Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sweet Nothings

By Patricia Winton

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing the blog, but I’m back now and will be posting again every Wednesday. I’ve missed you. Thanks to those who contacted me to let me know you missed me, too.

The driver stretched out in the cab of his truck. He’d been hauling this load for several hours, starting in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. He’d just winded his way through Rome’s traffic nightmare and wanted to catch 40 winks before heading south. He was certainly asleep when disaster struck. Was he dreaming of a wife he might have left in the north? Or of a mistress he might see in the south? Or perhaps just of the sweet cargo resting in the trailer behind him.
Whatever his dream, three men waked him and unceremoniously pulled him from the truck, breaking his nose in the scuffle. They left him lying on the pavement and drove his rig back onto the highway. An alert witness called the state police who arrived in short order. After a high speed chase—and that truck was no match for those police cars—the police pulled over the truck, filled with jars of Nutella worth about 200 thousand euros (270,200 USD). The thieves went to jail and the driver, who was suffering from shock in addition to the broken nose, went to the hospital.

This robbery, mirrored by one last spring in Germany netting 5 1/2 tons of the stuff, underscores Nutella’s popularity. Glass jars filled with a gooey chocolate spread seems like a delicate target for thieves, but as the Italian press gleefully noted, they obviously had a sweet tooth.

This year, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of this fine Italian treat. The idea of combining hazelnuts with chocolate originated in Turin in 1852 with the chocolate confectioner Cafferel. The confection, called granduja after a carnival character popular in the Piedmont region, remains popular today.

Confectioner Piero Ferrero adopted this combination in the 1940s when chocolate was in short supply. By 1946, he had perfected the chocolate-hazelnut cream, originally known as Granduja Paste. He later changed the name to “Nutella” by combining the English word “nut” with a common Italian suffix “ella” meaning “little.”

By the time I first arrived in Italy 23 years later, Nutella was readily available in shops. I loved to eat it back then spread on a thick slice of Tuscan (unsalted) bread. I never ate it any other way in those days. When I returned to the US in 1971, I went into Nutella withdrawal because my lovely spread hadn’t yet traveled across the Atlantic. I had to wait another 12 years before being able to indulge when Ferrero began exporting it to America in 1983.

It’s popularity in Italy continues to soar. Now you can find all kinds of desserts filled or spread with Nutella—from crepes to pizza—but it remains a fixture at the breakfast table. I had to laugh a couple of years ago when a California court ruled against Ferrero for advertising Nutella as a breakfast food. Not a healthy breakfast food, mind you, just a breakfast food. I’d argue that neither Cocoa Puffs nor Pop Tarts make a better breakfast. But I digress.

Today is unofficial World Nutella Day, a celebration created by product fan Sara Rosso, who blogs about food and Italy. Nutella’s lawyers contacted her last May to “cease and desist” using the product name and logo on her site. But they’ve worked it out. Ferrero is pleased to have such loyal fans, and Ms. Rosso is no longer using the Nutella logo on her site.

I hope you’ll spread a bit of Nutella on your toast today.

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Lee Perkins said...

I got so hungry reading it, I got a third cup of coffee.
No Nutella; am on a diet, but one can dream.

Grace Topping said...

Hi, Pat -- Great blog. I'm a real Nutella fan, although I do wonder about the palm oil. My favorite way of eating it is to stir a spoonful into Greek yoghurt and sprinkle with hazlenuts. It's better than chocolate ice cream, and I don't feel as guilty eating it.

Fellow Guppy

Diane Vallere said...

Great to see you're back! I think have a jar of Nutella in my cabinet somewhere. It doesn't go bad, right? Maybe I'll find out today.

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