Chocolate history in Genoa, yesterday and today

Genoa boasts an important role in chocolate history... and an abundance of gourmand temples.

Before chocolate: what's in a cabosse (cocoa pod)?
Though the start of Italy's long-lasting love affair with chocolate was not promising (Christopher Columbus dismissed the importance of cocoa beans), the relationship has been firmly developing through centuries and space - just think of Piedmont, Tuscany  Sicily and - guess where? - Liguria.
In Genoa, the carruggi (i.e. alleys) of the ancient district of Prè-Molo-Maddalena still lead to vico del Cioccolatte – interestingly to note, references to trades (remember the old saying: Ianuensis ergo mercator - a Genoese, therefore a merchant) abound in the street map of the Superba, a vast inventory from A (agnello, i.e. lamb) to Z (zucchero, i.e. sugar).
In the 18th century, chocolate manufacturers enjoyed special status due to the economic importance of cocoa: similarly to coffee, it was in fact a powerful generator of import duties and revenues for the Republic of Genoa.
This was truest than ever in an age when - throughout Europe - the evolution from hot beverage to solid food granted chocolate huge success.

Though the scarcity of evidences (records, invoices…) is a hindrance to historians, it seems highly probable that cocoa reached Liguria via the Low Countries and Marseille. Genoa tried hard to establish a reputation as an import hub serving the numerous confiseurs-chocolatiers scattered all over Italy
It comes as no surprise that between the late-18th and the 19th centuries several cioccolaterie and pasticcerie opened in town:
  • 1780, Romanengo, Italy’s most ancient confiserie, known for its rare collection of documents;
  • 1828, the Caffè Klainguti, in piazza Soziglia;
  • 1875, Giovanni Preti created “Sacripantina”, a decadent gourmet dome-shaped cake, in his workshop in piazza Portello;
  • 1866, Romeo Viganotti started his business in vico dei Castagna, where ancient tools and documents are still treasured;
  • 1876, Mangini, in piazza Corvetto;
  • 1885, 17-years old Francesco Panarello took over the Porta d’Archi bakery and started his path to innovation and success;
  • 1890, Tagliafico in piazza Cavalletto;
  • 1919, Vital Gaspero opened the pasticceria “Svizzera” in the well-off Albaro district.  
Elegant hangouts, opulent in boiserie and crowded by intellectuals, musicians and noblewomen, sided basic, plain botteghe adjacent to tiny workshops. At the end of the 19th century, Genoa featured 45 chocolate manufacturers – not to forget about its leading position as an exporter of candied fruit, dragées (confectionery), nougat... The whole city thrived, prosperity showing also on occasion of the 1892 Columbus Celebrations.

During his 1910 Genoese stay, French poet Paul Valéry still detected scents of 
“delicious finely roasted cocoa, its bitterness exalting”.
That was a season of excellent cocoa varieties, gems of aromatic complexities, precious spices and refined ingredients. Needless to say, chocolate showed no traces of vanillin and vegetable fats other than cocoa butter…

Nowadays, heroic manufacturers from the above list still hold the flag of tradition high - most of them belong to the Botteghe Storiche register, promoted and supervised by local institutions, which were the first city in Italy to develop this kind of safeguard programme. 

Elaboration of my English abstract of the article by Umberto Curti as published on Liguria Food in December 2017
Luisa Puppo

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