Love that chocolate…
Torino (Turin) to me seems an underestimated travel destination. In addition to its incredible collection of Egyptian art, historical palaces, museum of cinema, and so on, the city is famous for its mouth-watering chocolates. The historical nineteenth-century caffès of Torino, with their hazelnut-brown wooden façades, are ideal locations for the enjoyment of local chocolates. Such specialties as gianduiotto, cuneese al Rhum, and bicerin, together with brand names that denote highest quality, like Venchi, are all associated with Torino and its immediate surroundings.
Torino was one of the first cities to introduce chocolate to Europe where cocoa was unknown until the 1500s when the Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa seeds from their overseas travels. Originally chocolate was a drink the Maya and Aztec populations made from cocoa in Mexico and Central America. As early as in 1560, the drink was served in Torino where it was mixed with coffee and milk. The cocoa-coffee beverage invented in Torino was named “bavaresia.” Today, a similar drink – a velvety blend of cocoa, coffee, and cream – is served at Caffè Al Bicerin, founded in 1763. Bicerin, as this hot drink is called, is offered in the tiny, quaint caffè that is also known for the thick, delicious hot chocolate. The caffè is located on a small piazza in a downtown neighborhood that resembles Paris.
The bottled version of bicerin, available at the store next to the caffè, is an intense chocolaty version of the coffee drink spiced up with a splash of rum. This is the original bicerin, which should not be confused with variations produced by other chocolate makers. The Al Bicerin store also has a vast selection of chocolates, cookies, and hazelnut-chocolate spreads. Their crispy, amazingly thin, delicate yet intense dark and white chocolate-hazelnut cookies are absolutely divine. Their gianduiotto is heavenly: soft yet full of flavor.
Gianduiotto is the positive outcome of the limitations Napoleon Bonaparte set for importing cocoa to Europe in 1806. In order to meet the growing demand for chocolate and to find a solution to the exuberant price and small amounts of cocoa available, the confectioner Michele Prochet decided to substitute some of the cocoa with an easily available local ingredient: the round, smooth-tasting hazelnut from the Langhe area in Piedmont. Thus, the ingredients became cocoa, sugar, and finely ground hazelnut powder. Gianduiotto chocolates were served for the first time during the carnival of 1865. The name gianduiotto, or giandujotto as it is also spelled, derives from the local carnival mask, gianduja. “Caffarel” is the first and most famous manufacturer of these luscious little chocolate boats, but others also produce them in a traditional way. Among them, the already-mentioned Al Bicerin and the gianduiotti at such historic venues as Talmone or Caffè Platti or chocolate stores like Venchi and Peyrano.
Venchi is one of the long-standing chocolate makers of Torino with activities dating back to 1878. The first-class Venchi products are the result of the passion and creativity of the chocolate artists combined with high quality ingredients. In addition to confections, chocolate bars, gianduiotto and cuneese, they also serve ice cream at the recently-opened Venchi store on Via Garibaldi 22/bis in the city center.
Cuneese al Rhum is a more recent creation, from 1923. The confectioner Andrea Arione together with his wife opened bar Arione and the adjoining pastry studio where they invented the first cuneese. The most traditional version is the cuneese with rum (al Rhum) but it also comes in Grand Marnier, Hazelnut (Nocciola), and Hazelnut cream (Cremino di Nocciola) flavors in which one of the ingredients is the same smooth Piedmont hazelnut from the Langhe as in gianduiotto. In addition to the original Bar Arione, the cuneese can be found in several chocolate stores around the city. Venchi offers versions of it with rum, sherry, and Cointreau; the historic store, la Confetteria Avvignano from 1883, has cuneesi that are very, very intense. Especially those with green wrapping are soaked in rum.
And last but not least – the best chocolate in Torino, according to locals, is that of Guido Gobino, available at the new boutique on via Lagrange. A sweet taste of heaven!
Guido Gobino, Via Lagrange 1, phone: 011-5660707, Via Cagliari 15/b, phone: 011-2476245, http://www.guidogobino.it
Venchi, Via Garibaldi 22/bis, phone: 011-5217589, http://www.venchi.it
La Confetteria Avvignano, Piazza Carlo Felice 50, phone: 011-541992, http://www.confetteria-avvignano.it
Caffè Pasticceria Roma già Talmone, Piazza Carlo Felice 36, phone: 011-5069215, http://www.romagiatalmone.it
Caffè Ristorante Platti, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 72, phone: 011-5069056, http://www.platti.it
Cioccolato Peyrano, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 76, phone: 011-538765, Corso Moncalieri 47, phone: 011-6602202, http://www.peyrano.com
Caffè Cioccolateria Al Bicerin, Piazza della Consolata 5, phone: 011-4369325, http://www.bicerin.it
Bar Arione, Cuneo, http://www.arione_cuneo.com