The first European to have knowledge of cocoa was without doubt Christopher Columbus who, during his voyages of discovery, had the chance to see the trees bearing the cocoa pods and to witness the ceremony as it was then considered in which the «cacicchi» (the local indigenous chiefs) drank the powder made from the seeds of this plant mixed with hot water. But Columbus neither appreciated the flavour nor understood the commercial importance of this product.
The merit of the introduction of cocoa into Spain and, thus, into the rest of Europe, must be taken by the conquistador Hernán Corte's, who had tasted it at the court of Montezuma the sovereign of the Aztecs. In Spain, at the court of Charles V sovereign over the nine Colonies in which the cocoa plant grew the seeds were toasted, ground, dissolved in hot water and sweetened with honey to make a pleasant-tasting drink.
In the French court, chocolate was introduced it would seem by Anne of Austria, having married Louis XIII. The story goes, in fact, that the new queen, together with all her other luggage, also brought with her the equipment for preparing the chocolate drink, and that this equipment was only to be used by one of her court damsels, her favourite. When, fifty years later, the wedding between Louis XIV, the Sun King, and Maria Teresa, the Infanta of Spain was celebrated, the bride introduced the custom of drinking chocolate from a cup upon waking and during the audiences; this was something which made this drink from the New World extremely popular.
From France, cocoa seeds were, in turn, introduced into Piedmont, a land which gave birth to many expert craftsmen, and it is these artisans who lead Turin to winning the palm, still unquestioned today, of being the capital for chocolate.
The first licence for opening a chocolate shop in Italy goes back to the end of the six hundreds, and it was in artisan workshops in Turin that young Swiss men came down to develop and learn the art; names such as Sacharel and Cailler, easily recognisable today, came down to become apprentices.
So if Italy, after Spain, was the country in which chocolate was the most widely diffused, Piedmont, and in particular Turin, were the main centres of production, and remain so still today if production is considered at the level of craftsmanship.
The master chocolate manufacturers of Turin are owed the merit of refining a paste in which the cocoa coming from the other side of the Atlantic was mixed with the excellent Piedmontese hazelnuts; a mixture which was to become famous even though, as often happens with gastronomic innovations, the «idea» of 'gianduia' was due more to a chance happening.
In fact, due to the Napoleonic blockade, the Piedmontese chocolate manufacturers were unable to receive enough supplies of cocoa to be able to cover their production needs; so they had the idea of 'diluting' the cocoa with the local hazelnuts; also an economic solution because of the lengthy transport and considerable costs of chartering sea vessels.
This new paste was shaped into small chocolates which took on the name of 'gianduiotti' because moulded into a particular shape which was similar to the three-cornered hat of the famous Piedmontese theatrical character 'Gianduia'; the impersonation of a boorish country farmer, of sharp, witty tongue and of generous heart.
The first «gianduiotto» was produced by the Caffarel-Prochet Company in 1865, by which time, the fears of the French naval blockade had already passed. At that time, it was called the 'givu' which, in dialect means 'stub'. The establishment and legal registration of the name 'gianduia' took place in 1867 and, since then, the 'gianduiotto' has kept the same shape and size of the original chocolate.
Still today, Turin is the centre for artisan chocolate-making (although there are also some other small Piedmontese centres, such as Cherasco, which is famous for its particular little dark chocolates with almonds, called 'baci di Cherasco') where, in many shops, it is possible to find around sixty types of chocolates with all kinds of different fillings. Perhaps the most well-known sweet-shop, and certainly the oldest in the city, is the one in piazza Castello which we mention because it was also made famous by the regular visits paid to it by Count Cavour, whose love for food has made history (like the restaurant named after him); for this great political figure, the 'gianduiotti' were irresistible, as was all the chocolate from Turin and the more refined Piemontese cuisine.