Modica – The Oldest Chocolate City in Europe

Interview with Alberto Vicari of the Manufacturer II Modicano

Text:
Katharina Kuhlmann

Photography:
iStock elisalocci, Il Modicano

26 July 2018

If you have not already vacationed to Sicily, this may be completely unknown to you. What exactly is this, this so-called Cioccolato Modicano, the chocolate from Modica? One could say: it is an original form of today’s chocolate, hardly processed, and original in taste. Modica is the world-famous center of the very crumbly specialty, which is why there are countless chocolatiers here who produce the product non-industrially. We spoke with Alberto Vicari, founder of organic chocolate factory II Modicano and an avid VIVANI fan. He gave us exciting new insights into the chocolate scene of southern Italy, as well as his own holistic company philosophies.

Modica is a city full of rich history, located in the Sicilian province of Ragusa in the south-easternmost tip of Italy. Due to the ever-changing occupying powers of this region, the chocolate eventually made its way here, most likely originating from Spain. The recipe remains unchanged to this day and inspires people with its original, aromatic cocoa taste. In 1693 the town was destroyed by a devastating earthquake, but the chocolate remained. Reconstruction was completed quickly and an impressive, beautiful baroque style city was created. This picturesque setting (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is home to around 55,000 inhabitants. With the numerous chocolate factories in the area a very unique atmosphere began to emerge making it a tourist magnet for people today.

But now we should let Alberto Vicari from the chocolate manufacturer II Modicanospeak for himself, in order to help us discover the secret of this black delicacy. Alberto will tell us all about the special features of his brand, which is strictly organic and vegan. Let’s take an exciting trip to the warm climate of southern Italy.

A conversation with Alberto Vicari

VIVANI

You hail from one of Europe’s most significant chocolate hotspots. The problem is, not many of today’s people know about it. Do you think, Modica is kind of underrated in the general perception? What must happen to change this status?

Alberto Vicari

The traditional manufacturing of chocolate started in Modica in the XVI century but this kind of manufacturing has only become more know all over Italy in the last 20 years, following the interview on a famous chat show in 1999 with the most famous chocolatier in Modica Mr. Franco Ruta (Antica Dolceria Bonajuto). However yes it unfortunately is not known as well abroad but there are a few new manufacturers that introduced Organic, Vegan and Fair Trade chocolates, promoting Modica chocolate in various countries so this should hopefully change this status soon.

VIVANI

You formerly worked as a successful manager. How did it come that you realigned and started a chocolate manufactory?

Alberto Vicari

Mostly my idea was focused on vegan chocolate manufacturing. In almost 20 years of being vegan (and 30 of being vegetarian), I’ve longed for more ethical businesses. As all of us, I have been exposed to retail and consumer buying behaviour on a daily basis.

I wished that there was an amazing cruelty free chocolate bar to rival all of the dairy based ones, or fashion retailers that only stock timeless garments that are ethically sourced and made. I've always imagined a world where ethical businesses are more readily accessible to the general public. I wondered then what people would have opted to buy if they would have had a choice? I tried to reflect on all of the occasions when I've struggled to find a specific product that is vegan friendly and think about how you can help solve that problem yourself. So I decided to try to start a socially conscious business. Living in Modica, it could only have been a project based on chocolate!

VIVANI

Why did you decide to produce only vegan products?

Alberto Vicari

I asked to myself if it is now possible to live a life that involves delicious food and drink, delivers better health, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and avoids killing other creatures - then why don't we? Because in today’s era, meat or milk is simply a non-essential addiction. There is no milk-product for which a healthier and tastefull vegan alternative cannot be created. I also think that cosistency in life is a very important value and therefore, being a strong supporter of the vegan cause, I could never accept to produce or sell a product that is not vegan or even worse to gain from it.

VIVANI

Let us talk about your assortment: Which products do you have in stock and what are your topsellers?

Alberto Vicari

We have 5 groups of products: 1. Modica-style rough ground chocolate; 2. Extra dark chocolates, sweetened with coconut sugar; 3. Soya-based chocolates, alternative to milk chocolate, with natural sweeteners (agave or coconut blossom sugar); 4. Soya-based sweet creams: hazelnut, pistachio, almond; 5. Hot chocolate drinking.

Our topsellers are sweet creams for sure, created to be as creamy and tasty as traditional (milk) creams but they are completely dairy-free and vegan. All our products are vegan, lactose free, gluten free, GMO free and 100% organic. We can guarantee also absence of milk traces.

VIVANI

Which relevance have vegan products in Italy in general. Is there a bigger scene?

Alberto Vicari

Currently vegans in Italy are 2.6% of the population and in 2016 the sale of vegan products recorded growth 20-30% in continuous growth, especially considering the lactose-free products market.

VIVANI

Modica has a special importance in the history of chocolate evolution in Europe. Is there still much „chocolate tourism“ in your region?

Alberto Vicari

Modica has become an important tourist destination in recent years due to two factors: 1. It has been inserted between the sites "Unesco World Heritage" thanks to its baroque churches, 2. The Modica chocolate; everyone who visits Modica takes away his full bag of chocolate!

VIVANI

How important is Sicily for the Italian chocolate market nowadays?

Alberto Vicari

Modica is today recognized as one of the three chocolate "poles" in Italy: Turin for North Italy, Perugia for the center and Modica for the South. When you tell to Someone that you live in Modica the answer is always the same: "Modica ... the famous chocolate!"

VIVANI

Please describe our readers, what the special „Modica“-style is about. What is the difference to „common“ chocolates?

Alberto Vicari

Technically Modica chocolate is a Rough ground chocolate; in the past it was ground by a smooth round stone called “metate“. Mostly it is a “low processed“ chocolate, characterized by an ancient and original recipe that gives the chocolate a peculiar grainy texture and aromatic flavor. Since XVI century, generations of families have followed the same techniques, mixing the cocoa mass with sugar, “cold working“, giving the treat an unusual crunchy texture.

VIVANI

Regarding your business: What is your greatest wish for the future?

Alberto Vicari

Manufacturing vegan chocolate is not a business for me, but a way to promote veganism and sensitize people to animal rights. My greatest wish is then still connected with my vegan attitude: here in Southern Italy we have a very big problem with stray animals and local gouvernments don’t do a lot about it, so I would like to move the company in a bigger space in the countryside and create a kind of vegan farm where we can also help as many homeless pets we can.

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