Turin has a long history as a great chocolate producer and rivals the chocolates from any of the main European cities. It has a fascinating chocolate history and a current selection of interesting chocolatiers who blend this history with modern methods and tastes for the best results. This is why Turin is known as The Chocolate Capital of the World.
Chocolate is an artisan tradition that goes way back - as far as the Aztecs. In fact, it was they who first concocted the cocoa drink, and it was the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés who brought the cocoa bean back to Spain where, at the Spanish Court in 1559, the celebrated aristocracy of the day delighted in this new discovery. One of those at the Spanish Court was a Duke called Emanuele Filiberto, this Duke was allowed to take a few cocoa beans back to his capital, Turin, and thanks to the inventiveness of his court cooks, the drink caught on.
By the early 17th century, hot chocolate was being made all over the city. In 1678 the queen regent, Giovanna Battista, granted Giò Antonio Ari a 6 year licence to sell hot chocolate in Turin. This liquid chocolate was mixed with coffee, milk and sugar, and became a popular breakfast drink for bourgeois families. In public establishments around Turin it was served piping hot in glasses with a metal base and handle.
The drink called a bicerin was created at the Caffè Florio where a shot of strong coffee, a dose of chocolate and a splash of cream was combined into a single drink. In celebration and as a reflection of this drinks popularity a café dedicated to the new creation, Al Bicerin in 1763, Nietszche and Cavour were both customers of this establishment. When he passed through in 1852 Alexandre Dumas commented that "Of the many noteworthy things Turin has to offer, I shall never forget the bicerin, which is served in all the cafés at relatively cheap prices". He was right!
Solid chocolate began to be produced in the 18th century and dozens of workshops sprang up by 1750, Turin was producing 340 kilograms of solid chocolate every day, and exporting much of it to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France. Thanks to the first hydraulic machine to refine cocoa butter not much more than fifty years later the Caffarel Company alone was producing 300 kilograms per day. This machine was the brainchild of the Turin-born technician Doret, his fame grew and in 1820 the Bulletin de la Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale in Paris proposed he be given a medal for his "small steam machines for making chocolate".
In the 19th century the fame of Turin's chocolatiers was such that even the Swiss and the famous chocolatiers from Belgium were travelling to Italy to learn their craft. One example was François Louis Cailler, who worked in Turin as an apprentice before returning home to Vevey, in 1819, to found the first chocolate factory in Switzerland. In 1875, his heir and son-in-law Daniel Peter exploited the milk flour patented by Henri Nestlé to create milk chocolate. The collaboration subsequently gave rise to Nestlé.
In 1865, Caffarel produced the gianduiotto, a chocolate made from a blend of cocoa powder, hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vanilla.It had been developed during the Napoleonic Wars, when the British blockaded the Mediterranean and, short of chocolate beans from the Americas, chocolatier Michele Prochet had eked out the little chocolate left with the best additive available locally - the prized hazelnuts of the Langhe hills south of Turin. The chocolate was launched during that year's carnival, under the name Gianduja, inspired by Giuàn d'la Duja, the hedonistic Turin Carnival mask.
Today in Turin the gianduiotto continues to be the top seller and the local love affair with chocolate shows no sign of waning. Turin has hundreds of chocolate shops and you can even buy guidebooks to help you navigate this chocolate city.