The Legend of Gianduia

Posted on February 7, 2013

By Madame Cocoa

Lovers in Italy and around the world exchange chocolate-covered hazelnut Baci Perugina “kisses” for Valentine’s Day. The chocolate-hazelnut combination is rooted in the history of chocolate production in Italy, and is full of tall tales and intriguing characters. No character is bigger in that story than Gianduia (pronounced zhan-DO-yuh). We know it as the irresistible, creamy smooth, spreadable combination of chocolate and hazelnuts (think Nutella). But in the mid-1800s, Italians knew Gianduia as a marionette of the Commedia dell’Arte theater.

Signifying good humor, honesty, and the pleasures of food and drink, Gianduia the puppet was a source of huge civic pride as a peasant of the Piedmont region, specifically the town of Turin in Northern Italy. In February 1865, at a time of much political upheaval, local citizens banded together and made their favorite character, Gianduia, the King of Carnival. In the excess and indulgence of these pre-Lent celebrations, the first chocolate and hazelnut confection — the gianduiotti, appeared.

Named after the patron of Turin’s Carnival, gianduiotti (zhee-an-DWO-tee) are plump, finger-sized soft confections of chocolate, hazelnut paste, and sugar, wrapped individually. Gianduia (the chocolate-hazelnut spread) and gianduiotti (the individual candies) were revolutionary for their smooth texture, given that chocolate manufactured at the time produced a gritty product. In fact, the chocolate bar as we know it had not yet been invented, and there was no such thing as a milk chocolate bar.

Today, choices of chocolate-hazelnut combinations abound, whether it is traditional Pernigotti Gianduiotti, in Italian sweet bread Balocco Panettone, or in the love-note-filled “kisses,” the Baci Perugina. The well-known modern version of gianduia, Nutella, came about more than 75 years after its invention as a luxury sweet on the streets of Turin. But unlike the original, the one we love today comes in milk chocolate.

Find all of these delectable chocolate-hazelnut combinations freshly stocked at Phoenicia. And for a legendary combo you’ll really love, pair these treats with a bottle of wine from Phoenicia’s extensive selection.