The Sicilian product of excellence was the first European chocolate, in 2018, to receive the famous certificate of Protected Geographical Indication. However, there is no lack of controversy on the disciplinary
A millenary tradition dotted with encounters, exchanges and foreign dominations. A cultural baggage of incredible proportions, from the shades of the Mediterranean Sea to some of the most famous archaeological sites in Europe, passing through a very rich food and wine sector. Few are the lands that like Sicily can boast such a quantity of excellence.
Palermo, Catania, Agrigento, but also Enna, Noto, Syracuse, are just some of the beautiful places that make the island one of the most popular destinations for holidays throughout the year.
Modica is an ancient Sicilian town in the Val di Noto, a magnificent maze of alleys, stairways and buildings which, like photographs, mark and remind tourists of the rich and centuries-old history of the city. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002, Modica, in addition to numerous historical testimonies and architectural masterpieces, offers a gastronomic tradition that is unique in the world: we are talking about the famous Modica chocolate.
Modica and its chocolate: the history
The history of Modica chocolate has its roots from the period of Spanish domination on the Trinacria. After the discovery of America, the Spanish people brought Xocoàtl, an Aztec drink made from water and chocolate, as a dowry to Europe and therefore also to Sicily. In addition to the cocoa beans, the “tools of the trade” were also imported, that is the tools that the Aztec people usually used in the processing of chocolate. One of these is the metate, a peculiar curved stone, heated by an underlying brazier, on whose surface the beans were ground with the use of a piston.
But what is the peculiarity of Modica chocolate? The main feature is to be found in cold processing: the temperature on the surface of the metate is in fact maintained between forty-two and forty-five degrees, a solution that prevents the sugar crystals from melting. The result is a chocolate with a unique texture, with a marked roughness. With the advent of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the production cycle of chocolate was gradually modified through the inclusion of passages such as tempering and conching.
In Modica, on the other hand, the traditional cold working process has been preserved to this day. But for what reasons?
The reasons for this centuries-old tradition are to be found in the strong influence that the Spanish Kingdom exercised on the splendid Sicilian town, but not only: this particular recipe has remained in the recipe books and in the hearts of the population, from large families to “ciucculattari” street vendors, passing through the historic confectioneries.
Then in the early nineties, some of the most representative producers of the Modica pearl, including Franco Ruta, owner of the illustrious Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, worked hard to restore this absolute excellence to its ancient splendor.
Thanks to this unique and very special preparation, Modica chocolate, in the autumn of 2018, became the first European chocolate to be awarded the famous IGP brand.
All that glitters is not gold ..
While the recognition of the IGP side has brought pride and international prestige to Modica chocolate, on the other, the brand specification has made many producers turn up their noses. The reasons are simple: in the document there is no mention of the millennial history of chocolate and how it arrived in Sicily. The story of the product starts from the use made of it by the great Modica families starting from the 18th century. The issue of production methods should also not be underestimated: the statute in fact leaves much (perhaps too much) freedom with regard to the use of raw materials, cocoa in the first place. The risk is obviously that of being able to find Modica IGP chocolate bars on the market with a bitter cocoa paste of dubious quality at the base. This would absolutely not do justice to a product of excellence like Modica chocolate.
For these reasons, important producers, including the aforementioned Bonajuto, have decided to remain outside the Consortium that currently protects the brand.
Donna Elvira and the bean-to-bar
Precisely to avoid problems inherent to the quality of the ingredients used, Donna Elvira, a small and large artisan chocolate factory, has chosen to join the protection consortium, focusing as much as possible on the excellence of the product. To date, in fact, it is the only producer who has decided to entirely convert its laboratory into bean-to-bar. This involves a complex study, a careful selection of the best cocoa beans to the world and, of course, the entire production process carried out in-house. For Elvira, however, quality is also played out on these details since, thanks to cold processing, the aromatic nuances of the various types of cocoa used remain almost intact and can be clearly perceived on the palate.