February was a sad month for the world of hazelnut chocolate spread as it saw the death of Michele Ferrero, the Italian entrepreneur, confectioner and inventor of the undisputed king of toast-toppers: Nutella. We have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to Mr Ferrero. His father, Pietro, founded the family business in 1942 in the Piedmont region of Italy, making pastries and gianduia (chocolate paste) in a small cafe and bakery. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Pietro cultivated arguably one of the most beautiful taste combinations in food history when World War II rationing prompted him to blend cocoa, an expensive and precious commodity, with hazelnuts, which were cheaper and in ample supply. Michele tweaked his father’s recipe and launched Nutella as we know it today – the unmistakeable velvety taste of roasted hazelnuts whipped with milk and chocolate.
Nutella celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and it’s more of a household name than ever, internationally recognised by the bold red and white label that stares down at you from supermarket shelves and snatches the limelight from other condiments in the cupboard. With maybe the exception of peanut butter, other spreads both sweet and savoury don’t really get a look in – in Britain it even outsells the nation’s favourite – or least favourite – Marmite. The sugary sauce is so popular that it has been assigned its own World Nutella Day on 5th February (as if we needed a specific day to mark sitting around spooning it into our mouths), and merchandise production has soared in recent years, with whole recipe books focusing on the ingredient and an official Nutella online ‘boutique’ selling a range of branded accessories. To mark its birthday in 2014 Nutella teamed up with Selfridges, enabling customers to have a sacred jar personalised with their name emblazoned on the label instead of the brand’s moniker. The concept of Nutella has expanded far beyond a confectionary item and store cupboard staple. The ‘ella’ part of the word is a suffix for sweetness in Latin, and its reliable, simple and unchanged recipe has come to represent a kind of charming Italian authenticity. The distinctive fusion of cocoa and nuts has amplified in symbolic richness over time, becoming synonymous with decadence, indulgence and romance. Gifting someone a personalised jar or sharing a slice of toast smothered in the chocolatey concoction is equivalent to saying ‘I love you’ (either that or it’s a heavy hint to stop them eating from your own jar).
Advertisements and packaging attempt to market Nutella as somewhat of a health food, convincing parents that it’s a nutritious breakfast component with 52 hazelnuts and a glass of skimmed milk in each jar, blissfully skipping over the details of its high sugar and fat content. I don’t think anyone’s fooled to be honest, but it’s endearing that the brand attempts to follow up its wholesome, natural image by trying to persuade us it’s actually good for us too. If you dip strawberries in it, it’s kind of healthy. Maybe. Its distinctive nutty and milky flavour make Nutella somehow less filling and rich and therefore considerably more moreish than the taste of plain chocolate, and that is where the true danger of the spread lies; it’s utterly delectable just on its own. This has been acknowledged by Nigella, who deems it entirely appropriate to create a Nutella cheesecake simply by blending the contents of a whole jar with some cream cheese and icing sugar.
When I was at school, my mother imposed a ban in the house because I was consuming jars at such an alarming rate – “Would you like some toast with your Nutella?”. Since then my addiction has calmed slightly although I still call myself the proud owner of a specialised knife, which is a specially designed shape, allowing you to scrape every last morsel from the bottom of the jar. At under £2 a jar Nutella is a perfect student foodstuff, lending itself as an ideal ingredient for breakfast, dessert, and in baking. Here are my favourite ways to enjoy the Spread of Heaven.
- A generous spoonful or two to jazz up morning porridge.
- With its brother-in-arms, peanut butter, on thick toast or crusty white bread.
- As an accompaniment for good quality vanilla ice cream, with crushed maltesers.
- As an icing for cupcakes/brownies, either on its own or fortified with icing sugar and cream.
- On waffles or in crepes, with strawberries and whipped cream.
- Dipping crispy bacon in it (don’t judge me).
- Blended with banana and milk to make a gratifying milkshake.
- Nutella creme brûlée – http://www.bellalimento.com/2009/10/01/the-nutella-challenge-nutella-creme-brulee/.
- A spoonful or two in coffee to turn it into a divine nutty mocha.
- With a spoon – I had to save the best ’til last.