“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.

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“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”