3 - 15 Mar, 2009 For chocolate aficionados there are few more fitting places to sample the ‘food of the gods’ than in Turin, Piedmont, Italy – birthplace of the world’s very first chocolate bar.
Debbie Elkind

1 Jul 2008 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

For chocolate aficionados there are few more fitting places to sample the ‘food of the gods’ than in Turin, Piedmont, Italy – birthplace of the world’s very first chocolate bar.

The Piedmont region is said to contain more chocolatiers than France and Belgium combined, the majority of them found in Turin. Every year in late February, an estimated 70,000 chocoholics descend on the city to sample and savour the world’s favourite sweet treat at Cioccolato, a ten-day festival devoted to all things chocolate.

The region has a long and rich history of chocolate appreciation. When Turin became capital of the Kingdom of Savoy in the 16th century, the city’s citizens were served cups of hot chocolate in celebration. Subsequently, the beverage became fashionable, popping up on menus across the city.

It was also in Turin, toward the end of the 18th century, that a Mr. Doret invented the first machine capable of making solid chocolate, thereby kindly bequeathing chocolate bars to the world.

Also during that century, an early chocolate pioneer by the name of Michele Prochet added crushed, roasted hazelnuts to his confections, creating the now-renowned delicacy Gianduia (chocolate-hazelnut) paste. To this day, Gianduiotto chocolates – boat-shaped chocolates made with Gianduia and wrapped in gold or silver foil – remain a local speciality. It’s therefore unsurprising that Turin is also home to Ferrero, one of the world’s leading chocolate producers and the makers of the globally much-loved Nutella spread.

For those who prefer their chocolate sans nuts, there are plenty of other flavours to sample at Cioccolato. All of the region’s leading producers (including Venchi, Lindt, Sprüngli and Giraudi), come to display their wares, offering dozens of styles to try, from sugar-free to chili-chocolate, Easter eggs to liqueur-filled truffles.

Besides scoffing enough chocolate to produce a serious sugar-rush, Cioccolato attendees can learn everything they ever wanted to know about chocolate production from some of the best chocolatiers in the world. In addition to a chocolate factory, where visitors can view the entire production process, festival highlights include masterclasses, demonstrations and tasting sessions. There are also seminars on Cru (the high quality cocoas that hail from select plantations), chocolate story-telling sessions for children and a chocolate-themed multi-course dinner dished up by some of Turin’s best chefs.

The prestigious annual Golden Bar award, organized by the Compagnia del Cioccolato, is also judged and awarded during the festival, meaning visitors can watch Italy’s master chocolatiers duke it out to become the best of the best in the land renowned for its culinary prowess.

Celebrate chocolate in Australia
Fortunately, you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to revel in chocolate obsession; Australia is home to some chocolate festivals of its own.

Chocolate Winterfest
Held each year in Latrobe, Tasmania, at the Chocolate Winterfest attendees can sample the wares of local producers as well as enjoy chocolate-themed festivities including chocolate sculpture making and a chocolate treasure hunt.

Chocolate Rush Chocolate Festival
In August, the Abbotsford Convent in Victoria will play host to a chocolate festival featuring master-classes, workshops and demonstrations, as well as a chocolate producers market and the annual Australian Chocolate Championships.

Make your own Italian hot chocolate
Luscious, molten Italian hot chocolate is a far cry from the bland packet beverage many of us know as hot chocolate. To make your own authentic Italian hot chocolate start by melting a high-quality dark chocolate (ideally at least 70 percent cacao) over a double boiler and then top with hot full-cream milk to taste. Add a pinch of arrowroot or cinnamon and garnish with a strip of orange zest or grated dark chocolate.