Monday, June 29, 2015

Cuckoo for Cacao

To be completely honest, I don’t care for chocolate that much. But on the other hand, I do enjoy a little dark chocolate with a twist every once and a while. What I mean is I like trying different percentages of pure cacao, as well as different chocolate combinations. Some of my favorites include bars with chili pepper and orange flavorings.

De' Ricci Winery
            Until last week, I have only come across products such as chocolate gelato, chocolate filled croissants, and of course, plenty of Nutella (which actually doesn’t even meet the requirements of cacao content to even be called “chocolate”). But when we visited the De’ Ricci underground winery, which is several centuries old, in Montepucliano I was given a great gift. It was a piece of dark chocolate containing vanilla and visible sugar crystals. I adored it. It was smooth, airy, and made of 45% cacao. Of course I bought a bar to take home and share with my chocolate loving family.

Barrels of wine at De' Ricci Winery
It is made by Antica Dolceria Bonauto, and is named “Cioccolato Alla Vaniglia” in Italian. As it turns out, the Cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, is native to the Americas. And this chocolate bar is apparently made using ancient Aztec techniques and ingredients passed on to Europe by the Spanish. This explains it’s intensely delectable taste as it is known the Mayan and Aztec civilizations believed the cacao plant was sacred, and regarded its usage highly. No doubt they would be the ones to figure out how to extract such good flavor from them.

Cioccolato Alla Vaniglia
        The production of cacao solids used in chocolate like the kind sold at De’ Ricci’s winery is done be fully fermenting the fleshy beans that are contained in pods (fruits), which grow on the truck of the plants. The mainly purple colored seeds are taken from the pod, dried in the sun, roasted brown, de-shelled, and ground with other ingredients to produce the chocolate we consume. And Italia, as it turns out, is not, and would not be a very good producer of the plant. Leading the worldwide production is actually the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia. This is because the plants need to be grown in hot, rainy climates around the equator.
Interestingly to me as a Biology major, there is speculation that raw chocolate and dark chocolate containing more cacao percent cold have cardio-vascular health benefits due to the high levels of antioxidants they contain. I know they benefit my taste buds for sure. I am thankful to have visited such a beautiful Italian cultural place only to learn about and be connected to the other side of the world. The world continues to show me how it is simultaneously so large, but also so small. 
Kaylee Platz-Panico

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