Friday 29 March 2013

A chocolate-y time of year!

As we are at a chocolate-y time of year it may be worth remembering that the city of Perugia is well known for chocolate and it is there that the famous Perugina chocolate is made.
Unfortunately it isn’t owned by Willy Wonka or manned by green faced Oompa Lumpas, and it most certainly doesn’t have a garden filled with edible flowers with a river of liquid chocolate flowing through it. But, if you are a family travelling to Italy, it could well be destination worth considering when you visit Umbria.
The Perugia house of chocolate has different areas to visit: the historic museum, the factory, the tasting area (let’s face it that is the part that is really of interest isn’t it?), and the school. 
The museum was founded on the 90th anniversary of the creation of the company and it includes four main attractions: from cocoa to chocolate, the history of the company, products and distribution, and communication. Also on show are production and confection machines together with videos showing information and commercials from the 1957.
When you are there it is possible to tour the factory and see how chocolate is made. The smell is fantastic and will no doubt inebriate visitors who will not be able to leave without making a stop at the tasting area. Here they have the opportunity to try the many different types of  chocolate that are produced by the company and, as if that wasn't enough, there is a gift shop with a large range of chocolate and products to satisfy even the most demanding palate.
The house of chocolate is situated in San Sisto, Perugia and is open from Monday to Friday from 9 until 13 and then from 14 until 17.30.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Quite a week for Argentina

Habemus Papam!

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is the new leader of the Roman Catholic church. He was elected yesterday surprising the world with a series of pontiff firsts: a Jesuit from Latin America who chose a name honoring St. Francis of Assisi; a nobleman who gave up his riches and chose a life of poverty and prayer. The new pope also prizes compassion, humility and simplicity — so much that he gave up his chauffeur in Argentina and apparently lives a frugal and austere life, cooking simple meals for himself and travelling on the bus.  

Pope Francis is also said to be a football supporter and he may well have enjoyed the Barcelona AC Milan game the other day. Fellow countryman Lionel Messi scored two of the four winning goals in the game making Barcelona the first team in Champions League history to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit without having scored an away goal. Whatever that means…..

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Italian Easter Treats

From ancient Roman springtime fertility rites to Christian celebrations of resurrection and renewal, the seasonal celebrations of Easter have always been a special time in Italy.  During Lent, Italians look forward to the sweet treats that they have supposed to have abstained from during the 40 days of lent and the fast is broken on Easter day with a traditional family meal of roast lamb. 

Well before the arrival of the actual event there are Easter displays in bakeries, bars and shops and they centre on brightly wrapped and elaborately decorated gift filled Easter eggs ranging from modest to absolutely enormous. Apart from these widely recognisable symbols of Easter there are other treats to be had. Depending on where you come from these Italian Easter specialities could be the Umbrian “Torta di Formaggio” a  truly delicious cheesy bread, a rosemary scented Florentine Easter bun called Pan di Ramerino or the traditional Colomba di Pasqua. 

The latter is a sweet, eggy, yeasted bread similar to the Christmas panettone without the raisins and with the addition of candied orange peel and a sugary almond sprinkled crust. This light and fragrant cake is supposedly shaped like a colomba or dove; one of the most recognisable Easter symbols of Easter.  Though the cake was popularised in the early 1900s by the Milanese confectionery company "Motta",  the tradition is said to go back to the 12th century when two doves appeared over the city of Milan after the defeat of the Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa. The cake apparently commemorates the event and the victory that took place. The second, slightly less savoury version tells that the cake derives from Pavia, a city near Milan.  During the time when Lombard king Alboin conquered the city it is said that he took precious jewels and a number of girls to do with as he pleased. Most of the unlucky maidens were understandably hysterical but one plucky girl, when called to his room, took along a delicious sweet bread in the shape of a dove, made with eggs, candied fruit, yeast, sugar and flour.  Apparently Alboin was pleased with her gift  and set her free. 

Whatever the truth is the cake is well worth a try and makes a change from chocolate!