“There’s nothing unclassy about being naked, if it’s appropriate”

It’s that most magical time of the year when those that work in offices for people much richer than themselves often cash in on holiday gifts such as boxes of holiday candy. Professors especially just seem to know how much a small gift of food means to the starving undergraduates working as lab techs in their research labs, and my previous lab boss would always hang microbiology-themed Christmas stockings in the hallways of our building. They usually had things like candy canes and the most recent copy of journal articles we were supposed to read, and always a mini box of Godiva. It was a good job, the Godiva made up for spending the rest of the year in a gross-smelling laboratory growing plague with hazardous chemicals (which don’t get me wrong, is pretty freaking cool).

Godiva Chocolates

Not to be a typical chocolate-obsessed girl, but I really love Godiva. Although, I think I love their logo as much as I love their chocolate. Companies sometimes pick interesting images for their logos (I could talk forever about Starbuck’s logo), but I really love Godiva’s and here’s why:

Godiva

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who lived in the middle of the 11th century. Godiva is an latinization of her real name, which was either Godgifu or Godyfu, meaning “gift of God”. She was married to Lord Leofric, and together they were one of the most powerful noble families in the area, controlling all the land in Coventry, England.

Her and her husband were well-known for giving large sums of land, money, and jewels to religious causes as far away as London. She was perhaps the driving force in these donations, as her name is specifically credited with the founding a monastery near Coventry.

However, the thing that she is most famous for and what most people would know her for are not these acts of goodwill, but rather riding a horse naked through the streets of Coventry. Admittedly this is much more interesting, however it also probably didn’t even happen.

The myth goes like this:

Her husband was mercilessly taxing the peasants of their lands, and she repeatedly begged him to reduce taxes. He repeatedly refused, until he became so fed up with her pleas that he rashly proposed that if she would ride naked through the streets at midday, he would reduce the taxes. He thought this would stop her demands once and for all, but much to his surprise she agreed to his terms. She stripped naked, having nothing but her long hair to cover her body, and rode through the streets escorted only by two of her attendants (or two knights, depending on the version of the myth). Everyone in Coventry stayed inside and closed their shutters, lest they accidentally see her, out of respect for her sacrifices made for the peasants (or they were asked to remain inside out of a royal decree, once again, depending on the version of the myth). In the end she won the feud with her husband and he was forced to lower taxes.

Painting of Lady Godiva by John Collier, 1898.  Now in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, England.

Painting of Lady Godiva by John Collier, 1898. Now in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, England.

However, as cool as this myth is, there are several reasons it probably didn’t really happen:

  • Lady Godiva died in the 11th century but this story doesn’t appear before the 13th century, though there are numerous  other mentions of her generosity toward the church. If the story really did happen, it probably would have been mentioned more in the 200 years directly after her death.
  • Looking back at the records of the time, there were no taxes directly enforced on the people of Coventry during the 11th century, only a tax on horses, so Lady Godiva couldn’t have been riding to repeal a tax that didn’t exist.
  • Anglo-Saxon laws regarding royalty also worked a little differently – Lady Godiva was not excluded from the power over her kingdom like females were of the later ages, so she could have repealed the law herself if she so chose (especially because the power over Coventry was inherited from her family). However, if the myth were written later in a time when females had no governing power, it might be automatically assumed that Lady Godiva had no political power during her time either.

Another part of this story didn’t appear until the 17th century. Remember how everyone shut their blinds out of respect for Lady Godiva?  Well there was one guy who didn’t. A tailor named Tom decided to sneak a peek at the passing Lady and upon seeing her was immediately struck blind (or dead, either by divine retribution or a loyal peasant community punishing his disloyalty towards their lady. Once again, the myths are all different). His voyeurism was forever immortalized in the nickname “peeping Tom”.
This leads us to the fourth fault in the myth:

  • Tom. This is definitely not an Anglo-Saxon name and it is highly unlikely that Leofric and Godiva ever had a subject named Tom, which means this part of the myth was definitely made up, especially since it appeared so late in the history of the story.

Yet, despite all the flaws with this myth, it remains the most commonly thing known about Lady Godiva and her flawless image has been immortalized in paintings, sculptures, and yes, even the logo for a famous chocolate company. How does a myth with so little evidence remain so well-known? I’m just guessing the nakedness and the voyeurism has something to do with it.

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“Anything is good if its made of chocolate”

Do you ever have the sense that chocolate just tastes better in the wintertime? It might be due to all the awesome holiday packaging and special varieties (red and green mint m&ms ftw). Or maybe it is because we associate it with things such as holiday parties and peppermint mochas. Well here’s another, perhaps more scientific reason: the recipe is actually different for many candies in the winter, and thus they are purer chocolate.

In America, the differences are subtle – Hershey’s adds a minute percentage of baker’s wax to their summer candy bars and other chocolates to prevent them from melting as much and keep them all looking good. Because let’s face it, no one wants some melted, deformed Hershey bar right? Unfortunately, though in such small amounts its hardly noticeable, the added wax isnt exactly a flavor booster. However, colder weather in the winter negates the need for this additional ingredient. Thus, the wax can be omitted from “winter varieties” of Hershey’s, Nestle’s, etc. and they are smoother, creamier, and in general, more chocolaty.

What I find most interesting about this process is that barely anyone knows about this in the United States – companies usually don’t advertise “summer” or “winter” varieties of chocolate. Packaging and marketing remains the same throughout the year, and it generally goes unnoticed that anything changes. But take a country that really takes it chocolate seriously, like Italy, and it is a whole different story.

I remember one of our advisors in my Italy group remarking that he was sad the winter chocolates were not available while we were there. I had no idea what this meant, but never really got around to asking about it until the day we toured the chocolate factory in Perugia – the tour was awesome (read about it here!) but unfortunately the factory was non-operational. As it turns out, the factory shuts down in the summer because it is too hot to run the machinery. The only way to produce a Bacio candy that isn’t a melted glob of chocolate and hazelnut therefore would be drastically altering the recipe – and anyone who has ever tasted a freshly made Bacio understands that would be borderline sinful. So the factory is shut down during the hottest months of the summer until the weather becomes cool enough to properly produce Bacio once more. I am pretty sure an American company would/could never do this, so they change the recipes to accommodate year-round production and consumption. But I think some of our companies should get a little bit more creative with the way that they package and sell their products, so taste doesn’t have to be sacrificed for functionality of the product.

Take, for example, the Ferrero Pocket Coffee & Ferrero Pocket Espresso To-Go:

Ferrero Pocket Coffee is a dark chocolate candy, with real espresso inside. It is apparently glorious. And I can see why. What’s not to love about an edible container of coffee, especially when said container is made of dark chocolate? But I actually never got to try one because they are pulled from stores around the first of May and aren’t returned until around the first of October – omitting its sale in the hottest part of the year, when most people don’t really want a chocolate candy that is going to melt and ooze liquid espresso all over everything they own.

So, during the summer months, Ferrero has introduced an alternative to the Pocket Coffee – behold, the Pocket Espresso To-Go and all it’s glory. The idea is basically the same: it is a super convienant and tasty chocolate espresso shot. But this time the chocolate is melted into the espresso and the whole thing is in a mini plastic container that comes complete with a mini straw. It is honestly one of the coolest hidden treasures of Italy, and partially saved my life when we were all working in the fields on the farm.

Another interesting difference is that not only does the packaging and the product change, but it is kind of a big deal when the chocolates change out – there are sales and introductions of new varieties that occur, and acquiring the last of the smoother winter candy at the start of summer is something of a quest. We arrived in Rome just in time to see the last of the winter Kinder Sorpresa Eggs being sold in the grocery store down the street. These were soft chocolate and wrapped in foil and they were being replaced by harder chocolate in a plastic egg, which once again, better accommodates hot weather. Also, inside the sorpresa eggs are mini toys (very simple but also very amusing to a bunch of American college kids). It became kind of a fun game, like a treasure hunt, for us to search everywhere after that and see what candies were different and why. And you would be surprised what sorts of fun things you find on quirky quests for the perfect chocolate candy.

I guess I’m not really sure where I was going with this blog, because there isn’t really a point, argument, or purpose to this other than I think its really interesting. And I miss Italian chocolate. Also, you will soon learn, I love learning about little cultural facts and differences. I hope you do too.

*Fun Fact: I think it is interesting to note that while Kinder Chocolate is sold in America, Kinder Sorpresas are banned in stores because the US FDA bans the sale of any food that contains a non-edible substance, such as a toy, inside of it.

“It’s Chocolate. That’s Chocolate? Thats Chocolate!”

While doing my post-Christmas clearance scavenging with my mom a few weeks ago, I came across the most glorious clearance rack find in the history of clearanced Christmas candy finds.  What was this magnificent treasure?  Gift bags of a Perugina Chocolate Factory candy called Bacio.

The funny thing is that my mom didn’t quite understand why I ran down the aisle and scooped up every bag I could find.  I texted a couple of my Italy friends about my find and showed her their responses.  One response was:

“I just teared up.  I’ll love you forever if you share”

…and my personal  favorite response was:

“OH MY GAWD. I’ll buy some from you.  Get every bag and if you don’t share with me, I will cut you”

This was the response I expected from them (although for some reason, my mom still didn’t understand).  And the reason we were all overjoyed at mere clearance rack candy?  It’s because Baci (the plural spelling of a Bacio) will forever hold a special place in our hearts.  Here’s why: A free Chocolate Factory Tour, in the heart of a city famous for its classic Italian food culture, with unlimited samples.  Yup. You would freak out too.

The Perugina Chocolate Factory, its real name is actually Museo Storico Nestle Perugina, and it is located near the city of Perugia and gives free tours of their factory, museum, and store.  It is at this factory that they make their world-famous Baci Hazelnut Chocolates. Take finely ground hazelnuts, mix it with dark chocolate to form a truffle that is topped with a whole hazelnut, and then coat it in rich, dark velvety chocolate.  Wrap each truffle in a slip of silvery paper with a quote about love translated into 4 languages, and wrap again in the standard silver and blue foil embellished with a blue stars and a Griffin (the symbol of Perugia and the Perugina logo), and give it the name Bacio – which means “kiss” in Italian – and you have a recipe for one of the tastiest chocolates known to man.

From outside the factory is standard, industrial-looking and unimpressive.  Walk inside, and your impression turns a whole 180 degrees.  The lobby is decorated with retro chocolate and candy posters and the walls are hollow glass filled with cacao beans. (P.S. That is how I want to decorate my house one day, cacao bean pods everywhere, they are awesome!)  The receptionist’s desk has a massive bowl of Baci and other chocolates made in the factory.  We all hoard away a few, thinking we need to conserve the few free baci we might receive that day.

First stop on the tour: a movie theatre showing the history of the factory.  The film is old but there is an obvious new-addition to the film, a short clip at the end with a quip about how the factory is now owned by Nestle.  The narrator can’t seem to hide his disappointment in this obvious factory sell-out to increase marketing.  Something about the quality of this chocolate renders the advantages of a nationally known company useless and takes away from the quiet dignity of this once family-owned factory.  Lining each entrance and exit to the theatre, giant bowls of Bacio of course.

Leaving the theatre takes you to the Candy Museum, complete with a replica of the world’s largest Bacio –  it weighed 6.6 tons, stood 6.5 feet tall, and bolstered the factory’s fame as the largest, most famous chocolate producer in the country.  This is where the tour gets interesting, because there are little windows with sneak peeks into the factory and everything smells like chocolate.

The real fun begins with a tour of the actual candy making facility – sadly, we went in the summer and the factory was non-operational (I’ll write a post about why, coming soon read it here!).  Even the stationary, empty production room was reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and much like the story, there was an awesome prize at the end of the factory halls.

Our group was led into a weird sort of hallway, with awkward benches and more retro advertisements for the factory.  Then we spot it.  Low and behold, the whole back wall had a long bar with mounds of every kind of chocolate the factory made.  Milk chocolate.  Dark chocolate. White chocolate.  Orange chocolate bars.  Coffee-flavored chocolate.  The less popular fruit and coffee and toffee hard-candies.  And of course, Baci.

My Italy group took command of the tour group as we scrambled to get in line – 14 teenagers and 2 chocolate-loving advisors will win any foot race or shoving contest to get in line first for free chocolate.  We proved that fact, especially after most of our group went back for 3rds, 4ths, and dare I say, 5ths?  Wouldn’t you?  The chocolate seemed endless, and indeed there was so much there that everyone in our tour group, probably 25 or more people, couldn’t finish all the chocolate on the trays.  So what did we do when the tour guide came to whisk us away to the museum store, the last stop on the tour?  We did what any self-respecting person who had just spent 10 days on a very rural farm with little to eat and a 6km walk to the nearest town would do.  We shoveled the leftovers, most of them unwrapped even, into backpacks and made sure to scoop up every last chocolate bar in the place.  After all, we thought we would need that for the van ride to the winery.  Only later did we figure out that mixing a chocolate factory tour with a winery tour would be a slightly bad, awesome, indulgent, slightly-sickening day.

And that’s the awesome story about how a simple trip, filled with unexpected surprises and amazing people, has made me so obsessed with something I didn’t know existed a year ago.  It’s the little things that really make the good memories.  Or in our case, a chocolate-induced food coma in the center of an Italian slow-food city.

Oh, and just a quick little note, I of course ate a Bacio while writing this, for *ahem* inspiration… and this was my quote wrapped inside the candy, still as delicious as I remember it…

“Bacio non dato e sprecato; l’amore dev’essere assaggiato”
“Kisses kept are wasted; Love is to be tasted”