Hot chocolate in Italy: A warm, Italian treat perfect for those cool winter days
In Italy, the time has come to relinquish the fluorescent, plastic gelato spoon. You may crave the cool sweet 365 days a year, but many gelaterie close in the winter. So in the name of eating seasonally, trade your plastic cup or cone for a mug of thick, Italian hot chocolate, and don’t worry – those beloved gelaterie open back up in the spring.
Italian hot chocolate is everything hot chocolate should be. If the absence of fluffy, white marshmallows makes you hesitate, opt instead for panna a parte, or whipped cream on the side. This is one of the key points about Italian hot chocolate: you can have it however you like. And by this, I don’t mean using skim milk instead of 2 percent. (Ha! As if.) It’s made with whole milk or heavy cream, depending on the bar, or by adding a syrupy flavor addition to the taste of the chocolate. In Italy, hot chocolate is personalized where it matters. Add however much sugar you want to balance bitterness and sweetness. To control the intensity of chocolate ask for senza panna, without whipped cream; con panna, with whipped cream; or panna a parte.
The hot chocolate in Italy is almost as thick as pudding. It is drinkable, but use the baby spoon served on the little plate. That way, you can avoid childish stains around your mouth, make the treat last longer and spoon in dollops of the sweet panna. And if you’re lucky, the café serves simple, dip-able biscotti on that little plate, too. Italy is also home to the famous Eurochocolate Festival held each October in Perugia.
I know it sounds like an intense culinary experience. It is, but in a very manageable way, because the hot chocolate comes in one size and it’s not too much to handle.
Now we come to the differences between hot chocolate in the US and hot chocolate in Italy: While I don’t want to insult American hot chocolate, the truth is that I only ever make it at home; buying it at a café is too risky: Will even the small size be so big that I get a stomachache? Will the chocolate be intense enough to satisfy my craving, or even be real chocolate at all? Will there be more sugar than chocolate and milk combined? Will they use milk, or just a powder mix plus hot water? No, it’s too risky; I have to mix my own at home. But in Italy, all the hot chocolate is the real thing.
When it comes to Italian hot chocolate, I’m by no means a snob. I’ll even enjoy a cup at the train station. I do, however, have my favorite places. Café Converso wins as my favorite gelateria in Bra, Piedmont, and it also wins for my hot chocolate preference. Their hot chocolate is thick and rich and served with biscotti. Ask for panna a parte, of course.
L’Agenzia is a hotel bar in Pollenzo, a town only about 15 minutes by bus from Bra and the seat of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, which I attend. The hot chocolate at L’Agenzia is not thick, but still delicious because of the cocoa they use: Domori. This is a high-quality hot cocoa for the rookie – I mean lighter – drinker.
And then there’s your average bar that serves a thick hot chocolate of the Ciobar brand. It is not as intense as Café Converso, and not of the Domori quality, but still spoon-lickingly satisfying.