Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Al supermercado italiano!

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a gelateria on every corner in Italy. And fine chocolates, unfortunately, do not rain from the sky. If you’ve had enough Nutella, or if you’re out late and browsing at il supermercado, or if you’re simply waiting for a train you’ll find Italy still has some exciting options in the standard candy offerings. From Italian chocolate makers Perugina to German import Ritter Sport, chocolate in Europe is different. For example, hazelnuts (“nocciole”) are very common, wafers are almost ever-present and dark chocolate (usually called “fondente,” but sometimes “neri”) is more bitter due to its higher cacao content. Another good reason to try the candy is that several are offered as gelato flavors: Nestle Baci, Perugina Nero, Kinder Bueno, Nestle Lion and Mars Bounty. Enjoy!

Must Try

  • Perugina Baci (or Bacetti) – Dark chocolate exterior with a hazelnut pieces in the center. And it translates to “Kiss!” (Italian)
  • Ferrero Duplo Cuore Fondente – Ferraro has some products commonly seen in the U.S. Their products all have the same formula: a truffle shape and a layer of wafer between the chocolate shell and core. This one is dark chocolate through and through. Molto bene! (Italian)
  • Ritter Sport Fondente con Nocciole – The hazelnuts were dry, whole and crunchy like almonds usually are in American chocolate. The chocolate was dark, melty and glorious. (German)
  • Kinder Bueno – Chocolate-covered wafer bubbles filled with hazelnut cream. The cream has a consistency like a less thick peanut butter. Eat it slow. (Italian)
  • Perugina Nero – The chocolate is similar to Dove dark chocolate, soft and dark, only darker and softer. It’s like eating a sheet of brownies in one small square.
  • Mars Delight – A familiar brand with an unfamiliar product. A little wafer, a lot of sweetened peanut butter, and a milk chocolate exterior. This is the only chocolate I saw with peanuts because it is a big no-no to mix salty and sweet in Italy.
  • Majari Gianduja – This is a classic. I hope you have had it before your trip to Italy. Chocolate with a hazelnut flavor. (Italian)
The Rest
  • Ferrero Tronky – Like other Ferraro products, except no chocolate covers the wafer shell that surrounds the tasty filling.
  • Ferraro Fiesta Orange – A chocolate covered cake that tastes like zabaione. No clue why they chose the misleading word “orange,” but the Italians must love seeing the English language used on product packaging.
  • Kinder Cereali – If you like Honey Smack cereal enough that you wish it was covered in milk chocolate, this is the bar for you. You’ll even get that cereal aftertaste!
  • Loaker Napolitano – All of Loacker’s products are wafer-centric. I had a chocolate-covered variety, which was like a milkier, creamier Kit Kat with hazelnut cream. (Italian)
  • Lindt Fondente Peperoncino – This Lindt product is not one you see in the U.S. Italians won’t mix salty and sweet, but putting paprika and peperoncino in chocolate they’ll do. It added spice, but did not enhance the flavor. (Swiss)
  • Majari Fiat – Yes, Fiat. They make cars. They make chocolate…or at least allow their brand name to be used. Smooth layers of soft chocolate and hazelnut cream.
  • Nestlé Galak – Why someone would spend good money on plain white chocolate baffles me…but this is coming from the guy who handed over 6 Euro for a fancy chocolate bar.
  • Nestlé Lion – Wafers layered with marshmallow, covered in caramel, and then milk chocolate with rice puffs.
  • Novi con Nocciole – Lower quality than Ritter Sport. The hazelnuts are not whole and have less of an effect on the taste and texture. (Italian)
  • Ringo Gusto Cioccolato – Small sandwich cookies that look like they’ll taste like Oreos, but taste more like Keebler E.L Fudge.
  • Mars Bounty and Malteasers – See my coverage of Canadian chocolate.
You may have noticed the brand name Mars on one of the Must Try candies. Yes, some brands that are regulars in America can be found in Italy. A typical Mars Bar tastes exactly the same—that waxy, sour American-manufactured-chocolate taste—but the Kit Kat I tasted had a milkier, creamier flavor.

Next time: Fancy Italian chocolate!

Monday, April 6, 2009

…don’t embarrass yourself.

Here’s a play-by-play of helpful things to know when ordering gelato in Italy:
  • Some gelaterias require you to pay first. Observe the other customers: if they hand the man behind the counter a receipt, you need to find the cash register and pay first.
  • It’s helpful to know that “gusti,” which is often on gelato menus, translates to “tastes.” Ordering “tre gusti” results in you having three scoops, and a choice of three flavors.
  • Cono means cone. Copetta means cup.
  • Often the first scoop you order is the largest, with each scoop that follows being a small top off. Order the flavor you want to most first.
  • Gelato making is an art; treat flavor combinations as one, too. You should be able to taste the flavors individually, but with a logical progression, accounting for melting. For example, chocolate will overpower every flavor, so either put it on top and devour it before it melts over the others or put it on the bottom.
  • In case there aren’t pictures here’s some vocab: fragole = strawberry, lampone = raspberry, frutti di bosco = mixed berry, mandorla = almond, nocciole = hazelnut.
  • Some common flavors you’ll see that you might not recognize are zuppa inglese (based on a custard dessert flavored with a Florentine liqueur, it tastes similar to butterscotch), zabaione (based on a custard dessert flavored with Marsala wine) and stracciatella (chocolate chip). Some other flavors you’ll see, like Bacio, are named after popular candies that can be found in Italian grocery stores, newsstands and vending machines.
  • When your cup or cone is full—Mine runneth over—you are likely to be asked, “Panna?” If so, you are being asked if you want whipped cream on top.
Next time: Italian chocolate!

Friday, April 3, 2009

When in Rome...

In Italy, I tried to eat gelato on average every day. (For nearly every day I missed, I had another day where I had a double helping!) That being said, here were my favorites from four weeks in nine cities:

  • Along with blood oranges and mozzarella di bufala, what I will miss most about Italy is their chocolate gelato. In America, chocolate ice cream tastes like chocolate ice cream, not like chocolate. It is tasty, but very different from what the Italians do, nay, accomplish: An explosion of flavor, like a concentrated form of a fine artisan’s chocolate. And the sensation grows with each bite! It burrows itself in your very being!!! You feel like you are walking on chocolate, people!!!!! My favorite place for chocolate gelato was Rome's Il Gelato di Claudio Torcé(pictured), located at the south end of Metro line B. This gelateria has 100 flavors to choose from and at least 20 are different varities of chocolate gelato. I went with the darkest ones they had, which were practically black: Pura Madagascar, Pura Araguani and Pura Trinitario. On a non-chocolate note, I would also recommend Pera e Cannella (Pear and Cinnamon).
  • My favorite combination of flavors was amarena (cherries in sweet cream) with mirtillo (blueberry) sorbet on top. I was witness to this holy union thanks to what might have been the least flashy place in Venice, a small place called Edy Bar near Campo San Zulian. This was the only instance in my trip when I finished my cup and immediately re-ordered the same thing.
  • Arancia rossa (“Red orange”) or, as we call it in the states, blood orange, a name that may not be appetizing but is at least grammatically satisfying. For the ever-presence of this fruit in Italy, surprisingly few gelaterias offered the flavor. If you see it, like I did at Rome’s Giolitti, buy it. For those not in Italy, Ciao Bella makes pints of blood orange sorbet that will quickly remove your socks with the power of its flavor. 
Honorable mention: Primavera in Sorrento.
Next time: Tips for ordering gelato!