Two Tuscan chocolatiers.
Tuscans like their flavors full bodied. Here olive oil is preferred nuovo - fresh from the local mill, peppery, and raw. The everyday wine, Sangiovese, is a red that's austere, earthy, and bold compared to a French Cabernet. And when it comes time for chocolate, Tuscans also crave it elemental, ultratannic, with a taste that fills your mouth and has a long finish.
One example of the Tuscan school of chocolatiers, Roberto Catinari, can be found handcrafting chocolates outside the village of Agliana, between the towns of Prato and Pistoia, adjacent to coffee roaster Andrea Trinci. Although Catinari casts some novelties (like hammers, wrenches, scissors, keys, and horseshoes), he specializes in surrounding liquor (such as grappa) or wine with bittersweet chocolate. He uses a complicated process that involves pure alcohol, sugar syrup, precise temperatures, the steadiest of hands, and a chocolate shower, not the kind of thing to be done at home. Popping the whole product and biting through the sharp chocolate, you crunch into the high-octane center and get a true mouthful. Sample one while going next door for coffee.
Coffee and chocolate are great companions. Another Tuscan coffee dealer, Luciano Slitti, opened a shop on a provincial highway outside the village of Monsummano Terme, with son Daniele taking care of the roasting. They were soon joined by second son Andrea, who has a passion for chocolate. His extra bitter bars are the ultimate chocolate-without-distractions experience. He also creates chocolates filled with classic and innovative creams and topped with pale yellow decals and makes bittersweet chocolate demitasse spoons that are an ideal companion to Daniele's espresso (there's a coffee bar on the spot). Beautifully boxed, the spoons would prove a wonderful gift.
Chocoholics (and coffee aficionados) can visit both Catinari and Slitti on the same day.
Roberto Catinari, via Provinciale 378, Agliana, tel. 39-0574-718-506.
Slitti, via Francesca Sud 246, Monsummano Terme, tel. 39-0572-640-240.
-February 19, 1998