Allow me to illustrate a conversation I recited at least 43 times this past summer.
“Jessica, when are you headed back to school?”
“I’m not; I’ll be studying abroad in Italy this fall,” I smile with excitement.
“Oh, how wonderful! What city? Florence?”
98% of the time, I received one of two reactions.
One: “Be careful. Isn’t that where that Amanda Knox gal who killed her roommate studied?”
In which case I acknowledged the fact and assured them that I would return alive.
Or, more likely, option two: Blank stare.
So, I would quickly tack on, “It’s smack dab in the center of Italy, halfway between Rome and Florence. Think Tuscany and wine vineyards.”
Their ignorance is fair enough — Perugia is one of dozens of humble medieval towns carved into Umbrian hillside. It’s the capital of Umbria, but that doesn’t mean much. And though Amanda did unintentionally put Perugia on the map, it is really known for something much richer, much sweeter: its chocolate.
Perugia’s world-famous chocolate festival is coming up in a few weeks, but the Perugina Chocolate Factory, officially owned by Nestle these days, pumps out chocolatey deliciousness by the tons. This morning, a group of us visited this real-life Willy Wonka factory. Lots of different types of chocolate, candy, and biscuits are made here, but Perugia is best known for its Baci.
This is basically the Italian version of a Hershey’s kiss, only ten times better. Praise the Lord, I crossed into chocolate salvation. Just kidding. Kind of. Baci have a thick nutella-like hazelnut milk chocolate base topped by a whole hazelnut and then lathered in dark chocolate. It also means “kiss” in Italian, and each is wrapped with a surprise love quote. Some are better than others.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
“Some women love their husbands so much that to avoid wearing them out they take their friend’s husbands.” (Eek! I don’t want that baci!)
“The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”
“Love me for love’s sake only.” (or that one, thanks.)
“Day by day and night by night we were together all else has long been forgotten by me.”
We saw a replica of the world’s largest singular 13 pound Baci chocolate, created a few years ago at the chocolate festival. After the weigh in, it was chipped away and handed to passerby, and the whole thing was eaten in four hours.
We also toured the factory with a bird’s eye view through cacao-pungent enclosed glass tunnels surrounding the production lines. I might have illegally photographed a little bit of the manufacturing process.
It’s so fascinating! All of the engineering and machines work together impeccably. Chocolate is rolled out, covered, cut, wrapped, sorted, packaged, and sent all over the world. Almost two million baci are made everyday. Dang.
The best part, though was when we entered one room with platters of a variety of chocolates, and the guide explained each one. Dark chocolate, white baci, baci bars, white chocolate, different shapes and packaging. And THEN, she said the magic words: “Help yourself.”
Adults become greedy children with words like that, which is kind of disturbing. But we went at it, and oh what tasty, stomach-ache inducing heaven it was. Let’s just say I got my five euro’s worth, and I’m just beginning to recover. What a yummy, chocolatey day.