(CNN) — There’s chocolate, and then there’s gianduiotto chocolate. An ancestor of Nutella, the melting delicacy is as rare as it is delicious.
Like most renowned Italian artisan chocolates, gianduiotto originated in Piedmont, Italy, where it is considered the “king of Italian chocolate”.
Made from a rich paste of fine cocoa blended with premium hazelnuts that grow in the Langhe region of Piedmont, it’s hugely popular with locals.
Some accompany it with an espresso for breakfast, and/or after a meal, accompanied by snacks and aperitifs.
Typically wrapped in thin silver, gold, or colored aluminum foil, the ingot-shaped candy has been produced by local chocolatiers for centuries.
Its birthplace is the region’s capital, Turin, which has been known as the “chocolate capital” of Italy since master chocolatiers began crafting their sweet artisan delights for the House of Savoy, the established royal dynasty. in the Savoy region of Italy, here in the 1500s. .
Gianduiotto chocolate is made from cocoa mass mixed with premium hazelnuts.
The name gianduiotto is thought to come from the carnival figure Gianduja, a cheerful, wine-loving peasant popular in the 1800s who embodied the epicurean nature of the locals.
Originally called givù (or stubs), gianduiotto rose to fame when the general public apparently got their first real taste as the treats were handed out during Turin Carnival celebrations in 1865 by an actor dressed as Gianduja.
According to revered artisan chocolatier Guido Castagna, gianduiotto is much more than just an iconic chocolate. It is a symbol of Turin and a big part of the city’s identity.
“Poor gianduiotto, it was born as a second-class substitute for cocoa,” Castagna told CNN.
“It had humble origins, but then grew into an elite niche product of the highest quality, the first to be packaged [in foil] in the history of chocolate.
Gianduiotto was originally born out of necessity – to overcome a shortage of cocoa in continental Europe.
When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered northern Italy and declared war on Britain in 1806, he banned all products imported from England, including cocoa beans.
As a result, the pastry chefs of Turin decided to switch to something a little closer to home: the hazelnuts that grew in abundance in the surrounding lush hills.
After mixing them with sugar and the very little cocoa they still had on their shelves, they were able to create a rich paste that was eventually refined and matured into gianduiotto.
About a century later, Pietro Ferrero, a pastry chef from Piedmont, created Nutella from this ancient recipe.
Best in the world?
The hazelnuts used to make gianduiotto grow in the Langhe region of Italy.
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In the 1800s, hazelnuts were very affordable, Castagna says, but things are very different now. Not only are they much more expensive, but the “tonda gentile” hazelnuts produced in the Langhe have protected geographical indication status, a European designation aimed at protecting regional foods.
“It’s Piedmont gold, absolutely the best in the world,” he adds, before explaining that hazelnuts are priced at €16 per kilogram against €10 per kilogram for high-quality cocoa.
Rich in aromatic oil, they blend perfectly and enhance the flavor of cocoa butter, creating a tender, voluptuous and creamy concoction.
“Gianduiotto is now a specific type of chocolate alongside dark, white and milk chocolate,” Castagna explains.
The tastiest artisan gianduiotti are those that contain the highest percentage, usually between 25-40%, of hazelnuts.
Castagna uses a sophisticated mechanical procedure called “extrusion”, where semi-solid pieces of gianduia paste are pressed onto a tray in the form of gianduiotti.
In the past, making gianduiotti was a ritual. The process involved repeatedly beating the hazelnut dough to give it consistency, then kneading it as if it were pizza flour.
The women, known as “gianduiere”, sat in pairs around a table with the gianduia dough positioned in the middle.
They would then scoop it up with two long spatulas, roll it several times, and cut tiny pieces with a butter knife, laying them on a tray to solidify them.
Grandmothers regularly gave their grandchildren packets of fresh and delicious gianduiotti, which they picked up from chocolate shops, usually right after stopping at the bakery.
Until the 1960s, Turin was dotted with hundreds of artisan shops. But as labor costs rose and mass production began, they began to disappear.
Making gianduiotto by hand requires meticulous precision.
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There is only one left, the A.Giordano boutique. Only a handful of gianduiere remain in the historic chocolate laboratory, founded in 1897.
“We are the only ones still making gianduiotti by hand. It’s very expensive to employ such a skilled workforce,” says owner Laura Faletti.
“It’s a job that only women can do, because it requires a lot of passion, patience and precision. A bit like sewing by hand. It can be quite tedious, I have to turn my gianduière in rotation otherwise their hands have muscle cramps.”
To create gianduiotti, they squeeze the gianduia mixture into lasagna-like sheets. These sheets are then shredded and beaten into a paste on an ancient granite basin, just like those used in the past, Faletti explains.
Gianduiera Ambra Nobili, 32, makes the gianduiotti of A. Giordano since graduating from a local pastry academy.
“It’s a prestigious chocolate, I’ve always loved it,” says Nobili. “I am filled with joy when after a hard day’s work, cutting and shaping 48 kilograms of gianduiotti with another gianduiera, I finally see how perfect and beautiful they are, and how constantly I am improving. “
The secret of craftsmanship, says Nobili, lies in the firm and rapid movement of the wrists and hands to pick up the dough before it solidifies, smooth it with spatulas and give it a final cut with a butter knife. to get the prism. shape.
“If the fit isn’t perfect, the gianduiotto will be too high or too short and won’t fit in the gold foil wrapper, which is tailored to a specific size,” she explains. “I also hand pack each of them.”
The artisan chocolatier Guido Castagna has created a very refined version of gianduiotto chocolate called Giuinott.
Gianduiotto is not available all year round. Artisan shops stop production as spring approaches to avoid selling melted chocolates, which are actually another delicacy made from gianduia hazelnut paste.
For those who prefer their chocolate in a Nutella-style spread, the gianduiotto has its own version, the “crema spalmabile di Gianduja”, with a slightly grainy texture that tastes wonderful on bread.
Like the gianduiotto, the crema spalmabile di Gianduja is made with painstaking precision.
“Our spread is the end product of 72 hours of mechanical mixing and kneading of the dough, or three whole days, while other gianduia spreads are ready in four hours. Ours is fresher and healthier “, says Faletti.
While Faletti’s spread is made up of 40% gianduia hazelnuts, Castagna’s contains 68%.
Castagna reinvented the gianduiotto by creating a very refined and rounded version called Giuinott (meaning “young boy” in the local dialect) with premium Venezuelan cocoa and cane sugar instead of sugar and 40% hazelnuts.
A six-time gold medalist at the International Chocolate Awards, an independent competition rewarding excellence in fine chocolate making, Giuinott comes in a shiny copper packaging.
Castagna often hosts wine tastings, pairing Giuinott with Vermouth wines from Piedmont and other sweet alcoholic beverages like passito, which he says complete the chocolate tasting experience.
Other chocolatiers also experimented with new blends and sizes of gianduiotto. You can even get orange gianduiotti, as well as huge ones weighing between 250 grams and 1.2 kilograms. But pocket treats are still the most popular.
Davide Appendino, another leading chocolatier from Turin, uses a wide range of premium organic cocoa beans to make pistachios, coffee, white chocolate, dark chocolate and sugar-free gianduiotti sold in colorful wrappers.
Appendino also produces mini gianduiotti, which are slightly smaller than traditional sweets.
But as the Italians say, “one chocolate begets another”, and when it comes to chocolate gianduiotto, it’s hard to resist the temptation to eat it all, no matter how small.