I only recently found out that Nutella turned 40 this year. I've been eating this delicious cream since I was a kid, so I can't deny I was a bit touched by the news. I always thought Nutella-craze to be a rather Italian phenomenon but I discovered I was wrong: take this eGullet thread as an example. I was even more surprised from Pierre Herme's positive comments on Nutella in his Chocolate Desserts. I knew Nutella was nice but after reading these comments I can even eat it with gourmet confidence. So what better occasion than this to look back and Nutella's history, its cult-product status and a little hazelnut spread tasting?
The origins of Nutella go back, indirectly, to 1867. In that year giandujotti, the typical sweet from Turin, are born: this hazelnuts and cocoa candy, made with the objective of reducing the production costs caused by high cocoa prices, soon becomes a success. After WWII Pietro Ferrero creates Giandujot an economic surrogate of giandujotti, sold as a thick paste to be sliced and served on bread. In 1949 a more recognisable ancestor of Nutella sees the light of day: Supercrema, a spreadable version of the paste. The formula of the cream gets improved but the name remains Supercrema till 1964. In this year a serious of circumstances convince the Ferreros to re-name their product Nutella. The first reason was an Italian law of the time prohibiting superlatives in product names. Even more important was the hazelnut cream success on foreign markets. According to one story a German affiliate company proposed a name containing nuss (German for nut) or nut: after some creative brainstorming the name Nutella was born. And with it the commercial campaigns that made Nutella famous around the world.
Nutella as cult product
In Italy no other industrial food product has the same cult status as Nutella. For exactly this reason snobbish Italian foodies often turn their nose at it. I don't think that bothers Ferrero that much. Their recently launched Nutella fan on-line community (only in Italian) has reached the 1000 members mark very quickly. In 2000 a book even looked at the "social history of Nutella". Nutella books, quotations and even songs abound in Italy. Following Nanni Moretti's Nutella dream scene in Bianca, one of his early films, the hazelnut cream acquired even an art-house intellectuals fan-base.
Nutella has so many imitations that sometimes it's hard to say why only this product has such a cult status. After reading some comments on the aforementioned eGullet thread, I decided, with a couple of friends, to organise a little nut spread tasting. Originally we intended to try all five creams on sale at our local grocery store but, after a few weird looks from other customers, chickened out and went for three.
We tried, as seriously as possible, to compare the three chosen creams and reach an unanimous judgement on their taste. The last part worked quite well: we all had similar notes on the creams. That doesn't we all liked the same one: subjective taste proved quite different with Nutella winning only by a head.
So here's our summed up notes:
1) Nusspli (13% hazelnuts): By far the sweetest of the lot. The cocoa and hazelnut tastes were well balanced though not so strong as in the other two. In contrast there was a quite noticeable condensed milk taste as finish.
2) Nudossi (36% hazelnuts): This one had a much stronger hazelnut flavour than the rest, as one could expect from the higher nut content. Very creamy and not too sweet. Pleasant vanilla aroma too.
3) Nutella (13% hazelnuts): Whatever way one wants to see it, Nutella stood out from the bunch. Unlike the previous two, the hazelnut have clearly been toasted. The cocoa taste is stronger and there's a more noticeable salt note (a plus for me, as it balances the sweetness, but a minus for the others).