I find there’s something really intriguing in the word “antico” (antique) when it comes to Italian food establishments, thinking of old recipes and mastery acquired and evolved through decades. And that becomes even more intriguing and totally exciting when the antico food establishment we’re talking about, is in fact a chocolate factory with many retail points!
Gay Odin is no secret among Neopolitans. On the contrary, it’s a much loved and highly appreciated Cioccolateria, synonymous of excellence, one of the best, historical places in whole Italy for its exclusive, artisan chocolates.
The fairy-tale story of the company starts in 1894 when Isidoro Odin with little money, only one suitcase and many hopes and dreams, bought a one-way ticket from northern Alba to southern Naples, looking for a place to start his business as a young chocolatier. His sweet creations full of new flavours and aromas made him popular and so the first shop was soon succeeded by a chocolate factory that he and his wife, Onorina Gay, opened in 1922. The original building, just off Via dei Mille in the area of Chiaia, which was designed in the popular at the time Liberty style, mostly known as Art Nouveau, still houses the laboratory and was declared a national monument in 1993. The company’s transfer to the Castaldi-Maglietta family in the ‘60s didn’t change anything in terms of quality or craftsmanship that characterise all of the Gay Odin chocolate creations. The ancient recipes and top quality cocoa that is used follow a strictly artisan process of slowly roasting the cocoa beans in a wood oven and at low temperatures, so that all nutrients and aromas are captured and preserved. Then, the toasted beans are grounded to produce the delicious paste that goes into the amazing chocolate creations in many different flavours and shapes.
As soon as you enter any of their 9 shops with the characteristic old, mahogany storefronts and display cases, you feel you’ve stepped back in time and at the same time you realise you’ve entered the most amazing chocolate world! The intoxicating scent of cocoa, the endless variety of chocolates and the Foretsa, their most famous product and pièce de résistance, don’t let anyone unmoved! Especially the latter, a chocolate creation based in a top secret recipe and formed into an interestingly folded, woven shape, very similar to a tree trunk, is a product famous all over Italy. And what was the best surprise for me, when entering for the first time a Gay Odin shop on a hot summer day? “Foresta” comes in gelato too!!! Actually, this is the place for the best chocolate gelato in Naples, providing the perfect balance for chocolate and gelato lovers. The dense, full bodied flavour of their hand made chocolates, either with nuts, liqueur or fruit, is transformed into delicious, genuine, artisan, top quality gelato. Apart from the Foresta, which of course you won’t find anywhere else, the Sacher Torte is also delicious, just like Chocolate with rum, with cinnamon, with orange, or Fontente with dark chocolate crumbs. And for a different tone to your chocolate gelato, you may also add a scoop of their Cremino, with wafer pieces, Ghianda (acorn), Castagna (chestnut), Sicilian Pistachio, and Mandorla (almond) from Avola.
Even if you go just for a gelato, you shouldn’t leave a Gay Odin shop without buying a few different flavours of their unique truffles covered in cocoa powder or their filled chocolates, which in their beautiful keep sake boxes that depict Neapolitan landscapes, also make a great gift. And what a lovely surprise it would be if, while wandering the historic streets of Naples and enjoying your chocolate gelato, you come across the replica of the 1920s Gay Odin delivery van, another reminder of the choccolateria’s rich history.