1. Photograph: Classiq Journal | 2. Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
On Corso Umberto I, 159, tucked away on a quaint little alley in the heart of the city of Modica, Sicilia, is the place where you will find the best chocolate in the world. The oldest chocolate factory in Sicilia, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, has been producing archetypal chocolate for six generations and for more than 150 years. La Dolceria is still in the same place where its founder, Francesco Bonajuto, opened his small confectionary in 1880. Crafted through an old cold-processing method of cocoa used by the Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico (straight from cacao beans, with no cocoa butter or other additives you’ll typically find in chocolate), the Bonajuto chocolate is made exclusively from cocoa mass and sugar and sometimes a little spice or natural essence, each variety having no more than four ingredients in composition. It is the most singular chocolate taste (not too sweet, but extremely rich), with a unique grainy texture that derives from the fact that the added sugar doesn’t completely melt, because the cocoa is processed at a relatively low temperature. Simply put, this is how chocolate should taste like. And, from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that once you have tasted the Bonajuto chocolate, you can forget everything you thought you knew about chocolate.
Tradition is one of the core values of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And how could it not be? Its place of birth is Sicilia, a place where man’s main purpose in life is preserving the land, their traditions and values, and where many mainland Italians are turning to in search of that almost forgotten back-to-the-land ideal, a place that has all the history of Rome, but also where lots of Arabic and Greek influences remain, a place that brightens your eyes and enlivens your senses, your spirit and your tastes. And Modica, where Bonajuto was established, is one of the most atmospheric and most historically- and culturally-rich cities in Sicilia, a place La Dolceria is committed to giving back to, as one of its most valuable ambassadors around the world. Culture brings knowledge, which brings consciousness and a sense of responsibility.
But Bonajuto has always been defined by another quality: pushing boundaries and looking into the future. It is not important just to know where they come from, but to always have their own vision and evolve tradition. La Dolceria, under the supervision of the present owner, Pierpaolo Ruta, not only constantly innovates and creates new and unique products, but has committed to being a taste maker, not just a chocolate maker. Educating the public on its very distinctive, raw taste has not been the easy way to find the place it deserves among customers and connoisseurs from all over the world, but the fact that, through patience, perseverance and passion, they have succeeded makes their accomplishment all the more special.
To start off December, a month of storytelling, childlike joys, thoughtfulness and giving, I have invited Alessandra Scucces of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto to walk us through the inspiring journey of la più antica fabbrica di cioccolato di Sicilia.
The city of Modica, Sicilia | Photograph: Classiq Journal
What makes the Bonajuto chocolate exceptional?
It’s long history always focused on local tradition, vision of future goals and the highest quality possible for each product.
Where do you source the cacao beans and what is the secret to the best quality cacao for chocolate?
We source cocoa beans from Perù and Venezuela plantations, also we select cocoa mass coming from West Africa and single origin varieties such as Madagascar, Tanzania etc. We select cocoa that has several certifications not only about chemical properties, but also about workers conditions in cocoa plantations.
You are artisans, you create chocolate. With more than 159 years of activity, Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily and one of the oldest in Italy. Tradition is clearly one of Bonajuto’s cornerstones, but innovation and research are also important. It’s like an evolution of tradition. Is it necessary to learn the rules before you can break them?
Cocoa is a very complex and delicate product with a centuries-old history; knowing its characteristics and fineness is unavoidable to create a good chocolate. Furthermore, our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.
In the 1990s, you launched a revolutionary process of cultural recovery of old Hyblean recipes, and of the cold-processed chocolate, a real gastronomic “fossil” that was doomed to disappear. Can you tell me a little more about it?
In 1992, Franco and Pierpaolo Ruta leaded a great change in the family’s company, as they decided to focus on chocolate and few others products. It really was a hazard and the beginnings were not so easy: people didn’t know anything about this product, nor was the common taste ready for this rough, simple bar. “Internet” and “food” blew up ten years later so it was a patience work of dedication and love for this chocolate, besides the family history, that allowed the Dolceria to create a new life and value for this ancient chocolate.
Fattojo, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto’s Bean to Bar laboratory, Modica | Photograph: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Corso Umberto I, Modica | 2. Bonajuto single origins chocolate
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
I think you describe so well the taste of the Bonajuto chocolate as rough and simple. And when I first tasted your chocolate, the first thing that came to my mind was: “This is what chocolate should taste like.” How have people learned to appreciate the singular taste of your chocolate?
Communication and storytelling have been key points to “prepare” people for this special taste. We know it’s very different from the commercial chocolate that almost everybody is used to, but our experience also proves that once you try this simple, rough bar, you’ll keep choosing it.
Sicily is well known for the way it values land and tradition. The traditional cold-processing method that has been managed to be preserved to this day in Modica is an example of that. But how challenging is it to resist technology?
Technology is an amazing ally, if used in a proper manner. For instance, the last laboratory we opened is the “Fattojo” where we are able to produce Bean to Bar chocolate: the technological and artisan sides surely go together.
Your chocolate sortiments have very few ingredients, but they are very varied. And I presume your process for selecting ingredients is one that is deeply personal and important. How do you find inspiration for the different flavours?
Sicily is of course a treasure trove of flavours, thanks to its rich gastronomic history and all the different people that have lived here through the centuries. Also, we love to experiment with tasting and spices from different countries and traditions.
”Our chocolate basically has two ingredients, so it’s even more important to respect raw material
and having a deep knowledge about the whole production process.” Alessandra Scucces
Photographs: Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto: 159, Corso Umberto I, Modica, Sicilia