In primo piano
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In primo piano
  Two thousand years of history  
     
The first farmers who began to cultivate the cacao plant were the Maya, about two thousand years before the discovery of America.  The fruit of this plant was considered so precious that it was even utilised as currency among the Maya peoples, besides being the main component of a tonifying beverage (lo “xocolate”), which was very aromatic and just a little bitter.
The beverage was obtained by toasting cacao beans and grinding them.  In this way a cacao paste was made to which was added vanilla, cinnamon and finally water.  From the Mayans, the culture of cacao spread all over Central America by way of the Toltecs and later the Aztecs.  In those days, a slave was worth a hundred beans.  The different colours of the beans, as a function of the quality of the cacao, conferred a different economic value to the product.  Just because of this fact there were counterfeiters in those times, who would dye the beans so as to alter their commercial value.
Hernando Cortez, in the 1500s, was the first navigator to bring cacao to the court of King Charles V of Spain.

The cacao plant is very sensitive to climactic variations, so, even in these modern times cultivation is restricted to the equatorial region.  Therefore, the main producers are found in Central and Central-South America (Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil) and in western Africa (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria).

The real spread of chocolate in Europe came about in 1585.  In the 17th Century certain chocolate confectioners in Venice, Florence and Turin became great experts in the art of preparing cacao.  They exported their products all over Europe.  In the 18th Century the processing of chocolate was affirmed in certain cities in Europe.  Up until the last half of the 1700s cacao production was carried out entirely by hand, from the harvest to all of the phases of its processing.  For the first time in 1777, in Barcellona, chocolate was produced mechanically.  The most important step is that of allowing the chocolate to solidify so as to arrive at the famous chocolate bars.  Around 1875 the Swiss invented milk chocolate.