Smell it, lick it, drink it, spread it, crunch it, live it!

Today is the 12th February and it feels like Christmas.  The snow is falling for the first time in Florence, the glowing stores are rejuvenating shoppers by inhaling them off the streets, warming their toes and cheeks, showering them with glittering sales bags, and delivering them back into the crisp air.  More importantly however, the annual chocolate fair is on…Hallelujah indeed!  Piazza Repubblica is literally oozing with cocoa in every form and I smile inside. If it weren’t for the brave South American street artists blowing out the theme tune to ‘Titanic’ on their pipes, the scene would have been pretty close to perfection!  On one of the coldest days of the year so far, a hub of Italy’s master chocolatiers, in fur hats the size of enormous cakes, proudly display their goods and offer samples of chocolate salami, lavender truffles and spreadable white chocolate – all hand-made.  The quality of the exhibitors is excellent, and the selection process this year has been even more rigorous (the number of stands is half of last year), offering visitors the finest of the trade, focussing on the traditional hand-made art of chocolate making, combined with a true passion and knowledge of the product.

Wandering between the awnings of the temporary chocolate village, the displays are as innovative as ever: fruit chocolate kebabs, decorated chocolate stilettos and cocoa dusted chocolate tool kits lie alongside chocolate iPhones, mountains of truffles, chocolate lollipops, dipped bitter orange peel, cups of piping hot chocolate and towers of multicoloured gianduia.

If this wasn’t enough to melt away the cold, the festival, in partnership with nearby cafes, restaurants and bookshops, is offering the chance to learn about the origins of chocolate with tours and tastings.  The Giubbe Rosse, for example, is offering a reproduction of a 19th century aperitivo ‘Giostra d’Alcool’ with a base of wine and chocolate, while newcomer to the square Ristorante Pesce Rosso has designed a menu offering traditional Cacciucco and a special chocolate soufflé.  Other events include chef Maurizio Di Mario presenting his new book of cake recipes at Edison bookshop and the return of the carnival characters in the piazza to entertain the children.

The good news is that the festival is on for 10 whole days from 10th – 19th February.  The even better news is that while perusing the official website on the ‘curious facts’ page ( Italian only), I have found what I feel I have been searching for since I could buy my own food; proof that a dose of daily chocolate is good for you: ‘Cocoa powder and dark chocolate can help reduce cholesterol levels by 10%.  This is due to the chocolate being rich in Polyphenol, which acts as a good antioxidant.  100 grammes of dark chocolate per day can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack by a fifth.’

As I proceed to stock up for simply a month long medicinal supply, I remember that I must leave enough in my wallet for my other necessary antioxidants, my friends Mr Coffee and Mrs Chianti.  I love this country!



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