Italy’s famous confection was nearly named Cazzotti—punches—but, in a vast mood swing, the marketing department at Perugina changed the name to Baci (bacio=kiss; baci=kisses).
That was back in 1922, the year Benito Mussolini rose to power in a Europe riven by tension and the aftermath of the great war. Luisa Spagnoli, the wife of one of the co-founders of Perguina, a chocolate factory in the Umbrian hills just outside of Perugia, invented the bonbon as a way to use up leftover chopped hazelnuts. She formed the chocolate hazelnut mix into a large ball, about the size of a small fist, topped it with a whole hazelnut and baptized it in dark chocolate. She christened the glistening lump un cazzotto (a punch).
Whether inflamed by the tensions coursing through Italy, or the passion coursing through her veins (rumor has it she was in love with her husband’s business partner), she had a change of heart and reduced the size and called them Baci instead—probably a good marketing move. Legend has it that she took to wrapping discreet love notes inside the wrapper of Baci she gave to her illicit lover.
Today these love notes are nearly as defining of Baci as the hazelnut chocolate confection itself. Each Baci comes packaged with a multilingual love note. Some are cryptic: The poor man cultivates friendships that profit him nothing. (Are friends how one gets rich? Or does poor refer to something immaterial?) Some are straightforwardly sappy: My kiss is my love that binds me to you. Others provoke mindfulness: We’ve spoken a lot about love. Now let’s try to listen to it, shall we?
Nearly 100 years later Baci are little changed. The love note used to be only in Italian (a language so melodious even the most cringeworthy sappiness sounded sweet) but now arrive in four languages. Rather than being hand-formed and hand-dipped, the chocolates are now made in a gleaming, highly automated factory employing 800 people year round (sorry, no Oompa Loompas). Conveyor belts whisk the chocolates into a wrapping machine where they emerge all silver-wrapped and ready for lovers to exchange.
Perugina has tried variations on the original, but the public has remained faithful to the classic. In the 1960’s, green pistachio-flavored Baci were marketed as “the taste of tomorrow.” With humans landing on the moon and space travel on the mind of many the time must have seemed ripe, but earthlings found them too alien. The Bacio Fascista (Fascist kiss) also landed on shelves with a short-lived thud. Despite those missteps—and the “kiss” that was almost a “punch”—with nearly 1.5 million Baci produced in the factory daily, the world has clearly fallen in love with the rich combination of hazelnut and chocolate in a dark chocolate shell.
In homage to Baci and our love of that classic flavor, Maria Coassin, owner and gelato master at Gelatiamo, is making a Bacio Gelato this month. We will be selling it through February 21st. There is no love note, but the sweet love of Baci is in every bite. Too sappy for you? Try this: Non c'è messaggio d'amore, ma il dolce amore di Baci è in ogni morso.