How the world went nuts

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Nutella: How the world went nuts for a hazelnut spread

Nutella, the nutty chocolate spread, is turning 50. Last year some 365 million kilos was consumed – roughly the weight of the Empire State Building – in 160 countries around the world. Half a century ago, in a small town in northern Italy, this would have been unimaginable.

In the hungry months after the end of World War Two, a young confectioner has a vision – of an affordable luxury made of a small amount of cocoa and lots of hazelnuts. His name: Pietro Ferrero.

“My grandfather lived to find this formula. He was completely obsessed by it,” says the current boss of the family business, Giovanni Ferrero. “He woke up my grandmother at midnight – she was sleeping – and he made her taste it with spoons, asking, ‘How was it?’ and ‘What do you think?'”

The way the family tells the story, it’s a modern fairytale. Pietro was a humble man who lived in an enchanting region famed throughout the land for its delicious and abundant hazelnuts. Times were hard and chocolatey delights were not for the common people. Still, he dreamed of a magic formula that would enable everyone to enjoy his sweet treats.

There’s a happy ending, too. Ferrero’s tiny business in the picturesque town of Alba goes on to become the fourth most important international group in the chocolate confectionery market, with an annual turnover of more than 8bn euros (£6.5bn; $11bn).

When Pietro had his vision, the Piedmont region of Italy, and its capital Turin, was already famed for its chocolate industry. It was the birthplace of Gianduja, a creamy combination of chocolate and hazelnuts. But only the rich could think of buying it.

“Chocolate was so expensive, it was really high-end, nobody could afford it, at least in Italy,” says Giovanni Ferrero.

But in 1946 his grandfather launched Giandujot, or Pasta Gianduja. Produced as loaves wrapped in aluminium foil, it was a sort of solidified Nutella that had to be cut with a knife. The first spreadable version – Supercrema – came a few years later.

“This was a big success,” says Giovanni. “It was the first brand that allowed people to enjoy confectionery at a very accessible price, even if it was not fully confectionery. This is how everything started.”

Spreadability meant that a small amount went a long way, helping to break down the perception that chocolate was, as Giovanni puts it, “only for very special occasions and celebrations like Christmas and Easter”.

It could also be eaten with bread, which formed a big part of the diet at the time. People who never ate chocolate got the Supercrema habit.

But it was Pietro’s son, Michele Ferrero, who turned it into Nutella, relaunching it with its now famously secret recipe and iconic glass jar. His father was a man obsessed, says Giovanni, just like his grandfather.

“My father said, ‘We can push it further, there are new technologies, there are new ways to integrate this winning recipe,'” he says.

“Nutella was born the same year as I was born, 1964, so I have a small brother in the family! And it was not just an Italian success but a European success.”

The Italian post office has marked the anniversary with a stamp

The name gave the product instant international appeal. It said nuts. It also said Italy – “-ella” being a common affectionate or diminutive ending in Italian, as in mozzarella (cheese), tagliatella (a form of pasta), or caramella (Italian for a sweet).

Fifty years on, Nutella is a global phenomenon, produced in 11 factories worldwide, and accounting for one fifth of the Ferrero Group’s turnover, along with other products such as Kinder and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The company is the number one user of hazelnuts in the world, buying up 25% of the entire world production.

But how did one brand of hazelnut chocolate spread manage to creep its way into so many kitchen cupboards for a full five decades?

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Venetians fight to save historical, ‘haunted’ island

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Poveglia, a deserted 7-hectare rock believed to be the burial place of plague victims, to be leased to help pay Italy’s debts

Poveglia’s abandoned buildings – including a former hospital for plague victims – have helped fuel its reputation as ‘the island of madness’. Photograph: Blom UK via Getty Images

Andrea Barina, the owner of a no-frills restaurant on the Giudecca canal, serves up mouth-watering plates of seafood antipasti and exquisitely fresh fish to a loyal clientele. But one night earlier this month, the genial 50-year-old was confronted with an idea that was profoundly indigestible: the potential transformation of his beloved teenage playground into yet another luxury resort in the Venetian Lagoon.

Barina and many of his neighbours were indignant when they heard of the Italian state’s intention to auction a 99-year lease on Poveglia island as part of efforts to ease its huge public debt. Overgrown and deserted, Poveglia is an unlikely paradise. It does not feature in many tourist guides, and its eerie state of abandonment has fed many a ghoulish fantasy.

But, to a committed band of local people, none of that matters; its name alone evokes the simple pleasures of childhoods past. And when Barina, amid heated debate at his restaurant, had an idea, they were inspired. “He said, ‘Let’s buy it,” recalls Lorenzo Pesola, an architect. So that’s exactly what they are trying to do – €99 (£80) at a time.

A rusted bed remains in the psychiatric wing of the abandoned hospital. Photograph: Marco Secchi/Getty Images

It may seem an ambitious plan – and, to those who have read about Poveglia beneath any number of lurid headlines, downright odd. Owing to the potent mix of its colourful past and gloomy present – it has been officially off-limits to the public for decades – the seven hectare (17 acre) island has attracted a reputation to rival any horror movie set.

A US television show, Ghost Adventures, labelled it “one of the world’s darkest epicentres” after a 2009 episode in which one of its hosts claimed to have been possessed while clambering about at night in the ruins and hailing the spirits in bad Italian. Subsequently, Poveglia has been described as “the world’s most haunted island”, “the island of madness”, and, for good measure, “like hell, but in Italy”.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t appear to put off the Poveglia Per Tutti (Poveglia For All) association. In fact, its members appear to find the rumours entertaining, if perplexing. “This Anglo-Saxon tradition of ghosts is una cazzata [bullshit],” says Pesola. “It’s nonsense.”

Yes, say the activists who want the lease, Poveglia was used in the past as a lazzaretto – a quarantine station for the sick, particularly plague victims – but so were other islands. And yes, there was a nursing home, which still stands, dilapidatedand partially roofless, amid the undergrowth. But that, they insist, is that. There is “no objective confirmation” of any of the rumours and legends surrounding the building, says Pesola: chiefly, that it was used as a place to conduct experimental lobotomies on psychiatric patients and that its land is stalked by the spectres of victims past. They don’t want potential donors to be put off by folklore. And for them, the island’s more recent history is what counts.

“What people would often do was go where the water was very deep and fish for little squid. Then, they’d go in little groups, secretly, on to the island, and would grill and eat them,” says Barina. “Another thing that was unmissable: there was a wooden bridge from which we’d hold diving contests. There’d be 30, 40 of us. And we’d go and steal the peaches from the trees, which were” – he pauses to pay due reverence – ” the best peaches in the whole lagoon.”

Were they ever spooked by the desolation of the island, with its bricked-up steeple (Napoleon did for the church) and unkempt wilderness? “Absolutely not. It was our playground,” says Barina. “It was our Disneyland.”

In 21st-century Venice, no reference to the Californian theme park is accidental; the citizens’ battle for Poveglia makes more sense when considered alongside the city’s wider identity crisis and the ever-tightening grip of mass tourism. These residents despair of what has happened to parts of the historic centre, the areas around St Mark’s Square and the Rialto bridge, which have become a morass of tour groups and souvenir shops.

Even on their way to Poveglia, they cannot ignore the industry’s impact: the journey takes them past two other lagoon islands, Sacca Sessola and San Clemente, which have been bought by private investors for us as luxury hotel resorts.

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Rome is older than thought

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Archeologists’ findings may prove Rome a century older than thought

As Italian capital approaches 2,767th birthday, excavation reveals wall built long before official founding year of 753BC

Rome may be older than its official birthday of 21 April 753BC when founded by Romulus and Remus. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

It is already known as the eternal city, and if new archeological findings prove correct Rome may turn out to be even more so than believed until now.

Next week, the city will celebrate its official, 2,767th birthday. According to a tradition going back to classic times, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city on 21 April in the year 753BC.

But on Sunday it was reported that evidence of infrastructure building had been found, dating from more than 100 years earlier. The daily Il Messagero quoted Patrizia Fortini, the archaeologist responsible for the Forum, as saying that a wall constructed well before the city’s traditional founding date had been unearthed.

The wall, made from blocks of volcanic tuff, appeared to have been built to channel water from an aquifer under the Capitoline hill that flows into the river Spino, a tributary of the Tiber. Around the wall, archaeologists found pieces of ceramic pottery and remains of food.

“The examination of the ceramic material was crucial, allowing us today to fix the wall chronologically between the 9th century and the beginning of the 8th century,” said Fortini.

It was already known that the settlement of Rome was a gradual process and that the traditional date for its foundation was invented by a later writer. There is evidence of people arriving on the Palatine hill as early as the 10th century BC.

The find would appear to show that construction in stone began earlier than previously established. The discovery was made close to the Lapis Niger (‘Black Stone’ in Latin): a shrine that later Romans associated with their city’s earliest days. The site includes a stone block that carries the earliest inscription found in Rome. Written in the 5th century BC, its meaning is not fully clear, but it is thought to place a curse on anyone who violates the site.


Not Everyone Appreciates Art


Cleaner throws out ‘rubbish’ Sala Murat artwork

The cleaner unwittingly threw away works made of newspaper and cardboard which were part of the exhibition

A cleaner has mistakenly thrown away contemporary artworks meant to be part of an exhibition in southern Italy.

Works made out of newspaper and cardboard, and cookie pieces scattered across the floor as part of Sala Murat’s display were thrown out.

Lorenzo Roca, from cleaning firm Chiarissima, said the unnamed cleaner was “just doing her job”.

It later emerged the cleaner had handed them over to refuse collectors, thinking it was rubbish left behind by workers who set up the Mediating Landscape exhibition.

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‘Mythical Roman cave’ unearthed

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Probes revealed a ceiling with a white eagle at the centre

Italian archaeologists say they have found the long-lost underground grotto where ancient Romans believed a female wolf suckled the city’s twin founders.

The cave believed to be the Lupercal was found near the ruins of Emperor Augustus’ palace on the Palatine hill.

The 8m (26ft) high cave decorated with shells, mosaics and marble was found during restoration work on the palace.

According to mythology Romulus and Remus were nursed by a she-wolf after being left on the River Tiber’s banks.

The twin sons of the god Mars and priestess Rhea Silvia are said to have later founded Rome on the Palatine in 753 BC.

The brothers ended up fighting over who should be in charge of the city, a power struggle which ended only after Romulus killed his brother.

In Roman times a popular festival called the Lupercalia was held annually on 15 February.

Young nobles called Luperci, taking their name from the place of the wolf (lupa), ran from the Lupercal around the bounds of the Palatine in what is believed to have been a purification ritual.

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The looting of a 16th Century library


Naples’ Girolamini

Book-lovers around the world have been helping investigators trace thousands of rare volumes looted from one of Italy’s oldest libraries by a gang of thieves including the librarian himself. While most have been recovered, a number of invaluable 15th and 16th Century books are still missing.

Inside a 16th Century church complex in the heart of Naples, the Biblioteca Girolamini’s wooden shelves rise up and up towards richly decorated walls and vaulted ceilings.

They once held works of extraordinary value. There was a 1518 edition of Thomas More’s brilliant and mysterious Utopia. Galileo’s 1610 treatise Sidereus Nuncius, containing more than 70 drawings of the moon and the stars. And Johannes Kepler’s study of the motions of Mars, Astronomia Nova, described as one of greatest books in the history of astronomy.

But this magnificent piece of Italy’s cultural heritage was methodically plundered. Thousands of antique texts disappeared.

“Our investigations found that there was a true criminal system in action,” says Major Antonio Coppola, a police chief who is leading the operation to recover the stolen texts. “A group of people… carried out a devastating, systematic looting of the library.”

It was an art historian and academic, Professor Tomaso Montanari, who first alerted the police to what was happening. The library had been closed to the public for years, but Montanari heard reports that it was in trouble, and managed to make a visit with a student he was supervising in the spring of 2012.

He was shocked by what he found.

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Hadrian’s villa


Tunnels explored as cavers drop down into hidden city

Amateur cavers map network of passages built by Roman emperor at Tivoli to keep slaves, oxen and victuals below stairs

One of the ‘service’ tunnels beneath Hadrian’s Villa, built in the 2nd century as an imperial escape from Rome. Photograph: Marco Placidi

Amateur cavers have mapped a vast network of tunnels underneath Hadrian‘s Villa outside Rome, leading archaeologists to radically revise their views of one of ancient Rome’s most imposing imperial retreats.

Lowering themselves through light shafts found in fields around the 120-hectare (296-acre) site, local speleologists have charted more than a mile of road tunnels – passages where, in the second century, oxen pulled carts loaded with luxury foods for banquets and thousands of slaves scurried from palace to palace, well out of sight of the emperor.

“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrian’s Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site, who is planning, in the autumn, to open stretches of the tunnels to the public for the first time.

Never an emperor to do things by half – his idea of homeland security was to build a wall across the top of England – Hadrian built his country hideaway near modern-day Tivoli to escape the noise and crowds of Rome, but managed to take half the city with him.

Archaeologists have identified 30 buildings, including palaces, thermal baths, a theatre and libraries, as well as gardens and dozens of fountains.

“We think the villa covered up to 250 hectares but we still don’t know the limits,” said Abembri.

Abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire, the villa was taken apart piece by piece over the centuries, with one local cardinal stripping off marble to build his own villa nearby in the 16th century, leaving weed infested ruins.

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Wot I lurned tuday


The world is my oyster

Everyday I learn something. Yes, kids, I’m 61 and everyday I learn something.

School is never out. Just because you don’t go to some fancy academy or a state school, doesn’t mean you ‘shut down.’

Now, one of my attributes, at least some may consider it an attribute, is that I am a chef.

Today (see, I can spell) I was reading The Guardian (on line – saving trees) and I happened across an article about food; drawn to it like a magnet. It mentioned


My google button

I had absolutely no idea what an arancini might be. So what does one do when faced with something new? No, I didn’t go and hide under the bed and quiver from the fear of the unknown, instead I hit my google button.

Now as much as I hate Google, it does a better job than the rest.

First entry, as is almost always was the mighty oracle Wikipedia, and there I discovered what I needed to know.

Arancini are rice balls, Italian rice balls (from Sicily, to be more exact), deepfried, coated with breadcrumbs and are filled with a meat sauce.

Apparently, they date from the 10th century… I would have thought they’d have made some fresh ones by now.

Arancini di riso – Image credit… and recipe


Also called risotto balls, croquettes.

Filling can also be cheese, mushrooms, aubergine, etc.

So, that’s wot I lurned tuday

Mt Etna, Sicily

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Snow-capped Mt Enta

The majestic Mt Etnaon the island of Sicily began erupting on 6th August.

Latest reports bring fears that air traffic may be disrupted.

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