As holidays go, Italy shines the brightest in the Spring when Easter approaches. Florence goes all out with flowers, but it is the chocolate eggs that are most impressive. Throughout the city shop windows bloom with vibrantly-wrapped chocolate treats from creamy white to mild ganache to darker fondente to extra noir.
Long before the Easter Bunny started delivering sugary eggs, the ancient Romans believed that “omne vivum ex ovo” – all life comes from the egg – and it was commonly a symbol of new birth after the winter when everything has lain dormant.
There is some evidence that in ancient Roman culture eggs were decorated with vegetable dyes, such as beets and carrots, and then given as gifts during the spring festivals.
Easter tradition in Renaissance Italy originally called for eggs colored red. Some say that following the death of Christ, Mary Magdalen traveled to Italy to spread the word of the resurrection. In an audience with a skeptical Emperor Tiberius Caesar, an egg she had brought as a gift miraculously turned red, symbolizing the blood of Christ.
As chocolate became increasingly popular in the early 20th century, the sharing of colored hard-boiled eggs started to fade in Italy and chocolate eggs took their place.
Chocolate eggs became increasingly elaborate. They range from the tiny solid milk chocolate to the massive, showy hollowed out eggs containing small toys and even elaborate gifts, such as iPods and diamond rings. Wrapped in foil, cellophane, and sometimes silk with massive bows and even decorated with dangling toys, these creations are a feast for the eyes before they are just a feast.
The very popular Kinder Eggs are by Ferrero, a family company based in the Piedmont region. ‘Kinder Surprise’ eggs are a treat for children all year long, but at Easter the company’s production ranges from tiny ‘mini-eggs’ to the giant special eggs produced as a limited edition.
After the solemnity of Lent, the extravaganza of chocolate Easter eggs can only lead to a return to the Mediterranean diet before it’s time to set up the ombrellone on the beach in June.