Turin: City of Chocolate (and Hazelnuts)

Back in January, in my very first post on Under the Tuscan Gun, I wrote about one of the sweetest topics a food blog can cover – a chocolate festival. Perugia’s EuroChocolate is undoubtedly the most famous chocolate festival in Italy, but chocoholics should take note – it’s not the only chocolate festival in the country. In fact, there’s another city up north with a claim to one of the most popular chocolate flavor combinations ever created.

The city is Turin, and the flavor is chocolate-hazelnut – or, as it’s known in Turin, gianduja.

One of Turin’s chocolate makers, Caffarel, combined hazelnut paste with milk chocolate in 1852, calling the result gianduja. It’s another Turin-based confectioner, however, that has in more recent years made the chocolate-hazelnut flavor world famous. You’ve heard of Ferrero’s Nutella, I trust? Invented in 1946, Nutella was originally called Pasta Gianduja, when it was a thicker consistency.

The name gianduja comes from a traditional theatre character in the region of Piedmont, of which Turin is the capital – a simple man who had a special fondness for food and wine. It stems from the Piemontese dialect, and the J is pronounced like a Y – so the word is pronouned more or less like jahn|DOO|yah. You’ll sometimes see the J replaced by an I, as well.

In addition to a particular flavor combination, traditional gianduja is also a particular shape. In Turin, you’ll still find what are called gianduiotti, which are gianduja chocolates shaped like elongated triangles and then wrapped in gold or silver foil. These candies were first made by Caffarel in 1865, and remain one of the company’s most popular treats.

Chocolates with hazelnuts feature prominently in Turin’s annual chocolate festival, CioccolaTÒ – nearly every local chocolate maker has their own kind of gianduja candy – but the festival isn’t only about gianduja. Chocolate lovers will have an opportunity to sample chocolate delights of many varieties, whether it’s during CioccolaTÒ or not, because Turin is most certainly one of Italy’s cities of chocolate.

Visitor’s Information: What to Know if You Want to Go
Turin has an international airport, but it’s not one of the country’s primary entry points – and since finding cheap airfare to Italy is already challenging enough at times, it’s usually best to look at the big international airports first before considering the smaller ones. Luckily, Milan is nearby – and finding cheap airfare to Milan is sometimes easier than finding deals on flights to the Italian capital.

From Milan, Turin is an easy day-trip by train. There are slow trains that take up to two hours each way, or you can get there in an hour on the AV high-speed train. The 2-hour trains cost $15-25, whereas the AV trains cost between $39-85 – so if time isn’t as much of an issue, you’ll have more money left over for chocolate if you save money on Italy train tickets by taking the slower train.

CioccolaTÒ usually runs for a week or two anywhere between late February and early April (dates vary each year – check the official CioccolaTÒ website for the next festival dates), and it’s far smaller and less visited than EuroChocolate – so it’s easy to navigate through all the chocolate sellers in an afternoon without fighting crowds. Oh, and don’t worry too much about the weather – even if it’s cold during the festival, there are plenty of vendors selling small cups of cioccolata calda, that pudding-like drinking chocolate, that will warm you right up.

Not visiting Turin during CioccolaTÒ? No problem. You’ll still be able to find mountains of Caffarel’s famous gianduiotti in sweet shops throughout the city year-round. Also consider getting the €12 Chocopass, which gives you two days to enjoy up to nine chocolate tastings at some of the city’s best confectioners.

chocolate photo from Caffarel website, festival photo by Jessica Spiegel and may not be used without permission