Bonajuto Artisan Chocolate from Modica
It would be tempting to say the first sight of Modica in Sicily, from up in the hills, is the best. My initial impression was that it would be hard to surpass. Stop and look across the gorge to the city, for me at least, the Sicily I had imagined and you might feel the same, that is until you reach the city centre.
Make your way down the hill into the city and look at the detailed stonework on the buildings, the pretty balconies and rambling streets. My hilltop photo shows the cathedral, one of the best examples of Italian baroque architecture, surrounded by clusters of houses. Much of the city was destroyed in the earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in baroque style and besides the Cathedral there are fine buildings, courtyards and churches to wander aroand,
Even the wiring seems to have a baroque touch to it.
For many people though, it is the artisan chocolate that attracts them to Modica. To understand the origin of this chocolate it is important to realise that Modica, along with all of Southern Italy, was under Spanish rule at the time when the Spanish discovered the New World and consequently introduced to Europe products like chocolate that they found in the Americas. In Modica the original chocolate making technique from the 16th century has been maintained to create a chocolate that is made straight from the cacao beans, with no added cocoa butter or other fats. At no time is the chocolate heated over 40 degrees, so when sugar is added it is mixed in but doesn’t melt.
We were lucky to have a quick tour of one of the oldest artisan chocolate houses in Modica, owned by the the Bonajuto family since 1880, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And, a demonstration of how the chocolate is made by first grinding the cacoa beans to make a cocoa ‘butter’, then melting the butter to between 36 and 38 degrees centigrade, adding sugar and then tempering the mixture by a kind of knocking/pounding process with the chocolate in moulds set into a large wooden tray.
The grainy, sugary mixture becomes slightly smoother, although the bars still retain a distinctive texture.
The result is a pure, sugary chocolate bar. It is produced in various concentrations of chocolate and with a range of flavours. The shop also sells pastries and even a chocolate liqueur. My personal favourite was a small pastry filled case stuffed with minced veal, chocolate and spices. An Italian style ‘mince pie’ called ‘Mpanatigghi (derived from empanadas!)
And, although I’d promised myself I was not going to buy any chocolates…somehow, I am now the proud owner of three small bars of Antica Colceria Bonajuto chocolate. To be saved for a very special occasion.