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Italians were introduced to chocolate in 1606, when a merchant named Carletti returned from the West Indies and Spain and brought over the first cocoa beans, starting a fad that has yet to end. Confusingly it's can be masculine, cioccolato as well as feminine. Giacomo Casanova would always drink chocolate before a tryst.

Some kinds..

cioccolata al latte: milk chocolate

cioccolata calda: hot chocolate

cioccolate fondente: plain (dark)

cioccolatini are 'chocolates' (as in a sweet or candy)

cioccolato fuso: melted or molten chocolate, or chocolate sauce.

For chocolate with hazelnut paste, see gianduja.

Italians love to carve blocks of chocolate into shapes that have little to do with chocolate Santas and Easter Bunnies (tools—saws, hammers, wrenches, etc— for some reason are extremely popular.

Chocolate festivals are among the most popular in Italy, including the February Festival di Cioccolato in Florence, and the massive Eurochocolate festival in October, in

Perugia, the home of Perugino Baci chocolates. Other big manufactures include Ferrero in Alba (Piedmont) home of Ferrero Rochers, Kinder Eggs, Pocket Coffee and Mon Cheri chocolate covered cherries.

Gourmet chocolates include Amedei, Domori, Gardini, Maglio, Pernigotti, and Slitti.

As usual with sweet things, the Sicilians have the last word. The town of Modica was one of the first places in Europe to meet chocolate from Mexico, and they still make their remarkable, Aztec-style Cioccolato modicano there.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Maria Nicoletti