Friday, March 23, 2012

Perugina: Home to Baci Chocolates

Forget the sweeping views of the Umbrian countryside, the exquisite architecture, and the inspired regional dishes. One of my true loves is Italy's most famous dolce, the Perugina Baci. Perugia has long been considered the Italian capital of chocolate, even more so since it started hosting the annual Eurochocolate exhibition, the chocolate industry's most important trade event. For those of you who have never encountered this culinary confection, Baci are made up of gianduja — chocolate, nougat and ground hazelnuts — on top of which sits a whole hazelnut. The entire chocolate is then covered in several layers of dark chocolate, or in celebration of their 100th year in 2012, a new white chocolate Baci which has just been launched.

The Perugina Factory in San Solisto, just outside Perugia

Baci, which translates as 'kisses', are then enclosed in a silver wrapper adorned with blue stars, and inside, a lovely little love note stamped on a piece of translucent paper. These chocolates are made in factory just outside of Perugia, in the ancient hilltown of San Sostia, where we made our pilgrimage today. San Sostia is the one and only factory in the world that makes Baci — over one million a day!

 Little Baci kisses topped with a whole hazelnut and topped with chocolate

Perugia’s chocolate factory and its Chocolate Museum are the key places to learn about chocolate production. Our Perugina tour included an opportunity to see the chocolate factory in operation, as well as being able to visit the Museo Storico which explains the process of converting cocoa into chocolate, and the history of the Perugina chocolate company, which was bought by Nestle a few years ago.

Baci memorabilia in the Chocolate Museum — even Frank loved the little kisses!

Our English speaking tour, which had to be booked ahead, started at 9:45am in Perugina's main reception. Our guide Eugenia led us first into a small theatre where a short film explained the history of chocolate, and how Perugina first started by Giovanni Buitoni and Luisa Spagnoli in 1907.

The large mural in Perugina's lobby

The Chocolate Museum explains the history of making chocolate and Perugina's 
humble beginnings in a small shop in Perugia

A replica of the enormous Baci made for the Eurochocolate exhibition
which has made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest chocolate ever made

The cooking classroom for Perugina's School of Chocolate

For the true gourmet experience, there's also Perugina's 'School of Chocolate' which offers a calendar of courses throughout the year that are designed to introduce students to the basics of chocolate making, with tips on how to become a veritable chocolate sommelier. Although I wasn't able to take the course this trip, I will definitely sign up the next time we're in Umbria.

The film shot in Perugina's School of Chocolate

During the tour, we also learned that there was an award-winning film made at The School of Chocolate called 'Lessons in Chocolate' starring Neri Marcore, Luca Argentero and Violante Placido, which I have never seen but will definitely look for, once we return home. I asked our guide if it was a love story, and she said, "But of course!" Chocolate and love just seem to go together.

Our charming Perugina tour guide Eugenia

Eugenia then took us inside the enormous factory where Baci chocolates are produced, in fully automated production lines that produce over one million Baci a day for worldwide consumption. Unfortunately cameras are not allowed on the factory floor, but it was incredible to watch the conveyor belts bustling along, carrying endless Baci chocolates into big bins, to be later packaged and shipped around the world. At the end of the tour, guests are invited to try as many Perugina-Nestle products as they'd like — even the newly released white chocolate Baci, which aren't even in some shops yet.

Perugina's new white chocolate Baci poster advertisement

The new 100th anniversary white chocolate Baci in dark blue foil with gold stars

Inevitably we knew the tour was going to end here — Perugina's fully stocked gift shop with everything Baci: Baci teddy bears, Baci pens, Baci plates, Baci purses and of course boxes and boxes of Baci chocolates, each with their own romantic message. Romance is at the heart of the Baci legend and one of the keys to Perugina’s enduring place in Italian culture — and the hearts of chocolate lovers everywhere.

The Baci gift shop at the end of the tour where you can buy everything 
from Baci teddybears, handbags, pens, mugs and of course...

Baci chocolates!