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Food and Drink

Move over gold medals, we're going for the Nutella

It wasn’t the fabulous architecture, or the pastoral mountain setting. It wasn’t the fact that it’s home to the mysterious Shroud of Turin, and the 2006 Winter Olympics. No, I made up my mind to visit Turin, or Torino when I heard it was home to Nutella.

Nutella, if you’ve never broken down and done it, is fabulous.

Think chocolatey peanut butter, except the peanuts are roasted hazelnuts, so you get that decadent, creamy, chocolatey/hazelnut taste we’ve all come to love – okay, I should only speak for myself – at least me and my mom and a few million others have come to love in Ferrero Rocher and a host of other chocolates.

But instead of delicate little foil-wrapped chocolates that people can count at a glance as missing from the tray, think spoonfuls: big delicious creamy, indulgent spoonfuls of Nutella straight from the jar.

Besides being absolutely perfect for getting you through a dark and snowy night in Whistler, or Torino for that matter, said spoonfuls are virtually impossible to inventory as missing. At least not until you jump on the scales next week or the bottom of the jar shows, at which point your roommate will shout an accusingly loud "hey" if she’s next into the jar.

The first time I spied Nutella was in the kitchen of a cozy little farmhouse I’d rented in southern France, not so very far from the Italian border. It was sitting on the shelf along with a host of other sticky condiment orphans various travelers had left behind, and to tell you the truth, it looked a bit disturbing. The unmistakable brown of chocolate had first caught my eye, but on closer examination, the oils had separated in the late summer heat.

When I read the label I thought, yuck. The first ingredient is sugar, followed by peanut oil. Overall, it can put you in range of half your daily fat caloric intake if you fool around with it for a while.

The other thing that really put me off was the label illustration. Someone should pick up the phone to the Nutella folks and tell them to fire their art director, for the little rendering that depicts the product in use shows a hyper-glossy unappetizing brown smear on a slice of white bread that makes you want to run for the nearest apple or carrot stick.

But oh, Dr. Weil, where were you when I needed you to save me from a life of Nutella sin?

Instead of putting the jar back on the shelf like any good Canadian girl should, I opened it and stuck my finger in. I have been rightfully shunned from the gardens of paradisal nutrition and free-flowing arteries ever since.

Damn, that stuff was good. And who needed to pretend by diluting it with a slice of bread?

After cleaning up the jar in the house, I found another on my next trip into town. When I got home to Canada, I discovered a local deli that carried it. Bonus: the small size, which I only ever allowed myself, came in cute little jars that were drinking glasses once you washed them out. Well, you had to get a matching set, didn’t you?

Fast forward to today, and it’s probably lucky for the both of us that we have now banned the likes of Nutella from our home, otherwise we’d weigh 300 pounds. Each. But I confess that a wave of longing rolled over me when I heard every Olympic broadcaster and her dog talking about Nutella this and Nutella that from the streets of Torino this week.

Here I’d always thought that Nutella was from France – not such a stretch since twice in her history Torino was controlled by the French, most recently during the Napoleonic wars. And to think that there, in the Italian Alps one could not only have one’s croissant or breadstick festooned with a double dip, but one’s cappuccino or café adorned with Nutella, too. Now that is heady stuff.

It’s no surprise that Torino and the Piedmont region are overflowing with that knockout choco/hazelnut combo. First off, Torino is home to what we all – and I really do mean more than my mom and I – think of as hand-held chocolate-bar style solid chocolate. This is a local 18th century invention.

Then the locals started mixing roasted hazelnut bits into chocolate during Napoleon ’s reign when it got a little tricky to import cocoa from South America . Since "raw" cocoa was so expensive, and the hazelnuts were locally grown and easy to come by in Piedmont, it was an easy way to make the final product more affordable. Kind of like adding Hamburger Helper to hamburger.

Later, in 1865, one Michele Prochet came up with the idea of grinding the hazelnuts to a paste before adding them to the cocoa and sugar mix. This was the basis for the little boat-shaped foil-wrapped Gianduiotti chocolates the region is known for.

This same concept is the basis of Nutella. Ironically, for all its decadent taste and mouth-feel, Nutella evolved as an answer to the hard times and cocoa rationing brought on by World War II. In the 1940s, during the height of the war, a pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero (yes, of Ferrero Rocher fame) used hazelnuts and other "fillers" to extend the cocoa supply.

He came up with an inexpensive "loaf" of chocolatey/hazelnut treat about one-sixth the price of chocolate. The idea was that mothers could slice the product and make tasty sandwiches. But, like me, kids quickly tossed the bread and went straight for the treat.

The next step was a spread, one often sold by the spoonful. Kids would run to the local grocer with their own bread and have him slather the gooey joy onto their slices.

If you’re from the east coast, you’re probably more familiar with Nutella than us West Coasters. The product was first imported into North America via the US eastern seaboard in 1983. It became so popular the Ferrero company eventually opened a Nutella factory in New Jersey.

Today you can find Nutella in more than 75 countries around the world – just not in our house. It outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide, and why not? Have you ever tried adding a dollop of peanut butter to your cappuccino? Hmmm….

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who has learned to stop the Nutella addiction at the door.