Mario Balotelli, the Azzurri‘s star striker, was born in Sicily, in our minds the undisputed capital of chocolate production in Italy, and one of the few places you can find chocolate produced in Europe based on ancient Mesoamerican recipes. Yet Italy’s opponents today, the Ticos of Costa Rica, now hold claim to an ancient chocolate renaissance of their own. Chocolate has been grown in Costa Rica for thousands of years, and was considered so valuable it was utilized as a medium of exchange prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s. Cacao plantations were common fixtures across the country until the 1970s, when a fungus called monilia began to decimate the crop. Nearly 90% of Costa Rica’s cacao crops succumbed to the disease – but now they are making a comeback. The Tico Times provides the exciting (and well-researched) narrative behind the work of Costa Rica’s Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), and their work to cultivate strains of cacao resistant to the fungus. The resultant work has led to a boom in Costa Rican chocolate, made all the more popular by the country’s commitment to fair working conditions and environmental sustainability (which cannot be said for production practices in other major cacao production centers, especially in western Africa). Now, visitors to Costa Rica have many different ways to experience the country’s resurgent chocolate culture, from chocolate tours and agricultural volunteering, to a wide range of chocolate-influenced foods, to just tasting the offerings at a respected retailer like Sibú. We are lucky enough to be heading to Costa Rica in December, so we will definitely experience as much of the new chocolate culture as we can!