It was round about the beginning of the 17th century when cocoa reached Turin and other cities in Italy.
Two hundred and fifty years later a young man called Silvano Venchi was an apprentice in a confectionary workshop. He was obviously an astute young man and saved hard until he had enough money to buy two bronze pots suitable for melting chocolate. He opened his own workshop. It was successful. And today, Venchi the company that still bears his name produces more than 350 varieties of chocolate and exports them worldwide.
Venchi in Covent Garden
Whilst there are other branches of Venchi in London we came across the one in bustling Covent Garden.
The ground floor of the tiny shop is chiefly given over to chiller displays of the most wonderful looking gelato. Not surprisingly a long queue of eager purchasers had formed excitedly discussing what flavours to try. They did look good, but it was chocolate that we were after.
Stairs leading down to the basement revealed an Aladdin’s cave, a chocoholic’s idea of heaven with shelf upon shelf of chocolates – some wrapped in brightly coloured foil, others in their natural, white, milk or dark chocolate shells hinting at exciting fillings.
A chocoholic’s idea of heaven
I noticed there was more dark chocolate on the shelves than milk or white. As the shops’ delightful manager told me – dark chocolate is the healthiest.
I was delighted at the prospect of something so delicious possibly being good for me; dark chocolate just happens to be my favourite. And this dark chocolate really is delicious – strong in flavour but without the bitter note that some dark chocolates have. The cocoa she told me comes from specially selected beans from Latin America and West Africa.
Hazelnuts from Piedmont
One of Venchi’s most popular lines I gathered are the giandujas – chocolate paste flavoured with ground hazelnuts from the Piedmont region of Italy, and made today as they were some 140 years earlier. Gianduja evidently was the name of a character in Italian Commedia dell’Arte – a jovial peasant keen on imbibing wine from the Piedmont region. The very region from where the hazelnuts come from. Piedmont hazelnuts are so special they have been awarded IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
We have become addicted.
Gelato and Sorbets too
Clutching my little bag of mixed chocolates I headed back upstairs. The queue had died down at the gelato displays and I lingered to have a look. It was unfortunate that my eyes spied upon three of my favourites, pistachio, coffee and vanilla.
I dithered, and the lovely girls behind the counter seized the moment, whilst filling up a small tub of coffee and vanilla for me – they insisted I tried tasting scoops of pistachio, strawberry, chocolate, hazelnut, plus several others. They were delicious.
Gelato, I was told, is made from milk as well as some cream and churned at a lower speed so as not to beat in too much air. Consequently it has a somewhat denser texture than regular ice cream and because it is also served at a slightly higher temperature has a softer texture.
By now we had worked our way along to the sorbets. I said that I didn’t like sorbets – I don’t like the icy crystals. But these were as smooth as silk; I liked all three flavours, but especially the fabulous deep mango
And like all Venchi products no artificial flavourings or other nasties are used. Not the cheapest chocolates or gelato, but most definitely worth every penny in our opinion. www.venchi.com