Duncan Barry attended this year’s edition of Chocobarocco, a festival held in the historical town of Modica, Sicily, and got a taste of the origins of this dark unique chocolate.

Considered the chocolate hub of Sicily, Modica hosts the Chocobarocco festival, possibly the largest show in Sicily completely dedicated to chocolate.

Modican chocolate is dark not milky and has a crumbling texture rather than a melting one... and is made from a centuries-old recipe

In its third year, the four-day festival brought together the finest of chocolate companies that presented a diverse array of chocolate-inspired products that definitely tantalised the senses of those present.

Other festivals related to chocolate were held before Chocobarocco was introduced, such as Eurochocolate and Cioccolato Modica.

This year’s chocolate village mainly featured the dark Modican chocolate the place is so renowned for. Cooking demonstrations were held in a specially-designed culinary theatre by renowned chocolatiers, pastry chefs and students who shared their secrets of the trade. There was an area where fun-filled activities were held for young chocolate lovers and a butterfly zone, La casa delle farfalle, featured rare-coloured butterflies from all over the world.

A number of concerts were also held throughout the festival.

Modica, a baroque town, is located in a gorge with its main street, Corso Umberto, built on a river bed. Old buildings still stand on each side of the locality, once the region’s leading town. The Cathedral of St Peter, with the statues of the 12 apostles, watches over Corso Umberto.

Modica was rich of churches and palaces in gothic style before the earthquake of 1693 destroyed everything. Catastrophe struck again in 1901 when it was flooded.

Lucia, the guide who had to put up with me for three whole days, explained that Modica is referred to as the cento chiese town (the town of the 100 churches).

But back to Chocobarocco. The festival is a link between those who grow cocao and those who turn it into bars and, finally, those who consume them.

Items ranging from statues made out of chocolate to tools sculptured in chocolate so perfectly one could easily be fooled into thinking they are real, were displayed at the Galleria delle sculture di cioccolato and at the stalls set up along Corso.

I was there precisely because of the festival, so I indulgently sampled every flavour on offer and, by the end of the trip, just the thought of chocolate made me sick. “Puro cioccolato: Dall’antica lavorazione del cioccolato di Modica”, the packaging reads, alongside a picture of two angels embracing each other.

Modican chocolate is dark not milky and has a crumbling texture rather than a melting one. It’s a completely novel experience if you have never tasted it before and a must for any real chocolate lover. Chocolate is made from a centuries-old recipe both at home and in various dolcerie (cake shops) in the town.

The head chef at Spinello, in Via Nazionale, took some of his time to demonstrate the way Modican chocolate is made.

“Heating the cocoa to a relatively very low temperature melts the cocoa butter but leaves the sugar unmelted,” he explains, forcing you to chew a bit to break it up. “Once you do, the heat in your mouth liquefies the sugar and creates a rush of flavours that range from the cocoa and cinnamon you might expect to smoky, spicy peperoncino or even herbal”, he adds.

The traditional recipe requires ingredients to be rolled three times in the refining process. And so tradition lives on.

The mixture obtained is placed into rectangular forms that give the chocolate their well-known perfect shape. Before it solidifies, the forms are lined up on a large wooden tray that is beaten against a marble table top, serving to expel air bubbles and leave the top side of the bars super shiny and smooth. Chocolate is then left to cool down for about 24 hours. Ready to eat.

It’s not a chocolate one would indulge in because its very strong and while a block or two would seem to do the job it still remains addictive.

I wanted to see how chocolate was done in the old times.

Entering a cul-de-sac off the main road the first thing that hits a visitor is the strong smell. There’s a wonderful and pungent smell of chocolate that literally leads you to the premises temporarily used to demonstrate the traditional method. On entering the building you come across a table festooned with tiny plates containing chocolate samples.

In another room stands Luigi Baglieri, a renowned chocolatier, who proudly exhibits his skills at the old method of chocolate making, which requires much more physical ability.

Specific utensils are used, like the spianatoio, a half-moon shaped tool made of lava stone where all ingredients are low-heated and mixed.

A very old preparation technique, that dates back to 1746, is used to reduce fats, thus creating a product that protects the waistline. Hard to believe but true.

The chocolate is available in various flavours including vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, orange, peperoncino and even salty, none of them exactly to my taste. There are, of course, other kinds of chocolate in Modica, from milk chocolate to fondante, as well as local specialities like aranciata made from honey and orange peel, cedrata made from cidro peel (a fruit similar to a large lemon) and honey, torrone made from toasted almonds and honey and nucatoli biscuits made from honey, almonds and dried figs.

A particular sweet with a meat filling is also popular in this town. The taste... I’ll leave it to your imagination.

While there, I also had the opportunity to taste an original concoction of semi-sweet cherry tomatoes dipped in chocolate and left to stay until the chocolate hardens.

This is something that definitely won’t appeal to everyone out there. An expert said that the “refining process of trying to find the sweetest of tomatoes possible to mix with chocolate is still underway in order to perfect the recipe”.

Modica is not far from Malta but even if you think it is but would like to sample their chocolate you may wish to know that there are plans for the festival to come to Malta some time early next year, according to the Modica chocolate consortium.

The author travelled to Modica courtesy of Virtu Ferries (www.virtuferries.com) and was hosted by Modica’s chocolate con­sortium director Nino Scivo­letto.

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