02 April 2006

torino for two

For Stefano and myself Torino used to mean "site of the Olympics." But after this weekend it means something else. Something quite unexpected and terribly too good. We were certainly very impressed by the Egyptian museum (see later post). And we were very happy with the aesthetics of the city and intrigued by its people. But what caught our attention first, and was the result of serendipitous good timing alone, was "La Grande Festa Del Cioccolato" - the Chocolate Festival. Chocolate, my friends. An entire piazza filled with the stuff.

Piazza San Carlo was framed with tented exhibitions by various producers and purveyors of "cioccolato" -- pronounced "choc-oh-lott-oh" and seemingly embraced by the Italians with even more vigor than Americans. The clincher was that each exhibitor offered samples of just about everything they had on display - the most requested taste seemed to be from the jars of soft chocolate. Think Nutella but gourmet. Everyone was walking around nursing a miniature spoon recently dunked into the stuff. And not to be outdone, Nutella had it's own booth and was selling Nutella milkshakes, crepes and more. But that's the simple stuff.

The chocolate purveyors were very creative in their combinations and that's where things got interesting. Think of a flavor... Let's try curry. Were there any curry chocolate bars at the Torino Chocolate Festival? Why yes, there were. Licorice? Don't be silly - of course.

Shall we ratchet up the oddball factor... something more difficult... smoked chocolate? "Cioccolato affumicato?" Had it. And while I wouldn't say it's required eating it was very worth the taste. With a smoky flavor wisping through, it's the only time I've eaten chocolate and felt very masculine in the process-- like a lumberjack who'd wandered into Godiva.

Winner of best in show for "new ways of thinking about an old favorite," for us, was salted dark chocolate. Weird and wonderful it's chocolate with a salty wave rushing through it - not sharp, but smooth and surprising. We brought home a bar and have already cracked in for a square or two.

Of course there were perfect candied orange wheels dipped in dark chocolate. And the traditional candy of Torino - the elongated triangular log called the "giandujotto" which is way too easy to eat. Creamy, soft and often tinged with hazelnut - it's a bite and a half of decadence wrapped in metallic paper. Sheets of chocolate with candied ginger, halved figs or curled walnuts laying along the top. Whatever chocolate you may have tasted once in a boutique years ago, or dream about in a world veined with chocolate rivers... was there.

So while we may not have seen the Alps, we did see a Harry Potter chocolate Easter egg the size of a pregnant sow. Thank you Torino. And not just for the chocolate - thank you for giving the Italians a reason to stop smoking for two seconds. Cause otherwise they couldn't come in the tent for chocolate. It's the little things, really.

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