In the beginning it was the Mayans and Aztecs.
Cacao has ancient origins: this plant is supposed to have appeared over 6000 years ago in the Amazon and Orinoco area, and started being farmed by the Mayans in 1000 BC.
After the Mayans, Aztecs begun farming cacao, too – and also producing chocolate, which they connected with Xochiquetzal, the Goddess of Fertility. Among these populations, cocoa was normally consumed by elite groups, on the occasion of important ceremonies of high mystical and religious value.
Europeans discover cocoa.
The first contact of the European civilization with cocoa occurred in 1502: during his fourth travel to America, Columbus landed in Honduras, where he had the chance to taste a cocoa-based drink. But it was with Hernàn Cortez, in 1519, that cocoa was introduced in Europe, where it started being consumed with vanilla and sugar, in order to sweeten up its natural sour taste.
A luxury for nobles.
Cocoa was imported in Italy between 1500 and 1600. The first cities to host its production were Florence, Venice and Turin. During the seventeenth century, cocoa became a widespread luxury between European nobles, and the Dutch took the place of the Spanish in both its control and commercial supremacy on a worldwide level.
The myth of chocolates
There are different opinions on the birth of chocolates. The most fascinating one affirms that they are the consequence of an accident occurred in a certain Duke's kitchen, when a casserole of caramel accidentally fell on some almonds, igniting the local chef's imagination - so much so that he created this sweet, bit-sized and cocoa-coated delicacy.
Turin and the gianduiotto
Reportedly, Turin seems to have been the birthplace of the first chocolates, at the end of the eighteenth century - and Piedmont also produced the invention of the gianduiotti. This delicious paste of chocolate and powdered hazelnuts was the result of the commercial block created by Napoleon to weaken the English enemy: cocoa, whose cost was particularly high, was then diluted with hazelnuts.
The great inventions of the nineteenth century
The nineteenth century saw the affirmation of both solid chocolate and some revolutionary inventions in cocoa processing. In 1802, an Italian from Genoa, Bozelli, studied the first hydraulic machine to refine cocoa paste and mix it with sugar and vanilla. The first commercial chocolate bar was produced in England, in 1820, while in 1828 a Dutchman, van Houten, developed a special press to squeeze ground coffee grains, which separated cocoa butter from powder.
Milk chocolate was launched on the market in 1875, while 1879 brought the introduction of conching - allowing to keep melted chocolate mixed for a long time, thus producing an homogeneous mixture.
From the chocolate-making maestros to today
The real industrialization of the production process started at the beginning of the twentieth century, while the cocoa plantations' geography widened to Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, East Africa and Malaysia. At the same time, the wits of the chocolate-making maestros kept on producing new creations, like the chocolate bar, created in 1923. Moreover, the twentieth century witnessed not only the consolidation of the great chocolate industry in Italy, but also - thanks to the creativity and initiative of some enlightened entrepreneurs - its conquest of the world, through ever-innovative and delicious ideas.