I first lost my heart in Italy. It was a sultry day in Sorrento and the sun had just gone down. I was wandering through the backstreets of the town, sliding over the cobbles in search of a cash machine. There was a taxi rank up ahead; I wandered up and in my best Italian said: “Scusi, dov’e il bancomat?”
They looked puzzled at the pitch-perfect accent. They replied: “Over there.” And then I saw them, and they took my heart away.
This is a Nutkao (or Nutella) tart, and it’s one of the most amazing delicacies known to man. I wrote about it in my travel guide to Sorrento for Simonseeks in a perhaps slightly too gushing manner:
a chocolate tart made with Nutkao, a chocolate spread that everyone seems to use in Italy. Ask for one of these and you’ll get a great slab of slightly salty pastry supporting massive dollops of chocolatey-hazelnutty gloop, which melts in your mouth and leaves you wanting more. It’s a pilgrimage I make every year I go to Sorrento, and one that shouldn’t be missed.
But it’s all true. The Italians do go mad for Nutkao and Nutella, two competing chocolate hazelnut spreads. They serve it in the morning for breakfast slathered onto stale and insipid bread to make something interesting; they put it in ice creams and coffees. They’ll lick it right off the spoon. It’s been in books and films; ballads have been written about its qualities.
When I got back from Italy that first time I set up a Facebook group to show my semi-joking appreciation of Nutkao. Initially, everyone who I went to Italy with joined and it was our inside joke. That lasted three days. Then we were beseiged by Italians who wrote effusively in the most expressive language in the world about their experiences with Nutkao.
One wrote on the wall he was “Nutkao-dipendente (in tutti i sensi!)” – Nutkao dependent in all ways. There was a mild coup as one particularly strong Nutkao lover, Robert, asked to be admin. We gave him the chance and the group grew, but it became fundamenalist, preaching hate against Nutella and other inferior condiments. He was quietly removed and we became a peacable tribe again, licking our Nutkao.
And so when there were rumours that an EU directive was going to ban Nutella (and presumably Nutkao too) from Italy, people went mad. The Vice President of the manufacturers of Nutella said that new anti-obesity rules could put Nutella “outside the law.” Berlusconi’s cabinet have been forced to say they’ll fight the law (if it’s true) and keep the nation’s favourite spread available in shops.
All of which goes to show that Italian men’s hearts aren’t taken by their first girlfriend, nor do they hold a immovable and maternal love for their mother, but rather for a combination of chocolate and hazelnuts which will stick to the top of your mouth and never let go.
Before you ask, yes, while writing this post I did have to visit my kitchen and smear some Nutella on top of a Rich Tea. Twice. What’s your history with Nutella? Tell us in the comments below.