Italy TravelSicily’s Chocolate Town: Modica

Sicily’s Chocolate Town: Modica
Published on Saturday, December 26, 2015 by

modicaPerhaps the last thing that comes to mind when thinking of Italy is the Aztecs – but, in one of Italy’s many peculiarities and well-kept secrets, the Sicilian town of Modica  is famous for Aztec chocolate. Passing on their discovery of an interesting new food called xocolatl from the New World, Spanish conquistadors introduced the chocolate to Sicily during the island’s time under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries. Like a family recipe passed down to an entire town, Aztec-inspired dark chocolate has been made and perfected by Sicilians for centuries, enduring even when milk chocolate came into favor with Europeans.

Aztecs ground the cocoa beans with a metate to make cocoa powder and mixed it with spices such as allspice and vanilla, a technique that Sicilians mimicked using metates made from volcanic stone from Mount Etna’s volcanic stone. Rather than consuming the resulting cocoa paste as a bitter, spiced drink as the Aztecs did, Sicilians mixed it with sugar, added flavors that were common on the island such as pistachios or lime oil, and formed the resulting paste into bars.

The secret to Aztec-style chocolate is a method called cold-working, wherein the chocolate and sugar are never melted and kept under 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) This method preserves flavor and nutrients and imparts a grainy texture into the final product.

Modern producers of the specialty chocolate such as the Bonajuto family, who run Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, use modern machinery rather than a metate, but still only use three ingredients: cocoa, sugar and flavorings (lemon oil, sea salt, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and chili are common). Once the chocolate is ground and mixed with sugar to form a paste, it is transferred into molds, where it is pounded and set into solid pieces.

As the only place in the world that still makes Aztec-style chocolate, Modica has several outlets for visitors to buy the unique products. Among them are Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, which opened in 1880; Antica Dolceria Rizza, running since 1935; and Caffe del’ Arte, which serves hot chocolate. The town’s annual chocolate festival, ChocoModica, celebrates chocolate and Modica’s signature Baroque architecture every December (the next festival is scheduled for Dec. 8-11, 2016). For those planning a chocolate pilgrimage to Sicily (or who need a chocolate fix ASAP), is a comprehensive guide to Modica’s chocolate producers and has an online shop.

By Kathy McCabe

pt-venice-cover-smallWant to read more about travel? Get your free copy of our new digital magazine, Perillo Traveler!

Have Your Say
Your Name ↓
Your Email ↓
Your Website ↓
Tell us what you think of this story ↓
You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>