If you love chocolate, then this shouldn’t be the first time that you’re hearing about the Italian city of Perugia. Located in Umbria (the region of Italy just south of Tuscany), Perugia is known as one of the most important cities in the world when it comes to chocolate-- you may be familiar with the Perugia based chocolate company, Perugina, which manufactures all different kinds chocolate, including its most famous product “Baci"— those tiny little chocolate “kisses” with hazelnuts inside.
Every year, Perugia is the host city of a chocolate festival called Eurochocolate, which showcases the best that Europe has to offer in the ~chocolate department, attracting one million tourists and Italian natives along the way (re: me, a student living abroad with too much time on her hands). Because Perugia is only a 2 hour train ride south of Florence, I decided to spend a Saturday at the opening weekend of Eurochocolate to everything that Perugia had to offer. This post is meant to be a reflection on the festival, but if anyone is studying abroad in or around Italy hopefully you can pick up a few tips for next year!
When you arrive at Eurochocolate, you’re prompted to buy a “Chococard” for €6 in order to get access to samples and activities. My advice: don’t buy it. There are only a handful of vendors that can give you free samples, and they’re generally big-name brands that are sponsoring the exhibition which you have probably heard of before (e.g. Ritter, Lindt, Ricola, and Fage). Additionally, any of the stands will let you try their chocolate before you make the decision to purchase and many offer smaller free samples!
With regard to layout, the festival basically forms a ladder shape through the center of Perugia, with two long parallel streets being connected by several smaller streets. It’s on these smaller streets that you’re likely to find the more craft-like or artisanal chocolate brands, whereas the broader pair of parallel streets house bigger-name brands and any of the street food (chocolate or not) that the festival has to offer.
From what I observed, chocolate at the festival can be divided into two main categories of traditional and non-traditional. There’s an entire street dedicated to smaller, artisanal chocolate brands that create real art in their chocolate bars as well as in their candy offered by the kilo— these represent the more “traditional” side of the festival. The chocolate bars were great gifts for family and friends because they travel well and are widely offered, so I was able to purchase from a few different brands for the sake of flavor ~variety. If you’re a fan of chocolate covered oranges you’ll be in luck because they’re everywhere, and are offered relatively cheaply by the kilo. That being said, the non-traditional side of Eurochocolate is where the real attraction is in my opinion. Anyone can find bougie chocolate in Whole Foods, but when are you going to see chocolate ravioli being made right in front of you? Or be able to buy ready-to-cook chocolate tagliatelle, penne, and ziti?
Beyond chocolate bars and candies, a huge section of Eurochocolate was devoted to baked goods that adhered to the chocolate theme. These were the types of treats you would find in Instagram-famous bake shops in the United States as well as in the Italian bakery of your hometown (re: there were plenty of cannoli options). Most of the chocolate inside baked goods was either white or milk chocolate, though some shops offered a dark variety. Some of my favorites included a sugar-doughnut stuffed with milk chocolate (that kind of tasted like Nutella so maybe it had hazelnut it?? Still wondering…), a Belgian waffle on a stick dipped in milk chocolate, and my breakfast Sunday morning: the most decadent chocolate croissant you will have in your entire life— seriously, it was 90% chocolate 10% croissant.
We quickly realized after washing chocolate down with chocolate (yes there were free samples of hot chocolate and it was the most delicious cup I’ve had in my entire life) that we would need something savory to cut the sweet. Luckily for us, one side of the festival is solely dedicated to this purpose, offering everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to prosciutto and cheese plates. For whatever reason, I settled upon a stand that sold fried food and ordered the “mix” which entailed my eating French fries, deep fried olives, and deep fried mozzarella balls. To be honest the first two were a wash and I barely ate any, but THE MOZZARELLA BALLS MY GOODNESS. You know when you buy really fresh mozzarella and it’s still moist and almost dripping? That’s the kind of mozzarella they used, which was then breaded and deep fried on the spot. Simply incredible and I apologize for the lack of a picture because I ate it too quickly.
Another great savory option at the festival was a stand which sold only truffle-flavored products. Truffle cheese, truffle pâté, truffle potato chips, truffle fries, you name it, they put truffle in or on it. I ended up taking home a bag of truffle potato chips but highly recommend picking up a wheel of the truffle cheese if you have a chance. Completely unrelated to Perugia, but if you love truffles and are ever in Florence you must go to ZaZa — they have an entire section of their menu dedicated to truffle specialties and the prices are great.
Upon arriving in Perugia, I quickly realized that Eurochocolate was similar to a large carnival or amusement park for the citizens of Perugia (but more likely for the millions of people that would visit the city in the fifteen days that the festival would run). This meant using chocolate in ways not only meant for consumption but rather for entertainment— like a FIAT covered in truffles (see here because the file size was too large for me to upload my own pic) or a live chocolate carving display.
The picture below is a man TAKING AN AXE TO A HUGE BLOCK OF PURE CHOCOLATE. I never got to see the completed product, but was informed that the chocolate block was being sculpted into the shape of a guitar to follow the theme of this year’s festival, which was music. As he chipped away at the sculpture, several helpers below the stage collected the scraps of chocolate, bagged them, and handed them to spectators.
All in all, 10/10 would recommend Eurochocolate to any of my fellow chocolate lovers! It offers a chance to see the beautiful city of Perugia during one of the most unique weeks of its year.
Taste The Culture
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