the name at the store front; I had arrived. I asked for Venchi’s Giandujotto gelato in the brightly-lit store. This traditional flavour from the city of Turin — the capital of Piedmont — is based on the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnut.
About 430km away from Venice at the foot of the Alps is the region of Piedmont, where Italian chocolate originated. When we think of chocolate, we typically think of countries like France and Switzerland, forgetting that Italy also has a long tradition of chocolate-making.
Historical records show that cocoa was first brought to Turin as part of the dowry of Catherine, the second daughter of Spanish monarch Philip II, in the 16th century. At that time, cocoa was used solely by the royals, to stimulate the senses. In 1678, chef Giovanni Antonio Ari became the first to receive court permission to operate a cioccolateria for six years. Some 350kg of chocolate were produced there each day here; as the chocolate craze caught on, more shops opened and Turin became Italy’s chocolate capital. During the Napoleonic period, cocoa beans from South America were in short supply and local chocolate masters exercised their creativity, creating Giandujotto (also known as the predecessor to the Nutella spread) by mixing cocoa with hazelnut, which was plentiful locally.
In 1878, Silviano Venchi, an apprentice dessert-maker, struck out on his own and opened his first chocolate shop in Piedmont. By 1905, Venchi had become a listed company with more than 500 employees on its payroll. Silviano, himself a genius at desserts, mixed chopped hazelnuts with caramel and chocolate to create the sweet known as nougatine, which became a best-selling dessert that was supplied to various coffee shops. Nougatine also became favoured by the court and Venchi was awarded a royal seal, making it an exclusive supplier of chocolate and other sweets to the court. In 1924, Venchi merged with six other entities and in 1934, embarked on a partnership with high-end chocolate maker Cuba, and henceforth established a chocolate empire in Italy and became a leading name in the premium chocolate market.
Italian cuisine is one of the key cuisines of the world, and similarly Italian chocolate has its
own distinct character. Venchi emphasises the “soul of Italy”, using local ingredients such as butter and cream (not palm oil), and selling locally produced hazelnuts, pistachios and other nuts, and cocoa-butter and olive oil.
Venchi attaches great importance to the origin of its raw materials: Almonds and pistachios are sourced from Sicily, while its cleantasting and pure olive oil comes from Liguria, the centre of olive oil in Italy. Its hazelnuts are produced in Piedmont and have received the Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) geographic certification. Piedmont also has excellent conditions for the growing of wine grapes with good soil structure and fertile soil.
Venchi’s standards for cocoa beans, the main ingredient in its chocolate, are even more stringent: The rarer Criollo and the more commonplace Forastero beans come from plantations in Peru and Ecuador, with some Forastero beans also sourced from the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Venchi also purchases sustainably grown cocoa beans from families of the 850-household Kichwa tribe in Ecuador. This relationship encourages these families to engage in traditional forms of agriculture and also ensure that their chocolate products can sit easy on the conscience of their customers.
As for my experience of Venchi, the mild bitterness of the chocolate and the aroma of the hazelnut came together beautifully in my mouth. That was quite a first impression and the name Venchi has stuck in my head ever since.
往威尼斯西行430公里，到达阿尔卑斯山脉丘陵地带的皮埃蒙特（Piedmont）便是Venchi以及意大利巧克力的发源地。说起巧克力，许多人的印象似乎只停在法国和瑞士，殊不知，意大利也有历史悠久与口味独特的巧克力传统。根据记载，可可是在16世纪由西班牙菲利普二世国王的女儿凯特琳带入皮埃蒙特首府都灵的嫁妆。当时，可可在宫廷是一道皇室专享的提神饮料。1678年意大利厨师Giovanni Antonio Ari获朝廷准许在当地开设首家可可热饮店，随后可可热饮店如雨后春笋般崛起，每日制造多达350公斤的巧克力，使 都灵正式成为意大利首个巧克力之都。在拿破仑时代，南美洲可可豆进口困难，当地巧克力师傅发挥巧思，将当地盛产的高级榛果与可可融合，创造出Giandujotto（也即是普罗大众都晓得的Nutella的鼻祖），成为意大利的甜食传奇。
意式幽默——这款“Brutto & Buono”（意思是又粗糙又美味）巧克力，将切碎的榛果和巧克力融在一起，卖相不佳，但滋味上乘。