Category Archives: Chocolate

Strega, the Italian Liqueur Named After Witches

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Benevento is the name of a city and province in the region of Campania in Southern Italy. The city predates the Roman Empire, having been a city called either Malies or Maloenton belonging to the Samnite tribe of ancient Italic peoples. The Roman name for it was Maleventum. “Male” means “bad” in Latin/Italian. (Think of the malocchio, or evil eye.) When the Romans conquered it in 268 B.C., they changed the name of the town to something that would represent their future success there, as was their custom with places that they conquered. So Beneventum, “bene” meaning “good,” was born. The idea of witches being in this area goes back to pre-Roman times. And although the town got a new positive name, the legend of the witches remained and grew stronger through the years.  According to Raven Grimassi, an expert in the field of Italian witchcraft, witches from all of Italy would congregate under one particular walnut tree in Benevento for their festivals. In 662 A.D., Saint Barbato, bishop of Benevento, wanted to convert the local pagans, so he cut down their sacred walnut tree, among other things. But the witches planted one of its seeds, and the tree which grew is standing in Benevento today. Women who were put on trial for witchcraft confessed to worshipping Diana or gathering for festivals under this tree. (According to Grimassi, the walnut was sacred to some Roman gods, including Diana.) The likeliest story is that pagan rituals from the time of the Samnites continued to be carried on here even after the Romans and Christianity dominated.

But this legend of the witches of Benevento gathering around the walnut tree is the inspiration for the logo of the famous Benevento liqueur, Strega. “Strega” means “witch” in Italian. Strega liqueur is a blend of 70 herbs and spices. It gets its yellow color from saffron. Father and son Carmine Vincenzo Alberti and Giuseppe Alberti created it in 1860. In the early 1900s, it became famous for its advertising posters.

Today, one can drink Strega or use it in baking like in the Pane Degli Angeli cake I blogged about before.

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If you are in Benevento, you can visit the museum and store. At the store, you can buy Strega liqueur or chocolates, torrone and cakes made with it as well as other liqueurs like limoncello and Sambuca. You’ll find it refreshing after your search for the infamous walnut tree.

–Dina Di Maio

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Halloween Chocolates

I saw these delightful Halloween-themed chocolates in the window at Li-Lac Chocolates on Bleecker Street. Choose from pumpkins, witches, skulls or ghosts. I love the ghosts, and they are also available in milk and dark chocolate.

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Stick With Me Chocolate Bon Bons

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Someone loves me very much and bought me Stick With Me chocolate bon bons for Valentine’s Day!  Stick With Me is a Nolita chocolate shop owned by Susanna Yoon, whose resume includes head chocolatier at Per Se as well as pastry cook at Cafe Boulud.  Her specialty is hand-shelled chocolate.  After sampling this box of beauties, I can say that I have a new favorite chocolate in New York!

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It is so hard to find that perfect balance in chocolate–taste and beauty.  Some very delicious chocolates are often nothing more than boring brown.  On the other hand, some fancy chocolates with colorful designs and intricate shapes can be quite average in taste.

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Stick With Me creates that perfect balance of aesthetics and flavor.  It was truly a delight to savor each shiny orb.  My favorite was the wild strawberry, a sublime blend of creme fraiche, wild strawberry and white chocolate ganache.  A close second was yuzu, with such a lovely burst of fresh citrus.  Lest you think I only like white chocolate, the dark chocolate raspberry rose came in third.  I liked the pronounced rose flavor with a hint of raspberry.  There is no doubt that these wonderful flavors are the work of an expert hand.  Sea salt caramels run the risk of being too salty or not salty enough.  Yoon’s have just the right amount of salt, and the liquid salted caramel is a refreshing and fun variation of salted caramel.  The speculoos s’more has a homemade marshmallow atop crushed speculoos cookies. The kalamansi meringue pie is an adorable chocolate.  As you can see from the cross section, it has graham cracker pie crust on the bottom topped with a layer of custard pie filling and a dollop of meringue.  If that is not the cutest chocolate ever….

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If you cannot tell from my enthusiasm, my box of 24 bon bons was gone gone quite quickly.

Martha Washingtons or Bonbons

I made these Martha Washingtons or bonbons from Our State magazine. With pecans, cherries and coconut, these no-bake treats are very popular for the holidays.

Martha Washingtons

Day 9: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

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Day 9, Raleigh, North Carolina: Videri peppermint chocolate

Peppermint bark is one of my favorite holiday treats. But I don’t buy it these days because of what’s in it. Well, Videri has made it possible for me to enjoy peppermint bark without worry. The only ingredients are organic ones–including the crushed candy canes! The bar has a deep chocolatey taste with a nice minty crunch. A great stocking stuffer too.

Valentine’s Day From French Broad Chocolates

I also got chocolates from French Broad Chocolates in Asheville, North Carolina.

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I got a custom assortment of truffles and caramels, including fresh raspberry truffle, cashew honey caramel, dark chocolate salted honey caramel, Indian kulfi truffle, lavender honey truffle, maple and smoked salt truffle, sorghum caramel, bourbon pecan truffle and more.  The bourbon pecan truffle had a bit too much alcohol for my liking.  The others are really good.  You can really taste the fresh raspberry, which I love.  The sorghum is definitely the star.

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Valentine’s Day Chocolates From Compartes Chocolatier

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This Valentine’s Day, I got a chocolate heart from Compartes Chocolatier, an organic chocolate shop from Los Angeles.   Compartes’ chocolatier, Jonathan Grahm, is the youngest chocolatier in the United States and has created chocolates for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

The heart I got is a red-velvet box that I’m going to keep.

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It’s filled with truffles like hazelnut nougat, raspberry rose, caramel, Meyer lemon lavender, crystal salt, pear cheese, blackberry, marzipan and fleur de sel caramel.

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The chocolates have an outer chocolate shell.  Inside is the smooth truffle or gooey caramel.  My favorite flavor was raspberry rose with a subtle hint of each.  I also like blackberry, fleur de sel and crystal salt, but they are all good.