Thursday, October 26, 2006

Perugia !! Oh wonderful Perugia !!

How does one describe a food festival devoted entirely to chocolate ?? I’m not sure but here goes !!

The chocolate festival I’m talking about is the Eurochocolate festival, held every year (in October) in the ancient (were talking at the time of the Etrusans) Umbrian hillside town of Perugia (home of the famous “Baci” chocolates).

The festival is an experience that overwhelms the senses of taste, smell & sight with chocolate (in all its forms) everywhere you look: from the stallholders that make up the festival, to the local restaurants & cafes of Perugia. Everyone embraces chocolate during this time.

This is the sort of festival where you won’t find your Nestle, Cadbury or Hersheys brands of chocolate...actually, come to think of it...there was a Nest-Quick stand giving away free samples of Nest-Quick !! Here, you’ll see names such as Lindt, Peruggina Nero, Peruggina Baci, Venchi, Caffarel dal Piedmonte and other, artisan chocolate makers. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any Ferrero there either !!

Let me explain how this festival works: a 1km section of the main street from Piazza Italia (& surrounds) leading up to the main cathedral (as well a few side streets) are taken up by stalls that the above-mentioned companies set up where they will sell their range of products. Dispersed between the stall are local shop-holders selling everything from Nutella-filled crepes , beers, soft drinks, piadinis & paninis (more about them later). Occasionally, you see a podium where there will be someone handing out free samples of a companies chocolate to the masses below. It’s just as well they are on a podium: they would be mobbed otherwise.

There are a couple of other stalls selling non-chocolate related products such a truffles & truffle-related items (it is the truffle season at the moment) such as salami with truffles, truffle pasta, oils, pastes & truffle flavoured Pecorino cheese. don’t really have to buy anything if you don’t want to. There are enough free samples or tastings being handed out. Take, for example, the giant Lindt ball set up in the main Piazza. It was a display about Lindt chocolate. As you entered you were advised: “Dark chocolate to the left. Milk chocolate to the right.” I went right & was met by a collection of smiling Lindt people with samples of the various forms of Milk chocolate Lindt had to offer. You could eat them there & then or save them for later. Can I just say they never made it out the door !!

The people from the Caffarel company got to know me real well. Their display about giandujotto involved a tour through history (complete with period costumes) about the company & lots of free samples. Now, giandujotto is my favourite chocolate, hence my reason for going back time & time again.

To really immerse yourself in chocolate, however, you do need to fork out a few euros & try the samples on offer. Some of the things I sampled, tasted & saw:

Lindt balls the size of grapefruits

Hot chocolate in a variety of flavours with a dollop of cream, some served with a chocolate spoon

Liqueur chocolates (again in a variety of flavours)

Fresh, hot crepes filled with Nutella

Spanish doughnuts (ie: Churos) with hot chocolate dipping sauce

Chocolate-coated bananas with nuts, served with a hot chocolate sauce

Fresh Sacher Torte

T-shirts dipped in chocolate (guaranteed to smell of chocolate for a few weeks at least)...only 35 Euro !!

Chocolate pasta (incl. Ravioli)

Can you feel your Cholesterol levels going through the roof ????

Add to that...the hotel I was staying out had a big bowl of chocolates right by the reception desk which they encouraged you to help yourself to.

The festival is quite popular so it can get quite crowded, particularly on the last day as everyone from around Europe (by the looks), descends to Perugia for that last great fix of chocolate. The weather over the last three days was pretty awful which didn’t help with the crowds but Perugia have been running this festival for a number of years so they’ve got the procedure down pat.

There are a few other things to see in Perugia, apart from the chocolate, which provided a welcome break from the crowds: Etruscan sites, magnificent view across the Umbrian countryside from some of the out-of-the-way piazzas, the National Gallery of Umbria, etc......

But I digress !! The whole reason for being here was the chocolate festival. Did I go crazy with my chocolate purchases ?? Apart from picking up a few things for friends, I managed to collect a number of free samples & buy the odd thing or to (incl. “Baci”...we are in Perugia after all), which may or may not survive the trip home.

Other food experiences

What !! I had other food experiences at a festival totally devoted to chocolate ??

Piadinis: flat bread served up with wild boar sausages, fried onions & fried capsicums (+ a bit of ketchup).

Porchetta: Pig on a spit (complete with head & feet) with stuffing & Rosemary, sliced & slapped down on a big bread rolls with a pinch of salt.

Well....that was the Eurochocolate festival. I hope this blog goes some ways to telling you what a great experience it was. I hope the photos I took will do it justice as well.

The next blog will cover the day trip I did to Assisi (like the good ex-Catholic I am) & my experiences in Milan.

Until then...take care.



Blogger Liz and Anthony said...

Wow Gonzo, sounds like you had the time that you hoped for. In the words of the great man "Mmmmm.... chocolate"
Seriously though, hope the rest of trip continues on as well, and the taste buds continue to party.

9:56 am  

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