jueves, 3 de julio de 2014

The historical chocolate of Modica

Chocolate of Modica
Chocolate has always been considered an extraordinary food, almost as if it was food of gods. But the beloved today's chocolate is very different from the original product that was consumed in pre-columbian central America. The Aztecs called it Xocoatl (spelled "choco-wotel"), and they loved to drink it after toasting, mincing and beating it, obtaining a sort of energetic and foamy "caffè Americano" of that time: bitter, not so tasty and perfect to get you though a stressful aztec's working day.

The codex Nuttall represents two aztecs noblemen drinking xocoatl
North of Aztecs, in what nowadays is Mexico, Xocoatl was consumed differently, in a much more tasty way: cocoa beans were minced above a traditional working stone until the greasy part came out, the cocoa butter, creating a sort of grainy and soft paste. Once that the spanish Conquistadores arrived, that beans was brought to the homeland. Still nowadays, in some places in Spain still nowadays something called "chocolate a la piedra" (in english, "chocolate onto stones") is produced, at the same old way it was produced in Mexico and Guatemala.

The exterior typical looking of chocolate of Modica
Spain at that time owned Sicily too, one of the most fertile islands of Mediterranean sea. During the 1500 chocolate beans arrived in Sicily too, in a land of breathtaking beauty, the Modica county in Val di Noto. At that time, Modica boasted the most developed agricolture of the island. During the XVI century, cocoa was just a fashonable product for popes and empereors.
But we all know sicilians aren't people that accept a product without adding their own genial  and inimitable touch. And this is when the chocolate of Modica was invented. Originally it was a special sweet that noblemen used to eat during their celebrations and parties, then it became more and more famous, until nowadays is recognized by gourmands worldwide as one of Sicily's most fascinating gastro-historical products, even if it still awaits a proper recognition in the mass culture.

How do they produce this very original kind of chocolate?  Once that cocoa beans are toasted and minced you'll obtain a sort of a "dough" rich in cocoa butter, you'll warm it up a little bit, but never above 40° C. Next step, add in that dough the sugar crystals, usually cane or granulated sugar. It is important to keep the temperature low during the whole process in order to keep incact the sugar crystals: in the chocolate of Modica, crystals must be seen and must be tasted. Because of its grainy texture and its aromatic and "raw" taste, this chocolate is perfect with strong tastes, unlikely to be added to other kinds of chocolate, like pepper, cinnamon, ginger and of course vanilla, but also lemon and orange zest: we're in Sicily at the end! These kinds of chocolate have little in commons with the other "chocolates with taste of...".

Intact sugar crystals inside of the chocolate

The quantity of cocoa is generally pretty high, usually 65% or above, until 90% or so. The chocolate historically was minced above lava stones, lightly warmed up. Cocoa beans were pressed with heavy roll pins known as "pistuni" in sicilian dialect. Here we can find the main differences between this chocolate of Modica with the modern one, invented in 1880 by Rudolphe Lindt (we'll talk about this history in another occasion). In Lindt's process, melted chocolate is mixed very well, letting it become homogeneous and creamy (this process is known as concage), while in Modica's chocolate we have no mixing at all, and this keeps all the bitter and elegant flavour of the tannines intact, giving to the chocolate of Modica a sort of rustic refinement.

The duomo of San Giorgio, the cathedral of Modica

From year 2000 on, we've witnessed a strong both touristical and gastronomical rediscovering of the Val di Noto in Sicily, partly due to the assignement of Unesco World Heritage site title to the Noto Valley because of its extraordinary heritage of baroque achitectural jewels in the valley, making it undoubtedly one of the World's art capitals of Settecento, or the 1700s. In 2003 was created a consortium to protect the original and traditional product, and some 20 producers were listed. A quality guarantee IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) was then established. Since 2009, along with the international organization FCO (Fine Chocolate Organization) a chocolate festival called Chocobarocco was organized.

How high will reach the chocolate of Modica in this rise, is yet to see. But wherever will go, we'll be there! We advice you to see this gogeous part of Sicily, both for gastronomical and artistical merits!

yong or old, everyone loves chocolate of Modica!

Very heartful sicilian greetings!


1 comentario:

  1. Val in "Val di Noto" doesn't refer to a "valley", as is usual in Italian geographical names, but to one of the Provinces or Governorates into which Sicily was administratively divided under the Arab rule and up until the 1812 administrative reform. The corresponding Arab term is Wāli, and the Sicilian Val is akin to the Arab Wilayah or the Turkish Vilayet.