Venchi is an Italian chocolate maker that has been around for over 100 years. The stiff somewhat formal bars can be found all over Northern Italy and have now made it to the United States.
The company was founded in 1878 by Salvatore Venchi in Turin. Venchi makes more than 350 types of chocolate but arguably became famous for their dark chocolate which is a 75% blend of Criollo and Forastero cocoa beans.
In the chocolate market, Italy competes with Belgium and France, better known chocolate making countries. There are four principal chocolate producing regions in Italy: Sicily, Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto.
All four of these regions have long traditions making chocolates which span hundreds of years. Each region produces a different type of chocolate and uses particular ingredients. The Medici family from the Tuscan city of Florence, for example, was among the first to drink hot chocolate in cups. Their chocolate apparently was enhanced by floral notes such as Jasmine flowers while some modern Tuscan producers also use refined local olive oil to flavor their products.
Piedmont on the other hand has always been quite well known for their chocolates which are made with hazelnuts known as nocciole in Italian while the Veneto makes chocolates with local products such as grappa or honey.
Sicily, known for chocolates with pepperoncino, citrus fruits and pistachios has a very long history with chocolate which began under Spanish rule. The Spaniards had discovered chocolate through their possessions in the Americas. The most famous area where chocolate is made in Sicily is a county called Modica. Chocolate from Modica is very unique. It is textured and crunchy and quite unlike almost every other chocolate around the world today. In fact, chocolate from Modica is more similar to that of the Aztec Indians than it is to the traditions of Piedmont or Tuscany where creamier chocolates are made.
These types of regional particularities are what make Italian chocolate so special and so interesting. Be it a cremino from Piedmont or a crunchy bar from Modica or a modern chocolate from Tuscany, Italy seemingly has a chocolate for every taste.
Currently there are no denominazione d’origine protetta (DOP) products in Italy in terms of chocolate. This designation is usually assigned to foodstuffs from a particular area or region such as Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Radicchio from Treviso and Bresaola from Valtellina. One hopes a chocolate DOP will be assigned soon.
Chocolate production has become much more refined as food safety, traceability and authenticity have become buzzwords in the food business. One example of this is that there are now ““cru” cacao plantations much like the revered 1855 Classification of the First Growths of Bordeaux. These plantations command higher prices and the quality of the cacao are considered to be superior.
Chocolate, just like wine, is judge by its aromas, flavors and color. Venchi’s dark chocolate blend has a dark red mahogany color and floral and toasted notes. Chocolates can be described as light, medium or full bodied.
Venchi’s website gives an elaborate description of the process of making chocolate. There are four principal phases: fermentation, drying, toasting and aeration. These four phases can take different amounts of time depending on what type of product one is looking for in terms of their chocolate.
Venchi has also recently opened a sales point in the Milan Malpensa airport where one can buy a variety of their products. A nice gift, these chocolates are a little touch of Piedmont in your mouth.