October 13, 2009
Gianduja is one of those old classics that everyone seems to love: chocolate mixed with hazelnuts. Almost all the best come from Italy, and with that in mind I decided to try 3 "elite" brands head to head:
Venchi, long the established champion, Guido Gobino, popular among
Italian connoisseurs and an "artisanal" manufacturer, and newcomer Amedei, just getting into gianduja but with, of course, an unassailable track record in "regular" chocolate.
The results were conclusive.
Amedei needs more time to perfect this one. Inexperience shows: the bar was conceptually fine but the balance was off. Aroma is nicely hazelnutty but smelled a bit too much of roast: overdone nuts, I think. There was something vaguely cardboardy here, although hints of butter were appealing. Flavour just never asserted itself. Maybe there was hazelnut in there but it wasn't strong enough to be instantly identifiable, nor was chocolate recognisable either. The taste was just too elusive. Meanwhile the texture was quite good, rather like Amedei's standard, but didn't quite have that creaminess that the best gianduja has.
Gobino is obviously more technically proficient, if conceptually weaker. There is a strong hazelnut aroma, but again with slightly smoky notes: overroasting again. Cocoa and hazelnut both appear in the flavour. However there is a bizarre dead zone at the beginning and it's far too sweet: a problem with balance. Here Amedei was a lot better. Furthermore the texture is problematic, rather coarse and a bit dry, with a poor melt. I get the impression Gobino is aiming for a minimally-processed effect, but until at least the sugar is reduced I think such a stylistic choice will be disappointing: the overall effect is a bit too much like hazelnut fudge. This is fine gianduja, let us not be mistaken, but it could definitely be improved.
The authoritative winner, then, was Venchi. The old masters once again demonstrated their absolute superiority. The aroma, to start,
is MUCH stronger and much more in balance than any of the others, with a fresher hazelnut presence along with some milky hints. No
suggestion of overroasting here. The flavour once again is powerful
and both hazelnutty and milky. The chocolate also is notable, although
it should be said that its coconut cast suggests less than the very best beans. This is perhaps the only flaw, for the texture is likewise
the definitive reference, that soft, creamy melt that is Gianduja at its most characteristic. I think I was surprised at the extent of the quality domination Venchi had, although the overall result is perhaps
to be expected. Still, it shows that in gianduja there is room for the same differences in quality level as in ordinary chocolate.
In the US, Venchi can be had for a fraction of the price of Gobino and, as you say, is quite a bit better. Not surprising, since two of the constituent companies that merged into Venchi in the early 20th century (Talmone and Moriondo & Gariglio) were among the pioneers of gianduia and gianduiotti in Turin in the latter half of the 19th century. The only extant company with a deeper history in gianduia is Caffarel.
This morning the first in a series of articles on gianduia went up on DallasFood.org. Those with interest in the history of chocolate might find it worth following.
October 13, 2009
An update on testing: Domori has also recently entered the field. Another company you'd expect to do well, especially with a Torinese origin.
I did another side-by-side with the Venchi. While it must be said that the results were closer than any of the previous tests, the Venchi continued to emerge as the winner. Domori's had nice fine hazelnut flavour, but was, rather like Gobino, too sweet. There's also IMHO a definite problem when a gianduja without milk (Domori) manages to taste weaker than one with (Venchi). The Venchi also showed a much more adept handling of hazelnut roasting, so that the flavour was livelier. Just as before, the slightly coconutty presence of the Venchi chocolate was its only negative, relative to the Domori which had a fruitier flavour, but again, lacking in intensity in relative terms.
This shouldn't be taken as too harsh a criticism of Domori - its gianduja was clearly excellent, but it again should show that there is excellent, and there is great.
I should also note that all these tests have been relative to the Venchi milk gianduja. They do make a dark gianduja, which I have been priviledged to try only once. Would that this were more widely available! Against the dark version, it must be said, neither Domori nor anyone else would stand any chance at all. Venchi's dark gianduja is just in a separate category.
Along similar lines, I also tried Domori's chocolate hazelnut spread, back after a long absence. Here my opinion was: profoundly disappointing. It just doesn't have the intensity it should especially without milk. This one just tastes too much like Nutella, mostly something sugary. A lot of Italians go wild over the Guido Gobino version here, but I found it to taste too buttery and again, it was much too sweet. Yet again Venchi is in a class all their own with Cuor Di Cacao chocolate hazelnut spread.
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