In Italian, baci means kisses, so you could think of Perugina’s Baci candies as Italy’s answer to the Hershey Kiss. The Hershey Kiss is nothing more than a squirt of milk chocolate, but the Perugina Baci is a jewel, the triumph of a dainty chunk of gianduia the dreamy blend of milk chocolate and hazelnut purée–studded with chopped toasted hazelnuts, topped with a whole toasted hazelnut, then cloaked with a coat of dark chocolate.
The romance surrounding Baci doesn’t stop with the candy. Each one is wrapped with a different love note written in five different languages (Italian, English, Spanish, French, and German) and enclosed in a shiny silver and blue foil wrapper. Luisa Spagnoli, the creator of Baci and a co-founder of Perugina, supposedly enclosed secret notes wrapped up in the Baci she gave her lover. And Baci are still made in Perugia, the home of Perugina, which just happens to be the ancient home of St. Valentine.
“You see Perugina Baci everywhere in Italy,” says Francine Segan, a food historian and spokeswoman for Perugina. In her travels, she noticed giant brandy snifters of them in bars and asked a Roman bartender about it. “In America a gentleman will ask if he can ‘buy the lady a drink’ but in Italy we prefer to offer her a ‘kiss,'” explained the bartender.
Segan has also noticed a big difference in how Americans eat Baci compared to Italians. Americans tear open the wrapper, oblivious to the love note inside, and pop the chocolate in their mouths. “Not so Italians,” says Segan. “They unwrap the Baci and immediately read the note inside. Next, they cup the Baci in their palms and breath in the fragrance of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts. It’s only then, after this lovely ritual of reading and inhaling the aroma, that they take a bite.”
Someone got the bright idea to extend the chocolate by mixing it with a local specialty, hazelnuts, in this case roasted and puréed. Little foil-wrapped nuggets of the creamy union were given out to people for free during Carnival and they were an instant success.