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Hemingway's Chocolates - Cuneesi al Rhum

Giuanin Roà (Giuanin)

Cuneesi al Rhum are the traditional chocolates of Cuneo Province in Piedmont, Italy. Cuneesi (pronounced coon-AY-zee) are small meringues that have a rich, dark chocolate coating and a rum-flavored creme filling. For many years the delicacy could be found only in Cuneo Province but thanks to Ernest Hemingway, the addictive chocolates are now available around the world.

The story goes that in 1954 Ernest Hemingway was in Milan visiting his friend and publishing magnate, Arnoldo Mondadori, to discuss his book Across the River and into the Trees. It was nearly four years since the book had been published worldwide but Hemingway still wanted to postpone the story's release in Italy. The reason behind the delay was Hemingway's concern for the reputation of the young Italian woman upon whom he based the book's protagonist, Renata.

In the novel, young Renata finds herself involved in a May-December romance which was based upon Hemingway's real life relationship with Adriana Ivancich, a young Venetian contessa whom the author met in 1948 during a trip to Italy with his wife, Mary. In 1950 the writer invited Ivancich and her mother to visit him at his home in Cuba. During that visit Adriana inspired the author to finish two works in progress and begin a new novel, The Old Man and the Sea, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Hemingway had grown very protective of Ivancich and wanted to postpone the publication of Across the River and into the Trees in Italy in order to spare her family from scandal.

At this point you must be wondering what any of this has to do with Cuneo's chocolates. Patience, please. Back at Arnoldo Mondador's home in Milan, Hemingway was getting ready for a road trip to Nice where he hoped to get some overdue rest and relaxation with his close friend and biographer, A. E. Hotchner. Upon learning that Ernest was driving to France, Mondadori suggested that he stop along the way in Cuneo and buy some of the scrumptious local chocolates.

So, on May 8, 1954, Ernest Hemingway walked into Bar Arione in the center of Cuneo and purchased some Cuneesi al Rhum. The celebrated author signed autographs, posed for photographs and then carried his chocolates to the car and got back on the road to Nice. The next day, in a letter to Ivancich that was published years later, the author wrote, "Yesterday was a very beautiful trip from Torino down to Cuneo with the lovely green of the valley and the snow mountains not too close and not too far away."

The origin of the celebrated chocolates is still debated. Pasticceria Arione owns the rights to use the name Cuneesi al Rhum and they claim that their version of the sweet, created in 1923 by Andrea and Rosa Arione, is the original. Another convincing story comes from a small town west of Cuneo called Dronero. In the year 1900 a pastry chef named Pietro Galletti accidentally invented Cuneesi when he botched a batch of meringues. In a desperate attempt to salvage something, he tried soaking them in rum and then coating them with chocolate. But written accounts from across the Alps confirm that this type of chocolate candy has been around since the 17th century. Documents from the royal court report that Louis XIV of France had a fondness for le bonbon, the chocolate predecessor of the Cuneese.

The right to use the name Cuneesi al Rhum is owned by Arione so other confectioners often market their chocolates under the generic name Cuneesi, which in Italian simply describes "something from Cuneo." Today Cuneesi are produced throughout the province and the name usually changes with each place. For example, if produced in Dronero, the name would be Droneresi, when made in San Michele they become Sanmichelesi, and so on. But regardless of their origin or name, Cuneesi are certainly one of Italy's finest chocolate treats.


Giuanin Roà is the owner operator of Villa Favolosa a B&B in Cuneo Province of Piedmont, Italy.

© Giuanin Roà, 2011

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