This was a difficult morning for me. I am an early riser, 5 to 6am, and one of the highlights of my morning is a cup of cappuccino made with our freshly roasted espresso blend and a piece of chocolate. But today wasn't just any chocolate, it was the last piece of Cioccolato di Modica that I brought home from Sicily last month. I almost cried as the last crunchy, spicy bite hit my mouth and immediately got on line to see if I could mail order some. I don't think I can live without this chocolate!
So what makes this so different? Everything. It is like nothing I've ever tasted before, and believe me I've tasted a lot of chocolate...The town of Modica, located in the Ragusa province of southeast Sicily, is custodian of a 400 year tradition of Sicilian chocolate-making. Being part of the Spanish kingdom for so many years meant that Sicily was often one of the first recipients of the new foodstuffs being brought back from South America. Cacao was one of these and today Modica still specialises in making granulous chocolate, often flavored with chili pepper, cinnamon or vanilla, that is based on Aztec methods and recipes.
As in the Aztec tradition, Modica’s chocolate is defined by the cold, often hand-processing of cacao, which eases the cocoa butter out of the beans, just enough to make a firm paste. The cool temperature keeps the texture of the chocolate paste rough, enhanced by the added sugar crystals that remain intact. With no added cocoa butter, vegetable fats or emulsifiers, Modica’s chocolate retains all of the cacao’s intense flavor and aroma, a one-two punch to the senses.
So if you are lucky enough to find Cioccolato di Modica, what do you get? The first thing you notice is the packaging: hand-wrapped in a layer of parchment paper and then in a layer of kraft. Tied with a waxed ribbon, very old school. And the bar itself: solid as a marble slab, and yet fragile as an ancient painting, freckled with a layer of reddish blooms. The chocolate itself is bitter, with gritty crunches of sugar for punctuation; this had none of the creaminess we expect from chocolate in this country—it is brittle, it is delicate, it is ethereal. No added milk or extra cocoa butters and, of course, no preservatives or additives.
It is the essence of purity, a chocolate that remains boldly true to its original format, as defiantly traditional as the Sicilians themselves.
It will be in the shop soon, I'll let you know...