For Valentines Day, and every other day of the year, for that matter, all lovers want a kiss. A kiss is a kiss... but perhaps a chocolate one is even better. But at the beginning, this kiss might have turned out to be a Punch if the Italian chocolate company Perugina had kept its original name of Cazzotti (Punches) for it's choco-bites. In fact, the original Cazzotti bonbon was really a punch--it was the size of a fist! Of course, history was made when they changed the name to Baci--literally, Kisses.
In 1907, pasta maker Francesco Buitoni and his partners were expanding their company and started making Confetti (sugar-coated, multicolored almonds) and other confections. In 1922, Louisa Spagnoli, one of the partner's wife blended chopped hazelnuts with chocolate from some waste products and formed them into cylinders about the size of a small fist--the Cazzatto was born. A smart decision was to make the treat smaller and give them a customer-friendlier, non-violent name. There's nothing friendlier than a kiss--especially in Italy, so Baci were born.
Sometimes simply Baci (Kisses) other times labeled Bacio (Kiss), the chocolate treats are made by Perugina, a chocolate company in the Perugia region of Italy--now owned my Nestle. In the town of San Sisto there is the Baci museum where you can see a history of chocolate, vintage cocoa mills and the BaciOne, a Guiness World Record setting 13,1583 pound single wrapped chocolate!
There are over 1.5 million Baci produced each and every day. Part of the reason is Italians' love of chocolate when combined with hazelnuts (See the History of NUTELLA article here). Unlike fatty, milk chocolate, artery-clogging Hershey Kisses (even their "dark" option tastes, to me, like milk chocolate), one can argue that having dark chocolate Baci a few times a week is actually good for one's heart health. (Check out the Health Benefits of dark chocolate HERE). Antioxidants in dark chocolate help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and then there's the extra good fat and protein in the hazelnuts. So, even though the Hershey's Kiss began in 1907, the younger Baci (1922) improved on the idea.
Back in the 1960s, Perugina tried to produce and another flavor by using green pistachio in the Baci. Much like when New Coke hit the market, the public revolted and the flavor was brought out in back and buried. There also have been others trying to rip off the Baci phenomenon: Bacio Ardente (burning kiss), Carezze (caresses), and Bacio Fascista (Fascist kiss... Wait... what??)
One of the other things that made Baci so popular was the Love Notes or Love Scrolls that started appearing in the 1930s. Everyone knows that ancients prescribed chocolate as an aphrodisiac and lovers throughout history have always exchanged chocolates to enhance their passion. Baci Love Notes wrap the chocolates and promote romance by including quotes from classical authors, philosophers, artists, and proverbs--and in different languages. In Italy, someone pontificating about some obscure fact might be challenged by asking, "Dove hai imparato che da? Un Bacio Perugina?" (Where did you learn that from? A Perugina Bacio?)
In the 1930s, Baci and Perugina (and Buitoni Pasta) had a very interesting marketing campaign... trading cards. People kept them in special trading card albums like supermarket trading/saving stamps of the 1950s and 60s. Collect 150 albums worth of the cards and you would win a Fiat 500--a real one!
For this Valentine's Day, a gift Perugina Baci chocolates might be the perfect way to spark a flame in a new love or kindle the fire in your old love...
Give it a try... But if he or she asks, "Baciami"... forget the chocolates and get your lips into action!
Happy Valentine's Day!
The Museo Storico Nestle Perugina in San Sisto is open Monday through Friday (check for special weekend hours). Tours are by reservation only by telephone (011-39-075-527-6796) and are free. Perugia hosts Eurochocolate, an annual chocolate festival and exposition in October.