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Report: Perugia Chocolate Fest (LONG)

kate | Oct 25, 2004 07:46 PM

For those who might consider going next year!

The festival was over the last weekend, and I wrote this on Saturday for my diary.

I woke at four fifty-five this morning, to catch the five-thirty bus, to catch a six-oh-eight train to the province of Umbria. The motivation behind this Saturday morning madness was the Eurochocolate Exhibition in Perugia, the capital of Umbria, and a four-hour train ride away.

I wish I could claim to have been the driving force behind this admirable expedition, but alas, the credit lies with my friend Clara who, with me and six of our friends, headed off to check this out, unperturbed by the thought of travelling for eight hours to spend seven hours in Perugia.

I must say I did have moments of doubt, where I questioned the sanity of this adventure, namely in the train on the way in, where, due to the imbalanced ratio of passengers to seats, I, along with about thirty other people, stood in the aisle for an hour and a half of the journey, until the conductor finally agreed to open two totally empty carriages that for reasons unknown to us all, remained locked for half of our trip. However, these doubts were erased by our eventual arrival in Perugia.

It is difficult for me to comment decisively on Perugia as a town, as the presence of thousands of chocolate-seeking visitors no doubt changed its character. If, using my imagination, I removed this human deluge, Perugia is a very pleasant town, situated on a hill, with windy tree-lined roads leading up to it from the valley below. Its architecture is very similar to the many medieval towns I have visited, with pleasant terracotta roofs, pale brick churches and shuttered, pot-planted houses. The view out over the valley below was breath-taking; undulating farmlands speckled with houses, and the occasional cluster of larger buildings signifying the odd village. Our arrival was somewhat bizarre, however; to get up the hill, we had to ride several escalators, including one that went through a medieval castle.

I was immensely impressed by the exhibition. There were several displays and live demonstrations in different buildings, showing how chocolates are made, etc. but due to the crowds we chose to see very few; it was delightfully sunny, and we relished being outdoors. All of Perugia’s piazzas and main zone pedonali (pedestrian areas, where cars aren’t allowed; most medieval cities, including Bologna, have something like this) were full or orderly rows of white-canopied stands. Every brand of chocolate I had ever heard of was represented by a stall, and many others that I hadn’t heard of, too. The big boys of the exhibit were, of course Perugina, Lindt, Côte D’or, and others. Every type of chocolate imaginable was on sale – chocolate slabs, truffles, hot chocolate (meringue, apple and cinnamon, coffee flavours stand out) – it was all there, as well as chocolate-dipped pears and apples on sticks, granadillas with chocolate sauce, different chocolate cakes and éclairs, candy floss dipped in cocoa, pop corn with chocolate sauce, and chocolate pizza. Inedible chocolate paraphernalia included photography (imagine a man shooting up with a giant syringe of chocolate), tee shirts (including a puzzling one of Che Guevara, sketched in melted chocolate), chocolate perfume, and jewellery made of plastic chocolate squares. Of course, there were loads of samples, of which we took full advantage. We spent the day wandering around, admiring the Smartie jumping castle and the nestle climbing wall (modelled on a giant slab of chocolate), and stopping every once in a while to down a cup of hot (melted) chocolate, buy some chocolate finger biscuits (these were much better than the British versions of my childhood), sample spoonfuls of different types of chocolate spread, and generally suspend all rules of health, weight and common sense for the day. It was, needless to say, lovely! Also deserving of special mention were the public toilets; they were so clean that a germ-phobic friend even used them – a first for her.

All in all, it was a good day. I regret not seeing the exhibit of designer shoes made out of chocolate, but otherwise I felt I did justice to the outing.

I was dreading the train ride back, but we actually all got seats, and I caught up on some sleep. I also immensely enjoyed the scenery. Umbria is a beautiful landscape of hills and farmlands and forests. The early morning fog, tucked into the valleys, brought to mind Keats’ Ode to Autumn; season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The fact that it is relatively off the tourist map only increases Umbria’s attractiveness in my eyes, and makes it worthy of further exploration.

The question you will all be asking, of course, is what massive quantity of chocolate did I bring back with me?

I am ashamed to admit; none. I enjoyed all the nibbles on offer, but by lunchtime I was longing for a prosciutto panini, just to eat something that wasn’t sweet. And the samples also illustrated that one high-quality chocolate is often interchangeable with another. If in the mood, I could enjoy a Perugina marron (chestnut) boule as much as a Côte D’or extra-fondente truffle.

I am also lucky that, here in Bologna, I have access to many of the chocolates that were at the exhibition, at equivalent prices, which took away the “God! Need to buy now! Need to buy now!” instinct. So whilst I enjoyed my day to splurge, I realized that chocolate is something best savoured in smaller (I said smaller, not small) doses. Although wise enough not to eat myself sick, I suddenly understood a phrase written by Nigella Lawson; I was ‘bludgeoned into sweet, sticky silence’. The lone purchase of a box of chocolate fingers was finished, en masse, on the train, and the two little chocolate truffles I bought because they were a brand I had not tried were finished approximately thirty seconds ago, a final chocolatey stimulation to finish this diary entry.

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