Italy is home to rich culinary traditions and Piedmont might be – along with Tuscany – this corner of the country where wine and food are best. The region happened also to be among the finest chocolate producers, although an average consumer might think first of Belgium and Switzerland. Though, it is where Nutella comes from!
The first cocoa beans arrived to Piedmont from Spain as early as in the 16th century. The maestri cioccolatieri of Turin had been tempting the locals with their splendid creations for centuries, until a need led to an invention of something completely new. At the beginning of the 19th century, when a large part of Europe was under French occupation, Napoleon forbade the import of cocoa beans to Italy. The carnival was starting and Turin remained with way too little cocoa to produce enough chocolate. The maestri cioccolatieri couldn’t help but extend their product. Fortunately they decided to do it with a noble ingredient, which one can still find in Piedmont in abundance: hazelnuts. Nowadays, the Piedmontese hazelnuts enjoy even an I.G.P. status (indicazione geografica protetta = protected geographical indication) and are considered the best ones in Europe. The invented product was called gianduia, after Gianduja, which is one of the masks in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte and traditionally represents Turin and Piedmont in general. In Germany, where I live, gianduia is usually called nougat, which might lead to confusion with white nougat (torrone, turrón).
As many inventions of times of crisis, gianduia becomes a specialty. In 1852, the ‘Caffarel’ company invents small pralines, in form of triangular prisms, called gianduiotti – still an unchallengeable souvenir from Turin. ‘Caffarel’ continues to prosper, although sold to the Swiss – the recipe has allegedly never changed. Nutella is basically a gianduia spread and its name before entering the international market was Pasta Giandujot.
Considering the quality of many chocolate-hazelnut spreads, I believed Nutella to be superior to all its peers. And as a matter of fact, for being an industrial product, it truly is an awesome treat.
Though, there is an artisan version of gianduia crème too. I have discovered it during the biggest cheese festival worldwide – the Slow Food ‘Cheese’ in Bra, organized every second year. And bless my soul, I have never eaten anything better! This crème is more liquid than Nutella, but is produced without any fats added. Its creaminess is all-natural and derives from hazelnuts, exclusively the Piedmont’s I.G.P. hazelnuts 🙂 The family uses cocoa from Central and South America. What’s more, there is not a single preservative or flavor added. There is real Bourbon vanilla inside – such a rare thing nowadays!
As I tried it for the first time, I had to define this product for myself and I described it as a noble Nutella… While the latter contains 13% of hazelnuts, Crema di Nocciole by ‘Papa dei Boschi’ has no less than 55% (!). All ingredients are organic, so every Slow Food fan or other gourmet can only close her eyes and enjoy, enjoy… enjoy!