Tag Archives: galileo

Mangia! Mangia! – Cioccolata Calda, the Best Florence has to Offer

Before the New Year’s diet resolution kicks in there was time for one last venture into the world of great hot chocolate in Florence. This time it was a paper cup of Grom’s Fondente with a moustache of whipped cream and a tall white ceramic cup of Catinari’s Fondente with only a silver spoon.

Deep dark chocolate from the best cocoa beans the world has to offer
Deep dark chocolate from the best cocoa beans the world has to offer

Of all the cioccolata calda in Florence, Catinari is the best in quality, quantity, presentation and experience. Vestri comes in second in taste, but the plastic cup is a flaw. Grom serves three interesting versions of high quality, but the paper cup and no place to sit are drawbacks. Rivoire has the old world ambience, but has let the quality slip and, though unlikely, it seems like the cups have gotten smaller.

Mangia! Mangia! has already discussed the hot chocolate of Vestri and Rivoire. The first week of a new year is perfect for measuring Grom against Catinari.

Roberto Cantinari – Father of Tuscan Chocolate

A life devoted to chocolate – Roberto Catinari, now in his mid 70s, is credited with inspiring Tuscany’s young chocolatiers, who gave birth to the “Chocolate Valley” that runs from Florence through Prato and Pistoia and on to Lucca and Pisa.

It is said that his love of chocolate began in Switzerland where the young Pistoian immigrant began work at seventeen as a dishwasher in a pastry shop. It was over ten years before he worked his way into the white coat of a pastry chef. He spent ten more years perfecting his craft.

Roberto Catinari has the perfect face of a master chocolate maker
Roberto Catinari has the perfect face of a master chocolate maker

In 1974, he returned to the mountains north of Pistoia and his mother’s house in the hamlet of Bardalone, to start a business with his wife. Six years later they moved to a more advantageous location in Agliana (between Pistoia and Prato) where the kitchen and shop continued until 2007 when he obtained a larger space nearby.

Catinari, with his flowing white beard, could be a chocolate wizard from a Harry Potter novel, but he looks at his work as a craft to be mastered. Over the past thirty years he has created a business where at first no one would pay for quality ingredients until today when chocolate-makers beg for a chance to spend time learning in his relatively small chocolate laboratory. He demands attention to detail, the best ingredients, and a passion for chocolate from all who work with him. Catinari keeps the facility small by choice – a way of valuing quality over quantity. His focus is on the value that hand-made attention to detail and the best raw ingredients bring to the final product.

The beautiful entrance to Catinari's Arte del Cioccolato
The beautiful entrance to Arte del Cioccolato

Except for the shop in Agliana, there is only one other Cantinari Arte del Cioccolato shop and that is in Florence, down a specially decorated little alley at the bottom of Via Porta Rossa where it meets Via Tornabuoni. It’s easy to miss. Here the attention to the main ingredient is readily apparent and drinking cioccolata calda is a special experience.

First, there is the walk down the short paved alley with decorative trees and huge flickering candles. The tiny shop is paneled in dark wood with glass cases full of meticulously decorated chocolate candies. Two comfortable seats are inside and outside, heaters keep the small tables warm even in winter. Arte del Cioccolato serves either Fondente (dark chocolate) or Al Latte (milk chocolate) flavors, both made with chocolate from São Tomé, the small island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Africa. A large ceramic cup is filled just over half way with thick hot hot chocolate, placed on a saucer with a spoon. The spoon is useful for cooling the first sips and capturing the last bit coating the sides of the cup. None should be missed.

Grom – The Boys from Piedmonte Aim to Bring Gelato to the World

Grom, the upstart youngster, opened its doors in May 2003 in the center of Torino, and the success was immediate, unlike Alberto Cantinari’s experience driving around Tuscany for years, slowly building a fan base. At Grom, long lines formed in front of the store from the very first day and the two founding partners, Guido Martinetti and Federico Grom, planned for world-domination with their artisanal gelato.

Grom offers three flavors of hot chocolate
Grom has three great flavors

In January 2005, they decided to expand with the opening of new stores and invest in a centralized laboratory suitable to meet the production demand of the future. The goal was always the same: offering the very best. The centralization of the first phase of production (the mixing of raw materials) became a key decision allowing for a strict quality control standard. But most important, like Catinari, they wanted to assure the quality of the ingredients, for instance, by allowing only certain types of fruit available at local consortia, rather than at the wholesale fruit markets found in each city. The liquid mixtures produced in the laboratory, are checked by a team of experts and then distributed three times a week to each store, where they are blended daily to create incredible gelato. The same system is used for Grom’s cioccolata calda. This attention to quality and the right raw material is at the origin of what makes Grom famous throughout Italy and already many parts of the world (New York City, Paris, Osaka, Tokyo, and Malibu, so far).

Grom’s centralized laboratory also produces the excellent liquid chocolate served at each store as hot chocolate. Grom offers a choice of three flavors:  Bacio, Al Latte and Fondente.  All include fresh milk, dark chocolate of the best “crus” around the world (Al Latte uses Teyuna cocoa of Colombia, Bacio incorporates Tonda Gentile Trilobate hazelnuts and the Fondente starts with Ocumare chocolate from Venezuela), and a few drops of cream. There are no thickeners and the liquid chocolate is heated on the spot in each gelateria so as not to weakening the complex flavors of the great chocolates.

It’s true that it may not be fair to measure Grom, a gelateria, against three chocolate makers when weighing the merits of cioccolata calda in Florence. It didn’t come in first ,but it certainly was a credible competitor. Next winter, perhaps the hot chocolate at Café Giacosa and Café Florian will be on the list of challengers. But now, the New Year’s diet commences…

Grom – www.grom.it (in Florence) Via del Campanile at Via delle Oche – Ph. +39 055.216158. Open from 10:30am to 11:00pm

Roberto Catinari, www.robertocatinari.it,www.artedelcioccolato.it Arte del Cioccolato, Via Provinciale, 378; Agliana; +39-0574-718-506; (in Florence) Chiasso de Soldanieri, near the corner of Via Porta Rossa and Via Tornabuoni); +39-o55-217-136.
Open from 10:00am to 8:00pm

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – A Galileo Day

Last month I took the MuseoBus through Galileo Land.  First stop – the Galileo Museum.

Last year, Florence’s History of Science Museum finally reopened with a new name – Museo Galileo. The exhibits that were once a bit musty and dusty are now beautifully presented – well lit, dramatic, modern and packed full with beautifully made instruments for observing and demonstrating the world around us. It’s all polished brass, finely turned wood and carefully blown glass. Take a virtual tour here.

Galileo Bust at Museo Galileo in Florence

We were there to appreciate the science of Galileo and so concentrated on his telescopes with which he found the moons of Jupiter and the globes and maps of the ever-changing views of the world. (Later, we came back to see the historical medical science instruments, 18th century chemistry equipment, and more, located on the Galileo Museum’s top floor.)

Ptolemaic armillary took 5 years to build
Ptolemaic armillary took 5 years to build

One of the most impressive exhibits, a huge armillary sphere (1593), ordered for Grand Duke Ferdinando I, is a great example of art and science working together. It stands over 11 feet tall, made of gold and cypress wood, showing the Ptolemaic orbits of all of the planets and the sun around the earth – everything Galileo argued against – and it still rotates, having been restored for the opening of the new museum. See the video here. http://catalogue.museogalileo.it/room/RoomsIIIV.html

Right middle finger of Galileo
Right middle finger of Galileo

And then there is the finger – the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand, sits in a glass case held perpetually upright. It’s not pointing anywhere in particular, but it’s hard not to smile at the potential for symbolism given history has proved Galileo right in spite of his being forced to recant. It was alone until 2009 when it was joined by another finger, a thumb and a molar. (The stories of their very existence, as well as their subsequent rediscovery, are too long to recount here so go read the amusing version from the New York Times.)

Our next stop on the MuseoBus was Villa il Gioiello (“The Jewel”) Galileo’s last home in Arcetri, a little town just a mile south of Florence, up in the hills. (A popular restaurant with tourists, Omero, a 15 euro cab ride from central Florence, is right across the street from Villa il Gioiello, but most diners don’t realize that they are walking in the footsteps of Galileo.)

All aboard the MuseoBus
All aboard the MuseoBus

Sentenced to house arrest by the Inquisition in Rome for defending the revolutionary sun-centered Copernican universe against the traditional earth-centered Ptolemaic world-view, Galileo returned to his Arcetri house in 1633, and stayed there until he died in 1642. 
It is also known now as Villa Galileo (not to be confused with the other homes of Galileo found in Florence, which are in Costa San Giorgio, as well as a villa in Bellosguardo).

Villa il Gioielli is now known as Villa Galileo
Villa il Gioiello is now known as Villa Galileo

The name Gioiello was given due to its favorable position in the hills of Arcetri, near the Torre del Gallo. It was an elegant home, surrounded by many acres of farmland with a separate house for workers. It is recorded in the cadastre of 1427 to have been owned by Tommaso di Cristofano Masi and his brothers, who later passed it on to the Calderini family in 1525, where it is first mentioned as “The Jewel”. The villa and its estate suffered damages during the siege of Florence in the years 1529 and 1530, whilst the entire area of Arcetri and Pian dei Giullari were occupied by Spanish Imperial troops. Calderini sold it shortly thereafter to the Cavalcanti family, who rebuilt the home with its original simple lines, preserving its elegant look to the present day.

Last home of Galileo in Arcetri
Last home of Galileo in Arcetri

This residence, rented by Galileo, was near the monastery where his daughter, Sister Maria Celeste (born Virginia) was a nun. There are 124 remaining letters from Celeste to Galileo (the replies of the scientist were probably destroyed), which were found after his death and are now at the State Archive of Florence. A popular book, Galileo’s Daughter, recounts that correspondence. Sister Maria Celeste died in 1634.

Despite becoming blind in 1638, Galileo continued to write some of his most significant works – Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences (Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche, intorno a due nuove scienze) – in which he presented his theories on the strength and resistance of materials and on motion.

View from Galileo's home is virtually unchanged
View from Galileo’s home is virtually unchanged

Shortly after Galileo moved to Arcetri, he received visits from Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici as well as the painter, who painted his portrait. Other guests were the Ambassador of the Netherlands (Galileo had printed many of his books in Leiden) and the English poet John Milton, who was so impressed that references to Galileo’s telescope made an appearance in Paradise Lost.

Portrait of Galileo by Giusto Sustermans
Portrait of Galileo by Giusto Sustermans

The MuseoBus tours are a fantastic way to get to less central museums and other historic locations. Each itinerary starts at a museum in the historic center and then goes out to a destination too far to walk to. The tours themselves are in Italian, directed by very knowledgeable guides, but even if you don’t understand everything said, the bus service makes it all worthwhile.