The Gianduja Mask and Gianduiotto
Was it the puppet masters of Piazza Castello in Turin who invented the
puppet Gianduja between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th
centuries ? Or was it a clever peasant farmer from Callianetto, in the
hills surrounding Asti, who had the idea for the Piedmont region’s
famous mask ?
We do not know for sure: perhaps both the legends surrounding the birth of
Gianduja are true. The truth is that Giôan d’la Dôja, in Piedmont
dialect (Giovanni del boccale - John of the mug - in Italian), a jolly,
ruddy peasant, perfectly symbolises the people of Piedmont, with all their
realism, tenacity and stubbornness.
Gianduja is both generous and courageous, a great drinking companion,
always ready with a joke or a quip, but at the same time a stubborn,
strong-willed, free spirit, ready to pay dear for that razor-sharp tongue
From the Risorgimento to the Unification of Italy, Gianduia came to
represent the typical working-class Piedmont man; then the great parties
held during the Turin Carnival, the so-called GIANDUIEIDI, saw his
transformation from puppet to real-life figure.
The colours of his costume are of particular importance: the red-edged
three-cornered hat, his ponytail held high and tricolour rosette, proof of
his Italian patriotism, his polenta-yellow waistcoat, his trousers green
as grass, his tails the brown of his native Piedmont’s soil, and his
stockings the red of Asti wine.
In 1895 he agreed to lend his name to a new sweet invented by Caffarel, a
boat-shaped chocolate made from fine, soft chocolate with fragrant
Piedmont hazelnuts grown in the Cuneo area of Piedmont: this was the
beginning of the original, traditional Piedmont Gianduiotto.
After the Kingdom of Italy had been set up in 1861, an economic crisis led
the government to drastically reduce cocoa imports, and as a result of
this, it was decided to add to the little cocoa still available one of the
products that the Piedmont region abounded in: the delicious hazelnuts of
the Cuneo Langhe, the best hazelnuts in the world. Thus that special
mixture of sugar, cocoa and cocoa butter, together with these hazelnuts,
gave rise to the famous Gianduiotto chocolates.
At the start, these unique chocolates, originally called Givu, which in
Piedmont dialect means cigarette butt, were hand-crafted using a blade or
an icing bag. They were presented to the public for the first time during
the Gianduiedi of 1865.
The hazelnut, 70% of which is oil, is what gives these Gianduiotti their
quality and form. Special machines and equipment were built to work the
chocolate mix: in fact, the high hazelnut content (more than 30%) requires
the “extrusion” and “casting” of the chocolates, a process based
on the hand-crafting techniques used until about 50 years ago in craft
workshops and small manufacturing companies. Certified Gianduiotti are
made using special casting machines invented during the period 1937-40.
The considerable hazelnut content, in fact, means that moulds cannot be
used to make the chocolates.