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”