Chocolate-lovers must be made, not born. I never required chocolate fixes before coming to Europe. Now, alas, I’m a helpless (though relatively controlled) addict, and my addiction (alas again, because it sounds so snobby) seems to be for really “good” chocolate. It’s my husband’s fault. He brings home the best stuff from Switzerland, and seems to be University trained in the necessary percentages of cocoa butter, cocoa and sugar. I’m illiterate on such matters; I just know what my mouth likes. And my mouth, just last week, discovered a chocolate that made it sing arias. It doesn’t come from north of the border. In fact, it comes from the opposite direction. I’m talking about the Sicilian Cioccolato di Modica.
Here are the basics. When you take this 15 cm. (the traditional length) chocolate bar out of its wrapper, you wonder what’s wrong with it. It looks funny. Wrong. It’s not sleek and smooth and uniformly brown like its Swiss cousin. It is—instead—smudgy, discolored, and slightly crumbly around the corners. Breaking it apart is akin to cracking open a geode, as the rough exterior conceals a crystalline, twinkling interior that—in the mouth—has a pasty, granular texture, punctuated by intact crystals of sugar. The chocolate is intense, slightly bitter, “whole” (if such a word can be used to describe a taste). Like whole-grain bread or un-homogenized milk, this chocolate delivers a delicious punch derived from the fact that it is distinctly less refined and therefore closer to its natural state. When you eat it, you taste what it’s made of. You sense the process, or lack thereof, that went into its creation. You might like these more primitive preparations; you might not. I love them.
Modica, in the southeastern tip of Sicily, is the home of this chocolate which is actually made using an Aztec method brought to Sicily by the Spaniards around 1700. It involves making a paste of the whole cocoa bean, without separating out the cocoa butter, and working it together with sugar at a low temperature (never exceeding 40° C) so that the sugar remains undissolved and unamalgamated in its crystalline form. This is called, in Italian, lavorazione a freddo. The result is rich and fulfilling, surprising and engaging—larger than the sum of its parts, but preserving the beauty of each part for your hedonistic pleasure.