Friday, February 17, 2012

A Treat--Florence's Chocolate Fair

An unusual sight greeted my eyes in Florence's centrally located Piazza della Repubblica one morning this week.  Stands mounted by white tents are overflowing with every chocolate specialty known to man, and a few new ones as well.   I suddenly remembered
this is the first time that the Handmade Chocolate Fair 
(Fiera di Cioccolato Artigianale) was being held in the square.

Florence's Chocolate Fair, which will run until Sunday, February 19 (hours 10 - 10 pm) is an annual affair which started a few years ago on the city's outskirts in the ex-Teatro Tenda, before finding a home--up until last year--in Piazza Santa Croce.  I know that residents around Santa Croce are protesting the use of the square as a venue for concerts and fairs, and but the chocolate artisans could not be more thrilled than to set up in Piazza Repubblica, where everyone walks by.

This is so true, that it was the first time that I had ever actually seen the Chocolate Fair (although I had sent ecstatic interns to cover it).   The affair in the ex-Teatro Tenda had an admission fee--which was soon abolished.  I didn't like the sounds of that---although when we report on an event, we get in for free.
I, personally, am not fond of events staged in Piazza Santa Croce.  Plus, years ago, I had attended Tuscany's firstartisanal chocolate fair, Cioccolosit√†, 
in hard-to-reach Monsumanno Terme near Montecatini.
There, I had the privilege of meeting Tuscan chocolate masters such
as Roberto Catinari and Andrea Slitti.

"What is this Chocolate Fair like?," I thought as I entered the square.  Almost like reading my thoughts, a piece of chocolate appeared in the air a few inches from my nose.

There appeared little choice than to take it and pop it in my mouth.
It was gooooood.
After it had melted, I reverted to being a journalist.  "Hey, where are you from?" I asked.

"Where do you think I am from?" said the chocolate master, all dressed for Carnival.  
"I am Venetian--my firm is called Cioccolateria di Venezia."

"What is your specialty?," I asked.  He pointed to a chocolate loaf which he called cremino,
milk chocolate layered with torroncino (almond crunch).
Slices can be purchased.

Behind the cremino are chocolate lollipops.  I realized what I had stumbled upon--
chocolate heaven.

My eye went next to a display of chocolate "Gucci" shoes.

They were selling for 15 euro a piece, not per pair.

Part of the justification appeared to come from the fact they were labeled "Gucci."  The name, however, only represented a flight of fantasy on the part of the chocolate master.  She admitted this to me in hushed tones.

At the next stand, my eye was drawn to what was a white chocolate dessert covered in what Italians call frutti di bosco or "woodland fruits" (strawberries, raspberries etc.)

The kind proprietor pulled out a healthier alternative--milk or dark chocolate filled with puffed farro, a Tuscan-type barley or spelt.  "Using farro, the treat has less fat and no extra sugar,"
she explained.

She is one of the Perugino chocolate artisans from Perugia (Umbria).

OOOH--I next stumbled upon the chocolate master behind one of the most famous chocolate cakes in Florence--Claudio Pistocchi.  At many a dinner, I have been served his no-flour, no gluten, no sugar chocolate cake, which represents guilt-free chocolate nirvana.

"I was a chef in a restaurant in Piazza Repubblica 22 years ago when I invented this cake," he said.  "I then sold it at my small food store near Ponte al Pino, which I closed six years ago to move to Ponte di Mezzo and devote myself entirely to chocolate."

"What does chocolate mean to you?" I asked this kind teddy bear of a man.  E la mia vita, he answered.  "I met my wife this way.  The first year in business, I made 600 chocolate cakes--now we make 100,000 in 12 months--all entirely by hand."

"Pure chocolate--we have been using pure chocolate and nothing else for 20 years.  We are passionate artisans."  I noticed the cake carries his signature--TortaPistocchi (literally:  Pistocchi's cake).

Well, there was nothing else to do but taste other gourmet treats at the Chocolate Fair...

 which was the free advertising for buying something on the spot.  My face probably resembled
that of another (very) satisfied customer---her expression said it all.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence - Rosanna

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