Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Ultimate Chocolate Fix

Italian hot chocolate looks and feels more like melted chocolate.

Most visitors invade Italy during the summer, and for good reason. Italian winters are wet, dreary, cold and foggy and bear little or no resemblance to what you'd see in a tourist board brochure. But if you want to truly enjoy Italy, you owe it to yourself to visit at least once in the winter. You’ll discover the most amazing people in the world hard at work fending off depression with every conceivable mood-altering pleasure.

One of these pleasures is hot sipping chocolate. When you ask for Cioccolata Calda (hot chocolate) in Italy, don’t expect Swiss Miss; nothing resembling this lacto-purplish-brownish chemical concoction would ever pass there. Italian hot chocolate is strong, dark and complex—much like a fine espresso that concentrates all the essence of the coffee in a short drink. Italian hot chocolate contains only cocoa, sugar and milk; its thickness is achieved by the quantity of cocoa. (Some purveyors add starch to fake thickness but we’ll ignore their existence in this blog). In this kind of hot chocolate you really taste the cocoa so only the highest quality of chocolate will work—there is no way to mask any defects. Which is why the real stuff is so rare in the States; it's more difficult to get it just right and it costs quite a bit more.

There are very few simple pleasures in life that are still legal, yet are full of stimulants and psychoactive, anti-depressive ingredients. A cup of thick, dense hot chocolate on a cold day is the ultimate heart-warming vice that will not get you into any trouble. With less than 5% fat and a third of the carbs contained in a soda, this aromatic drink can be consumed without guilt.

We make Pitango's hot chocolate on our farm, where we can pasteurize our own grass-fed organic milk with fine organic cocoa one batch at a time, much in the same way we make our gelato. We serve it at the stores from special dispensers that keep it at the right temperature in a “bain marie" so it doesn't get overheated.

Pitango's hot chocolate with whipped cream

When you order your hot chocolate, first try it straight up in a porcelain cup. There are a number of different preparations but nothing beats the classic. Also very popular is a Choco-Latte, which blends the chocolate with steamed milk. For those who need the ultimate zing, a Marocchino may be the ticket; it combines hot chocolate and a double shot of espresso. Whipped cream is always a option, as is a dollop of gelato to create an Affogato.

Marocchino with whipped cream