When I taught English, I'd have my students write odes to objects, people, or places that they truly loved. I'd do the exercise along with them and for me, those odes always turned out to be about food. Big surprise. One of my favorite students told me one spring that it was a good thing I ran marathons otherwise he thought I could potentially be quite round. Thanks, Ryan. Your grade didn't suffer for that at all. Not one bit. So while I've been out of the classroom now for almost two years and while I haven't written an ode in quite sometime, I thought I'd write a dedication to Nutella today. Because frankly, I'm obsessed with the stuff. This is beyond a playful ode. This is serious.
I think the first time I had Nutella was in my college dorm and little individual packets were being passed around the hall. Someone's mom had sent a pretty stellar care package. I tracked down the source and made friends with Liz. Thankfully, her mom just kept sending those care packages. In graduate school, my friend Laura jazzed up her brownies with Nutella. For reasons other than this (although this counts as a firm reason), I'm devastated we now live across the country from one another. And when I lived in Boston suffering through those long winters, I'd "spike" my coffee with spoonfuls of Nutella. I'm convinced it helped me get through many a long night of studying.
The history of Nutella is an interesting one. It was created in the late 1940's by Pietro Fierro. Because of war rationing, there wasn't an abundance of cocoa and Fierro was a pastry maker in dire need of a rich spread to use with his baked goods. He decided to mix in hazelnuts to serve almost as a filler and to stretch out the chocolate supply. According to the Nutella homepage, the treat was originally called "pasta gianduja"--gianduja being a carnival character infamous in the Italian region of Piedmont and pasta denoting that it was a paste. At the time, it was made in small loaves so you could slice it and place it right on bread like a piece of cheese or a cold cut (Dear Nutella manufacturers, let's bring this one back!) Nutella began to make its way from Italy to the United States in the early 80's, and you know the rest of the story.
Today, Nutella's popularity has reached cult status in some circles. Major grocery stores stock it. Some folks are getting Nutella tattoos. Food bloggers adore it. There is, in fact, a World Nutella Day each year on February 5th. Meredith Stubbs of Food52 recently considered Nutella in her column for the New York Times, The New Staples. It's big. It's undeniable.
The one bummer about Nutella is that it does contain hydrogenated oils (another reason to make your own using my friend Shannalee's homemade Nutella recipe). Last time I checked, this is the reason my local Whole Foods doesn't stock it. For awhile, I'd buy a more expensive version of Nutella that did not contain hydrogenated oils but it was almost three times the cost. So I rationalize the treat a few ways: I either use recipes that emulate the flavor of Nutella by using good cocoa and ground hazelnuts or I think of Nutella very much as a treat. I try not to buy it all that often and when I do have it around, I try and do something special with it rather than just eat it spoonful by spoonful out of the jar--although that can prove to be pretty special, too. So recently I made a Nutella puff pastry that would fall into the ridiculously easy yet special category.