This Carnival weekend is a good time to post a “sweet story” telling about Venetian chocolates. Venice in the last 300 years developed her own flavors and specialties as you will discover. The story of chocolates in Venice begins in Piazza San Marco, in each of the eight cafes Giuseppe Tassini mentions were around the Piazza in 1683.
While coffee came to Venice via Constantinople (whose story we told in this article), cocoa powder – the raw ingredient to make chocolate – came to us from Mexico via Spain. From the very beginning, cioccolata densa was a favorite drink in Venetian cafes, and Venetians added vanilla (dried vanilla beans cooked in milk) to flavor their chocolate which is then called cioccolata vanigliata.
The recipe of hot chocolate which you still get in Venice, often accompanied by biscuits like in the picture above taken at Caffè Lavena in Piazza San Marco, consists of cocoa powder, milk flavored with vanilla beans, brown sugar and maize starch to make the mixture very creamy.
Soon, drinking chocolate spread to the other coffee stores in town, often flavored with grappa or rosolio (any liquor in Venice, often rosolio refers to rose liquor).
First, chocolate was served liquid but soon it became available as solid bars. Cocoa powder was also used to flavored Venetian biscuits which up to then had benefited from citrus fruit and almond flavors. In addition to using liquors, finely ground hazelnuts were used and soon what we now know as gianduia (nougat) was invented here in Venice. You all know this flavor for Nutella is one of the best known brands reproducing it. In the Veneto, you get the original nougat from Rigoni di Asiago, and it’s called nocciolata. Alternatively, take a look at the Venetian pasticceria Nobile (Strada Nova) which offers the Carnival delights below :-). This nougat de luxe is called chocolate truffles (tartufi di cioccolato).
Modern chocolate treats in Venice based on the tartufo recipe are the macarons, more solid than nougat and tasting more like biscuits, which come flavored in various manners including white chocolate which is colored as you can see in the picture below. These gianduia (nougat) macarons are our favorites !!
Also, watch out for the chocolate macarons flavored and decorated with gold leaves served at Caffé Florian during Christmas time !
In particular during Carnival you can find the Venetian thick chocolate bars made from cocoa beans which never melt, not even during summer ! That’s why cioccolato bianco has always been a favorite when I was a child. You don’t find these clumsy thick chocolate bars so often in Venice these days. Now they come rather “refined” like the one below, Venetian chocolate Carnival masks. These are made from white chocolate flavored with mint, lemon or orange essential oils, and pistachios.
Another typical chocolate specialty from Venice is salame di cioccolato – the chocolate salami you can see below. It looks like salami as it’s made from broken biscuits and dark liquid chocolate.
If you ask for una cioccolata in Venice, you get a cup of hot chocolate (liquid), while if you ask for un cioccolato, you will be asked to choose a bar of chocolate (solid).
My favorite five chocolates come from Caffè Florian, Caffè Lavena (they offer nice flavored chocolate drinks), Pasticceria Ballarin (soooo creamy and dark and slightly bitter), plus the chocolates made by Pasticceria Dal Mas (Strada Nova) and of course, the Venetian chocolate artist – Vizio e Virtù.
Below you can see one of their chocolate artifacts, a chocolate Rialto Bridge ! There are soooo many more creative varieties to drink or eat chocolate in Venice, and it is even used for perfumes. But that’s another story told soon on this blog and in our book :-)