Kitchens freak me out.
I don’t cook much, partially because prior to departing for my RTW journey, I lived in a shoebox in NYC with a kitchen too small to turn around in. Cooking just never quite fit into my lifestyle back then, and of course my constant need to move move move mostly keeps me out of the kitchen nowadays, too.
Neglecting any desire I might’ve had to heat up my own meals left me more than a little apprehensive about visiting the Perugina Casa di Cioccolato on the outskirts of Perugia… Lean Cuisines are fine, but making my own chocolatey treats from scratch? I didn’t know if I could hack it.
As per usual during my travels, I found myself on the edge of my comfort zone, sporting an apron of all things while staring down a work station full of intimidating kitchen apparati.
In a country with so much food-related identity, it’s no wonder the Italians pride themselves on even their store-bought chocolates, especially the Perugina Baci. In Italian, baci means kiss, and these little tasty treats were created more than 100 years ago from a recipe that’s exactly the same today.
Made of dark chocolate, filled with a blend of chocolate & hazelnut cream, dotted with more hazelnut bits and topped off with a whole hazelnut, each Baci is wrapped in a tiny foil love note. It’s the very most Italian way to say I love you, or so I hear.
In Italy, where menus are thoughtfully designed with availability of fresh local ingredients in mind, even the chocolate is seasonal. During my visit to the Casa del Cioccolato in late spring, the factory wasn’t even in production. All the enthusiastic chocolatiers (but no Oompa Loompas, unfortunately) said it was much “too hot for chocolates in the summer. Summer is for gelato.”
Say what?! I was confounded.
I found it most shocking that here in Italy, the Baci and other Perugina delights are removed from the shelves during the hottest months and only come back seasonally.
It’s never too hot for chocolate!
(I have to say, as bewildered as I was about this whole seasonal chocolate thing, I appreciate the fierce Italian dedication to local, sustainable and seasonal cuisine. And after my last visit to Italy, I’ve started trying to incorporate that way of life into my diet, too!)
Our chef & chocolatier extraordinaire Massimilano Guidubaldi lead us step-by-step, in his handsomely heavy Italian accent, through the process of creating a confectionary delight worthy of the Perugina brand.
We melted dark chocolate, stirred it carefully, created a tart lemon ganache — I know, I made ganache! — and put it all together in tiny moulds which we popped in the fridge to harden up. (Recipe coming later this week!)
I should stop for a moment and point out that it wasn’t exactly easy to make these chocolates. Even under Massimiliano’s expert guidance, I had several turn out a bit cracky and I didn’t always get my chocolate consistency quite right.
And my word, did I ever make a huge mess.
I’m not exaggerating when I say there was chocolate from my hair to my elbows to my shoes after my lesson at Perugina. Fortunately we were encouraged to dump our chocolate everywhere and make ourselves at home in our work stations, so I wasn’t alone in my smudgy, sugary glory.
Who knows why spills and little messes make me so stressy, but at Chocolate School, the mess was a must. Once I accepted that I was going to make an absolutely debaucherous and shameful fright of my station, I began to enjoy myself in the kitchen – something I never thought could come to pass.
When in Rome… errrr, Perugia…
I don’t know why I was so worried about cooking.
The day I made a huge mess in that Italian chocolate factory lives on in my mind all these months later, and not just because I managed to walk out of a kitchen with chocolate smeared in all sorts of peculiar places. I did something I thought I’d never do, and though that something was as small as a Baci, I was still pretty darn proud of myself for conquering a new frontier. Even if it was just a kitchen.
Angie Away was a guest of the Umbria Regional Tourism Board but all opinions, as always, remain her own.