As many know, Florence was the birthplace (or raised) of many famous explorers of the past: from Robert Dudley to Amerigo Vespucci, from Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli to Giovanni da Verrazzano, and I could go on… However, one of these explorers of the past, perhaps the least famous, gave the city of Florence a sweet gift that has remained for our exclusive use (of us Florentine) for centuries. We are talking about Francesco Carletti and chocolate. We are in 1593 and Carletti is a young boy of just 17 who still does not know that the enterprise he is about to embark on (literally) will lead him to be the first man in the world to have circumnavigated the globe in private form (therefore without having one of his ships).
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The journey that the seventeen-year-old Francesco stumbles on lasts about 17 years and leaves from the port of Livorno. The first stage takes him to Cape Verde, where he buys slaves to take to the New World and charters a ship to get there. Carletti then reaches Mexico where he sells the
slaves (which at the time were employed in the silver mines) and finds a further passage to Peru, then a land of great interest due to the immense reserves of gold that even our young avid
explorer seeks. of having. In Peru, while he is looking for gold, Carletti instead finds chocolate and tastes it (in the native way: with goats milk, vanilla pods and chili). Carletti describes us in his diaries in detail not only the recipe (it was called “chocolate” because the natives called it xoacrat which from Florentines was transformed into chocolate), but also the addiction that this substance creates for him. Until then only the Spaniards had tasted chocolate, but in seeds and not sweetened with vanilla and milk as Carletti had done, and therefore they didn’t like it at all, to the point of considering it only a drug with a bad and too strong taste. By this time Carletti had become addicted to chocolate, and so, before embarking on the next voyage, he filled the ship with plants and cocoa bean.
The journey continues to Acapulco, the Philippines and Japan where he meets Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit friar who is trying to Christianize the East. From Japan he circumnavigated India up to Saint Helena, where he was unfortunately intercepted by some Dutch pirates who robbed him of all the gold, silver, fabrics and what he proudly earned on his long voyage (still today the Dutch pirate Van Warwik is revered by the Dutch but hated by the rest of the world because of the violent raids he has made). Carletti is then then imprisoned in a prison in England.
Ferdinando I de Medici intervenes and after a few years obtains the release of Carletti from the English prisons and then our hero returns to Florence after about 10 years of travel and 7 in prison. When he returns to Florence, Carletti is penniless but still addicted to chocolate: the Dutch pirates and the English jailers, in fact, had deprived him of everything, except for the cocoa beans which he continued to cultivate and consume in large quantities. Thus, having no other way to thank those who had freed him from prison, once he entered the city he showed the Medici court how to prepare chocolate, how to grow it and how to consume it, reducing its dependence. In less than no time Francesco Carletti finds a place of honor at the Medici court and chocolate begins to be cultivated by the rich lords of the city. However, not everyone knows that in 1620 Spain declared chocolate subject to an embargo. Carletti had returned to Florence in 1610 and had planted chocolate for the first time in this city in the same year. Since it had already begun to give birth to cocoa beans in the Florentine territory for 10 years, the Spanish embargo could not have an effect on the Florentine chocolate (unique in the world!) and Florence therefore became the first place in the world where it was possible to consume the chocolate without having to pay the Spanish permit. For more than a century, chocolate will remain an exclusively Florentine traditional food (I remember that the Spaniards put the embargo on chocolate late because they didn’t like it at the first taste!!!).
In 1700 Florence will become a very important center for chocolate which will become, together with porcelain, one of the distinctive products of the city. The Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici brought jasmine to Florence from the East and invented, with the help of the apothecary specialist Francesco Redi, a very precious recipe which blended the two aromas of chocolate and jasmine. The recipe for jasmine chocolate seems, in fact, to have been almost a state secret, which the Grand Duke jealously guarded. The recipe could be spread orally, but it didn’t have to be written, so that the use of this delicacy was limited to the nobility close to the Grand Duchy, and therefore it was drunk in the noble salons, but no one dared to divulge it in written form.
Only from 1720 was the secret recipe included in a recipe book still preserved in the historical archives of Florence: “Take roasted, cleaned and coarsely crushed 10 lbs. fresh jasmine. Sufficient fresh jasmine to mix with said caccao, making layer upon layer in a box or other tool, and leave it to stand for 24 hours, and then remove and put as many in it caccao, making layer upon layer as before; and so every 24 hours fresh jasmine is added ten or twelve times. Then take 8 lbs of dry good white sugar. 3 ounces perfect vanilla. Perfect fine cinnamon 6 ounces. warning in making it that the stone is not very hot; but that the craftsman work it not to spend four or five pounds per mass at the most, because if he heated the stone too much, it would lose its smell.