Discovering Cioccolata di Modica
When I think of great chocolate, its usually creamy. If it’s grainy with traces of lighter, dusty overtones, it usually means it’s gone stale. But not always. The chocolate they have been making in the Sicilian town of Modica is the exception that proves this rule.
I first learned about cioccolato di Modica recently when Pierluigi and I were exploring the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome, scouring th streets and piazze looking for for-sale signs. Testaccio is the neighborhood just over the river from Trastevere. It was my first time to this small neighborhood, and the night was a great one for exploring, cool and calm. Pierluigi had bough a 200 gram bar while leaving a pub in Piazza Testaccio. “Be careful, it’s not what you would expect.” he said.
The thick squares were hard to snap off and the first bite didn’t thrill me – hard, grainy. But since we were were exploring, I drove on. I held the second bite in my mouth as I jotted down the phone number of a sign for a two bedroom flat in via Vespucci the sugar crystals started to melt and mix with the cocoa. I noticed a trace of Vanilla (the package later confirmed this). It was not a chocolate to rush through.
Cioccolato di Modica has been made this way for centuries, following family recipes that are today used by the twenty producers still active in the city. Raw cocoa is amalgamated below melting (under 40 °C) with cane sugar and aromas – traditionally vanilla and cinnamon but today other spices, hot pepper, and even lemon and orange peels are common. No cocoa butter is added beyond what is in the cocoa itself, which reach anywhere from 65% of the bar on up. It can be eaten straight or melted and sipped warm.
The night after the Testaccio expedition I was at a dinner party near Piazza Navona, the guest were starting to trickle out and the hostess offered coffee. A young italian screenwriter I had just met and I were the only takers. She served us espresso in wide white cups with a square of Modica chocolate on the dish to the side. This time the aroma entwined between the grains of sugar was cinnamon and the way they blended with the cocoa and the espresso’s bitter afterglow are still with me.
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