The Chocolate Valley: your Italian gluttony

Chocolate Valley

There is a place in Tuscany, called the Italian “Chocolate Valley“.

Remember the movies “Chocolat” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?

Well, in the Chocolate Valley, you will see many, many real chocolate factories. So, if you love all this, look no further: be ready to indulge and get lost in the Chocolate Valley, the Tuscany you don’t expect.

But, where is it exactly?

Discovering the Tuscan Chocolate Valley.

We all love Tuscany. We all think of Tuscany with its hills, great wines and juicy steaks in our minds.

Yet, the art of enjoying life drew around there great confectioners who devoted themselves to probably the most luxurious food: chocolate.

Prato, Pisa, Monsummano Terme and Agliana are the Italian Chocolate Valley centers : here you can find both internationally renowned and young promising talented chocolate craftsmen of the supreme chocolate art.

But, if you are planning to visit this marvelous Italian region, with an itinerary like our Tuscany Dream Tour, we give you a hint: this part of Italy is famous also for another delicacy we suggest you to deeply investigate: his majesty the glamorous home-made chocolate!

And take a note of the following best names of the Chocolate Valley masters and their location in Tuscany, where you can experience the deep and luxurious pleasure of the hand-made chocolate products (and, of course, buy some extraordinary souvenirs).

Shapes, fragrances, tastes you can find in tablets, pralines, Easter eggs, spreads and dragees: the excellence of cocoa in the World’s most famous Chocolate Valley with the best confectioners.

So, it’s time to change you idea of Tuscany: well, to make it sweeter

Tuscany is not only great wines, pasta, steaks, cheese …. !

Next to the most famous Tuscan wine routes, a craft tradition revolves around one of the best fruits on Earth, Cocoa: in this famous Italian region, many companies work on cocoa with great professionalism, turning out products of the highest quality.

Chocolate Valley
Tablets from the Chocolate Valley, Italy
Photo Credits:
Lee McCoy, from Flickr.com – Creative Commons License

Since 1980, while the whole world cargo bought pasta, wine, cheese and ham from Tuscany, a different culinary tradition based on chocolate has gone stating throughout the region. And today its handmade Tuscan chocolate is another excellence of this generous land.

Many small factories dedicated to processing, grinding and melting cocoa beans have opened in the triangle that goes from Florence to Pisa to Montecatini, giving rise to some of the purest chocolates in the world and earning the nickname Italian Chocolate Valley.

The Tuscans are accustomed to talk about food, to enjoy the food, studying the food,” said Mr. DeBondt of “Casa DeBondt”. “I am Dutch, and there is no food tradition in Holland. There is only a tradition of boiled potatoes. I could never do there what I do here.”

And until relatively recently, no one had ever occupied in Tuscany chocolate.

But what was once delivered as a precious gift at Christmas and Easter is now as common as a “macchiato”.

Over the past decade, the annual consumption of chocolate in Italy has doubled to nearly nine pounds per person, and last year, chocolate sales reached 350 million Euro.

Only in Italy it is still possible this phenomenon: here the mass production and culinary shortcuts are there, but are not exactly welcome.

Thus, the chocolate production growth is so exponential, but ls production is still made with the meticulous craftsmanship – some might say, mania – that only an artisan is able to provide.

Finally, the most delicious trade fairs take place in the Chocolate Valley: the Tuscany chocolate and cocoa major events are Fi.nalmente Cioccolato!, the annual chocolate fair in Florence, and Cioccolosità, the chocolate biennial exhibition in Monsummano Terme (Pistoia).

But, why a Chocolate Valley in Tuscany?

A bit of sweet history.

It could not be differently: the first to introduce cocoa in Italy, especially in Tuscany, was Francesco D’Antonio Carletti, a Florentine merchant, in the XVII Century. In 1606, three Italian cities, Florence, Turin and Venice, produced Chocolate.

The Medici Grand-dukes, who ruled Florence at first, and the whole Tuscany later, soon became great Chocolate consumers, thanks to Francesco Redi from Arezzo, the court physician. He devised a number of recipes creating chocolates flavored with musk and lemon zest. Redi’s most famous preparation was the jasmine flowers chocolate.

Who are Redi’s heirs today? And where are they located?

Explore the Chocolate Valley with the Tuscan masters.

The first six names are the most renown artisans, those who have a solid National and International reputation. Some of them has also won Awards in the World.

The first Master taught to great disciples and the phenomenon has developed like a cascade.

Roberto Catinari: the first Master.

The young Tuscan chocolatiers have their point of reference in one man: Roberto Catinari. Born in Pistoia, Mr. Catinari studied with Swiss chocolatiers for two decades starting in 1950. In 1974, he returned home with a suitcase full of recipes and a few years later, he opened a small shop that bears his name.

He started making plain bars of chocolate, but, as Mr. Wonka and his factory, Mr. Catinari went to play with pralines, crushed nuts, grappa and wildly ornate carvings as soccer trophies, tools and small woodland creatures.

His creations – rich, velvety, sweet but not cloying – were a success. It was at this time that the Chocolate Valley was born.

Casa DeBondt

A few miles from Pisa, in the small Tuscan village of Cascina, there is a small gourmet shop where gift boxes covered in cellophane are lined up on the shelves; where customers are rushing to place orders; and where the sweet, delicate aroma of homemade food comes out of the kitchen.

The owner, Paul DeBondt, laying a tray of small delicacies on the worktop because customers can admire them. Then, he placed artfully rows and rows of packages wrapped in their package within the showcase.

But here are not dusty bottles of fine wine from Tuscany, or wheels of aged pecorino or pungent vats of olive oil. That’s because Mr. DeBondt makes only one thing – chocolate.

When Paul de Bondt fell in love with his wife Cecilia, an Italian designer, they decided together to found an artisan company in Pisa.

As a result of their complementary characters, Cecilia and Paul De Bondt were among the first to spread the trend of the tablets with spices and flavorings, such as bergamot, jasmine tea and rose.

Their success became international: the English guide “The Chocolate Companion” by Chantal Coady has included De Bondt among the top 15 Chocolatiers in the World.

A real specialty are their “De Bondt Ryé” pralines, in cooperation with the Sicilian wine maker Donnafugata, as a the ideal match to their prized Passito di Pantelleria “Ben Ryè”.

“It’s a continuous tasting flavors, testing the products quality, studying the right mix,” says Mr. DeBondt. “This is what it means a craftsman.”

La Bottega del Cioccolato

In a country that prides itself on centuries-old craft traditions, the Mr. Catinari’s company was a bold move. In Italy, Piedmont, in the Northern Italy, is the historic home of chocolate, said Andrea Bianchini of “La Bottega del Cioccolato”, a new chocolate boutique in Florence.

“The chocolate that comes out of Piedmont,” he said, “is very traditional.” And, we might add, it is famous throughout the world: we do not want to talk about Nutella; but for example, Gianduiotti, we know them all.

The Tuscan products from the Chocolate Valley has two defining features: it incorporates the flavors of central Italy. “I use the flavors of Tuscany: lavender, olive oil, balsamic aromas, rosemary,” says Bianchini. And the production happens in small batch artisan factories.

In its simplest form, the Tuscan chocolate comes from cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and pure vanilla sugar instead of corn syrup. Of course, it is not so different from the chocolate from Piedmont (or, for that matter, from Switzerland, Belgium or other chocolate capitals).

But cocoa beans quality (typically from South America or Africa), the high content of cocoa used (often greater than 70%), the delicate balance of ingredients and the subtleties of the technique for making a product sweetly aromatic approach to an art form.

Amedei

Perhaps, nowhere else in the Chocolate Valley the production process is a serious focus as in “Amedei”, a pastry boutique in Pontedera, in the province of Pisa. But you can buy the “Amedei” chocolates also in stores in Florence.

Here, the owners not only toast and crush the beans, but they also grow their own criollo and trinitarian cocoa varieties in South America.

“It’s like wine or cheese,” said Alessio Tessieri, the “Amedei” owner, together with his sister, Cecilia. “The Venezuelans farmers taught me everything they knew about the weather, precipitation, altitude effects, microclimates, the proper ways to cut the pods, the beans extraction, and how they ferment.”

Outside, the Amedei factory looks like a simple farmhouse (although the façade is painted with cocoa beans).

Inside, the chocolate production organization, in very bright ambients, is remarkable, with high tech equipment and top level professionalism.

The factory is not open to the public, since the owners are very jealous of their trade secrets.

Chocolate Valley
Amedei, a Chocolate Valley Masters
Photo Credits: Lee McCoy, from Flickr.com – Creative Commons License

Spazio Mannori

Spazio Mannori is a recent multi-purpose space that master chocolatier Luca Mannori opened in Agliana, as an addition to the Prato sales point.

A contemporary look, as well as a young but highly professional team, characterizes this space including a visual laboratory where you can buy products, take courses and seminars.

Caffè Slitti

Across the valley, you can find the Caffè Slitti, owned by Andrea Slitti, a former Mr. Catinari’s student.

This place looks like a boutique, with beautiful decorated boxes of chocolates, which are nicely displayed on the shelf.

Next to it,  you will find a cozy bar with an espresso machine at full speed behind the counter.

Andrea Slitti won the 1994 “Grand Prix International de la Chocolaterie” in Paris.

Among the specialties you can purchase at Caffé Slitti, don’t miss the “Riccosa” and “Slittosa” creams, the chocolate sticks covered with almond and puffed rice.

Additionally, taste their handmade pralines with five assorted flavors: cappuccino, espresso, turkish coffee, coffee and coconut, and sambuca coffee.

In the afternoon, you can see several customers seated at tables sipping and nibbling bars “Latte Nero” with the Slitti trademark – incredibly soft, creamy and slightly bitter.

Slitti also opened a factory next to his shop, which offers classes on making chocolate. “Here, we teach the public the chocolate, the same way a wine cellar can be taught” said Slitti. “We teach the basics to fans, but not all. Some secrets that I’ll take to the grave.

Don’t miss these promising Chocolate Valley newcomers, please!

Beyond the already famous stars, there is a bounce of new chocolate artisans whose production standard is in no way lower, compared to the Chocolate Valley big ones.

They work in the Prato, Pisa, Monsummano Terme and Agliana areas, and recently also Florence, Pistoia and Arezzo: these cities are a good starting points for your sensorial experience.

The following list of chocolate artisans is not necessarily complete: we would like you to add your own names, as a result of your quest.

Bonci

Chocolate artisans in Montevarchi (Arezzo), since 1953.

Chocolate and Company

In Massa e Cozzile (Pistoia), this small factory produces pralines and spreads, even chocolate cakes and ice cream, in addition to the traditional tablets.

Corsini

The chocolate and sweets tradition in Pistoia, since 1918. Their exquisite chocolate-covered glacé gingerbread deserves a special mention.

De Castro

Member of the Italian Master Pastry Chefs Association, Simone makes his coca creations in Montopoli Val d’Arno (Pisa).

Fallani

The Empoli (Florence) trademark, specialized in charms since 1926, it is famous for the barley tasting type.

And you will surely recognize the barley in the logo. Today, they produce quality chocolate too.

La Molina

This factory in Quarrata (Pistoia) is named after Maria Theresa of Austria‘s personal chocolate maker.

This chocolatier dubbed the name of Molina tool, the so-called “molinillo”, he used to prepare the queen cups of hot chocolate.

Not a secondary aspect of the story, Maria Theresa of Austria was the “Sun King”, the French Louis XIV, former wife: but later, she became Grand Duchess of …. Tuscany!

Matteoli

Mrs. Claudia, the pastry chef, owns his workshop in Cascina (Pisa).

Menichetti

Riccardo has been producing its chocolate specialties in the traditional way since many years in Montopoli Val d’Arno (Pisa).

Pistocchi

The name of hand-made chocolate in Florence is Torta Pistocchi: the brand is well-known not only for the cocoa quality in general, but also for the famous dark chocolate cake, made with just chocolate, cocoa powder and very little cream. The cake is made without using eggs, butter, flour, vegetable fats or preservatives.

Salza

Federico Salza is a trademark, especially as regards his high level catering service.

Nevertheless, he is also a master “chocolatier” from 1898, in Ospedaletto (Pisa).

Stainer

Another important chocolate lab with a foreign name, but totally and deeply Italian, is in Pontremoli (Massa).

If you are passionate of Tuscany, our brand new Chocolate Valley tour is the ideal companion to the classic wine tasting tour.

The art of enjoying life drew in Tuscany great confectioners who devoted themselves to probably the most luxurious food: chocolate.

If you are planning to visit Florence, and/or Tuscany (and we suggest our Tuscany Dream Tour package), you may ask My Tours in Rome for a personalized tour, including the Italian Chocolate Valley.

Don’t hesitate to ask us for a specific crafted tour along the Tuscan Chocolate route, suitable for real passionate of this timeless delicacy: just write us at info@www.mytoursinrome.com.

In Prato, Pisa, Monsummano Terme and Agliana, the “Chocolate paradise” you can find both internationally renowned and young promising talented craftsmen of this supreme art.

Chocolate Valley
Inside a Chocolate Valley souvenir box
Photo Credits: Lee McCoy, from Flickr.com – Creative Commons License

Have you already tasted their unmissable products in the Chocolate Valley?

What’s your opinion? Is there any further name you can add to our list?

Please, share with us.


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