The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate
Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.
Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.
But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.
Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby
In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.
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