Tuscany is home to many legends. From the masterpieces in the Uffizi in Florence, to the sweeping views and maze of streets in Siena. Wherever you go in Tuscany you will be surrounded by culture, history and art. Its gastronomy is famed for its savory delights. Olive groves and vineyards are scattered across the countryside. In fact, a whole area within Tuscany is named for its wine production, the Chianti region. The exquisite delights that await you in a Tuscan trattoria or osteria are one-of-a-kind and are utterly mouthwatering.
When you think of Tuscany, you thus immediately think of artisan pastas, rolling vineyards, and the art city of Florence. Though the world might love this region for other gastronomical delicacies, in recent years the popularity of its chocolates has grown. The Chocolate Valley spreads across a rough triangle between Florence, Pisa and Montecatini. This area has seen a steadily growing number of master chocolatiers emerge in the past few years.
Turin was originally known as the home of chocolate in Italy, however the new talent emerging in the Tuscan Chocolate Valley offers a whole new take on the delicacy. Though Turin was Italy’s first chocolate capital, by late 17th Century, Venice and Florence were also creating chocolate in varying forms. The chocolate valley’s heritage owes some of its fame to the Medicis. Obsessing over this new sweet treat, the noble family had their physician, Francesco Redi produce chocolate. He combined the rich cocoa mix with musk, lemon zest, and even jasmine. Perhaps some of Tuscany’s current innovative trends stem from this heritage.
To understand the Tuscan Chocolate Valley’s history, we must go back to the 1950s. At this time, a young Pistoian, Roberto Catinari, began his twenty years of study alongside swiss chocolatiers. In the mid-70s, Catinari returned to Tuscany, and opened his own eponymous shop in Alignana. Here he crafted chocolate with his own, refined recipes and soon became a cult establishents within the area. You can still visit this shop today, and you will find it at Via Provinciale 378.
As with all foods in Italy, the work considered as an art, a craftsmanship that should be mastered and appreciated. The chocolate that is produced in Tuscany is not the same as that of Piemonte. It is crafted in a very different tradition, landscape and culture, the tastes differ greatly. In general, one could say that Piemonte’s chocolate is more traditional, whereas Tuscan chocolatiers enjoy experimenting and adding modern twists to their work.
A great example of this would be Andrea Bianchini’s La Bottega del Cioccolato in Florence (Via de Macci 50). Bianchini stays true to his Tuscan roots, using lavender, olive oils, balsamic and rosemary in his work. He considers these as the flavours of Tuscany. Tuscan chocolate tends to lean towards a slightly more aromatic taste than other Italian varieties. It often has above 70% cocoa, and uses pure vanilla and sugar (rather than corn syrup) in its process.
Whilst in Florence, look out for Amedei chocolates. This company grows their own varieties of criollo and trinitarian cocoa beans in South America. The owners deeply studied the conditions of the beans, the weather patterns they flourish in, how to properly prepare and extract the beans and the farmers. This resulted in a carefully regulated taste that is unique to this particular brand. A committee of experts at the London Academy of Chocolate recognised their classic chocolate bar as the best chocolate in the world or several years. For something ‘homemade’ from bean to bar, Amedei is a great option. You can also visit their shop in Pontedera (Via San Gervasio 29).
Chocolatiers traveled from across the globe to start their careers in the Chocolate Valley. Paul DeBond, originally from Holland, moved himself and his dreams of becoming a master chocolatier to Tuscany in order to find people who understood the importance of the chocolate craftmanship. His main store, Casa DeBondt, is in Pisa (Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti 5). Here you will find a boutique filled with delicious smells, bitesized tasters, and beautifully gift-wrapped boxes. The simply exquisite chocolate boasts a melt-in-the-mouth quality.
For a true chocolate experience, you should head to Slitti Cioccolato e Caffè in Monsummano Terme (Via Francesca Sud 1268). The owners of this charming café recently opened a factory next to the shop where visitors can take chocolate making classes. They treat their art form as wine connoisseurs treat wine tasting, making for a truly unforgettable experience. Interestingly Andrea Slitti studied under Catinari, arguably the father of the modern Chocolate Valley.
Whether you visit Tuscany for its art cities or for its gastronomy, you should definitely hunt down some of these chocolates. They will open your eyes to a whole new world and tradition behind the confection. But more importantly, they will provide you with an absolutely delicious treat.
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