The truth is I love sweets and will always choose a piece of chocolate over something salty. The fact that I was born and raised in a small town in Sicily has only enabled my sweet tooth. The Sicilian tradition is full of rich and delightful sweets, from famous Cannolo to typical Cassata and less well-known almond cookies. Included in this range of treats is Cioccolato di Modica, a chocolate that comes from a town close to my own.
Modica chocolate might be an official Italian food, but it has a truly international heritage. chocolate that comes from Modica. When the Spanish arrived in the Americas they learned of chocolate from the Aztecs. Using a special stone rolling pin, the Aztecs would grind cocoa pods and mix them with spices to create Xocoàtl, a chocolate that was considered a sign of wealth and said to confer strength. When the Spanish ruled Sicily they introduced this method of making chocolate to the island.
Today Modica is the one place that still makes chocolate according to this ancient tradition. Several pastry shops in Modica use the Aztec method, also called “cold working,” to produce chocolate. The process starts by heating a mass of cocoa that still contains its cocoa butter. When the cocoa reaches a certain temperature it is mixed with castor sugar and spices.
The first thing you will notice when you take a bite of Modica chocolate are the tiny sugar crystals that crunch beneath your teeth. This unique texture comes from keeping the chocolate mixture at a low enough temperature to prevent the sugar crystals from melting.
While Modica chocolate might be produced using a simple technique and basic ingredients, it has a complex flavor. Unlike the chocolate you find in the supermarket, there is no butter or oil added to Modica chocolate. The only additional ingredients are spices. Indeed, Modica chocolate comes in more than 20 flavors from cinnamon and vanilla to chili pepper and Sicilian carob.
Although I have a fondness for most sweets, Modica chocolate is a treat that is loved by even the most famous Sicilians. The great writer Leonardo Sciascia once said that the flavor of Modica chocolate is “so unique that whoever tastes it seems to have arrived at the archetype, the absolute, and the chocolate produced elsewhere – even the most famous – seems to be an adulterated or corrupted version…” Reading his words makes my mouth water as I think of the rich taste and crunchy texture that comes from the mix of Aztec, Spanish and Sicilian traditions.