I took the trip Tuscany and Umbria: Italy’s Rustic Heartland with Overseas Adventure Travel. It was undeniably a foodie tour which highlighted the geographical beauty of the region, the culture, and without a doubt, the food.
After we left the beauty of Tuscany, we drove through lush vegetation as the regions changed from Tuscany to Umbria. The first stop was Perugia, which is the capitol of Umbria, and certainly the chocolate capitol of the region, if not all of Italy. Every corner of each of the two regions provided views that made my camera smile. But the chocolate was a unique touch for the historic city center, and the smile was all mine.
The most famous of the chocolates is Baci, which is Italian for kiss. We visited the famous Baci chocolate store and heard a racy legend wrapped in kisses about the history of these now famous chocolates. it is the story of Lulsa Spagnoli, who was a young chocolatier who fell in love with her colleague Giovanni Buttoni, one of the founders of the Perugina Chocolate Company. Her husband was the other founder. Legend has it that she sent her lover chocolates, and inside each chocolate was a private and secret message.
While that is all very romantic and decadent, I couldn’t find it in any factual research. Instead, I did read about Lulsa Spagnoli who lived in Perugia and took to the helm of the Baci Chocolate Factory/ Perugina Chocolate Company in the early 20th century. This factory is located in the outskirts of Perugia between Florence and Rome. They started making a unique recipe which included dark chocolate and chopped hazelnuts (topped a full hazelnut) in 1907 until Nestle bought them out in 1988. Adding a note inside each chocolate was Giovanni’s idea, and the practice continues today to define these sweets and their uniqueness. This woman, way ahead of her time, was able to hold a strong position as head of the company during World War One, when so many men went off to war. So, she hired women to help her, and even tried to alleviate women’s issues in the workplace, such as childcare. She also made a significant mark in the fashion world at the time. To this day, Nestle keeps the tradition alive and claims it tries to support childcare o the workplace.
And this, in a nutshell, is why Perugia is known for chocolate, which is famous throughout the region, and now worldwide with over 100 stores including in New York. There were chocolate and confectionery stores all over the historical center of Perugia. While some in our group went to see the city’s cathedral, others of us sat outside any of these stores and ordered a cappuccino and some sweets to go with it. Candy stores being everywhere I looked, added a fun new food dimension to the trip already filled with Balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, Parma ham, Lasagna Bolognese (to die for, I might add), and a variety of pastas I could hardly keep track of. And wine, of course. Plenty of wine.
In keeping with the theme of chocolate and OAT’s practice of Learning and Discovery, we met at a chocolate shop after seeing the historical city center and learned how to make 61% chocolate as part of the tour. It was not difficult, since they already had it made; we just had to pour it into the container and select our toppings. After the proper amount of refrigeration, it became a chocolate bar. No special notes inside to any lovers, but an interesting way to experience a most unusual and unique part of Italy.