Discovering the black gold of Tuscany

I’ve decided to take you on a journey of discovery to find the sweet-tooth’s black gold: chocolate, through several of the Tuscan chocolate hand-crafting laboratories.

Our journey begins in 1872, in Florence (which was at that time the capital of Italy), where Enrico Rivoire, chocolate maker to the Savoia royal family, decided to relocate and open a chocolate shop on the prestigious Piazza della Signoria.

Rivoire remains one of the city’s favourite chocolate shop – to both Florentines and tourists alike, being perfect for having a sweet rest whilst relaxing at a table in front of the impressive Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia de’ Lanzi.
In recent years, the Tuscan confectionery scene has got richer with bright new and internationally acclaimed names working alongside the historical chocolate shops (like the one just mentioned), and if we follow the coast of the Arno river till Pisa we can meet the first among these.

Just overlooking the river, which passes through Pisa offering all a “cheerful, pretty, enchanting spectacle” as Leopardi (a well-known Italian poet) said, there is a chocolate boutique that has been realizing traditional and innovative sweet works of art for the last few years, thanks to its creator, the Dutch Paul De Bondt, with experience he has gained through his work as both a chef and a pastry chef.

Looking through the window of the De Bondt shop, you could be faced with Hamlet’s indecision: many chocolate bars, some aromatic, some spicy or hot, some even pralines.. You need only to bite gently at them and…crack, the exterior gives way to allow you a taste of its soft filling; and whichever flavour you try, you’ll always be sure to give your palate a treat, so much so that the prestigious Chantal Coady’s guide The Chocolate Companion has rated De Bondt among the top fifteen chocolatiers in the world. This product is truly excellent and has crossed the Italian borders reaching the renowned London shop Fortnum & Masons.

In Pontedera, close to Pisa, an Oscar-worthy Tuscan keeps De Bondt company; no, I am not talking about our famous Benigni, but the Tesseri brothers’ Amedei chocolate, to whom, for the third time in 2008, the Oscar for the best chocolate in the world was awarded by the Chocolate Academy of London.
So, what is the secret to making such a high-quality product? Maybe it’s the authentic machinery which is still in use, or the strict adherence to traditional production steps, from even the cocoa bean stage. But really, will we ever learn the secret of such magical chocolate? As the young Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, states: “Sweets do not make any sense, ’cause they’re sweets!”.
There is nothing more to do but taste the Amedei specialities: and you can satisfy your desires without restraint amongst all the chocolate products, from the Tuscan series (white, black, brown, red and blond), to Fruits where the delightful cocoa taste mixes with the flavour of fruits, to Cru, with their strong taste, where the aromas of far countries such as Ecuador and Madagascar enchant your sense of smell and taste.

Heading towards the province of Pistoia, among the sweet Tuscan hills (which adjective could be better than that in this context?), we find another well-known Tuscan chocolate factory: Molina in Quarrata. Its most famous chocolates are the “Cretti”, which are named after works created by the contemporary artist Alberto Burri’s.
The handmade products of the Molina factory are 100% art, and not solely culinary art. The presentation is just as important, and these small sweet masterpieces are carefully and exquisitely perfected. To give you an example, the Cretti are chocolates in the shape of books where only the wrapping has to be “leafed through”; the milk-chocolate version and the sage, rosemary or Tuscan spiced flavour are truly delicious.

Remaining in the province of Pistoia, we continue our chocolate tour and arrive at Monsummano Terme, a well known thermal-bath town where anyone looking for relaxation can enjoy both traditional beauty treatments and new, innovative therapies like the chocolate-therapy.
Almost everyone knows that chocolate is tasty, but recent studies show that it is also beneficial for both good health and mood improvement, besides being an useful ingredient in beauty products.

To satisfy your desire for yet more good things, Andrea Slitti has made some sweet works of art: there are small truffles filled with cognac, almond and puffed rice sticks, and the famous dark chocolate teaspoons which slowly melt in your coffee as you mix in the sugar.
One of Slitti’s new products is the mattonella – (tile in English) – Lattenero, a successful union of both dark and milk chocolate.

And after tasting these chocolate goodies I’m sure you’ll agree with me and Johnny Deep the gipsy from Chocolat, that on a cold, winter’s day there is nothing better to help warm you up than a cup of steaming hot, chocolate. For your “sweet” holidays, whether you are in Pisa or Siena, have a look at our suggestions on coffee bars in Tuscany (only Italian version).


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