– By JOE BONWICH

McClatchy Newspapers

The animosity about the Euro might just be mitigated if European community leaders broke bread together — and topped the bread with chocolate-hazelnut spread.

In America — and indeed, across Europe and elsewhere in the world — the best-known version is Nutella. The Ferrero company traces Nutella’s origins to Pietro Ferrero, who formulated a loaf form of what was then called pasta gianduja to extend war-rationed chocolate during World War II.

Yes, this is the same Ferrero company that now makes Ferrero Rocher candies — and also, oddly enough, Tic Tacs. The original loaves evolved into a jarred cream, which was branded as Nutella in 1964 and first sold in America in 1983.

But other chocolate-hazelnut spreads are manufactured in countries across Europe. We collected several of these — as well as one from the U.S. — to see how they compare with Ferrero’s standard-bearer.

The classic way to enjoy Nutella is slathered on bread (or crepes), often topped with banana slices. For variation, we’ve provided recipes for Nutella Tartine (an open-face Nutella-and-marmalade sandwich), Nutella Ice Cream and (why not?) Sweet and Spicy Nutella-Coated Bacon.

And mark your calendar: Feb. 5 is World Nutella Day. (Really.) The website NutellaDay.com already has more than 500 recipes from its readers. Perhaps you’ll create and submit a masterpiece of your own before then.

NUTELLA ICE CREAM

Yield: 4 servings

1 cup Nutella

¾ cup granulated sugar or less to taste (see tester’s note)

1 cup whole milk

11/3 cups heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Mix Nutella and sugar until completely combined, then add milk. Mix until mixture is smooth and sugar is dissolved.

2. Stir in heavy cream and the vanilla. Cover and chill until cold.

3. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. For a firmer texture, transfer ice cream to a small freezer-safe container, press plastic wrap against the top of the ice cream, and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Per serving: 865 calories; 54 g fat; 27 g saturated fat; 115 mg cholesterol; 10 g protein; 87 g carbohydrate; 83 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 85 mg sodium; 200 mg calcium.

Tester’s note: Using the full amount of sugar results in a sweetness similar to most supermarket ice creams. Using ¼ cup sugar — or even omitting the added sugar entirely — results in dessert closer to a dark-chocolate ice cream.

Adapted from a recipe on the Carrie’s Sweet Life blog (carriessweetlife.com) linked from the World Nutella Day website (nutelladay.com)

SWEET AND SPICY NUTELLA-COATED BACON

Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 thick slices bacon (½ to ¾ pound)

3 tablespoons Nutella

Fleur de sel or another coarse salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine brown sugar, chili powder and black pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange bacon slices on baking sheet, making sure they do not overlap. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on desired doneness, then remove from oven and carefully flip bacon slices.

3. Sprinkle each slice liberally with sugar-pepper mixture. Return to oven and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Cool bacon slices on paper towels until approximately room temperature.

4. When bacon has cooled, place Nutella into a small bowl and microwave on high for approximately 15 to 20 seconds, until softened. Transfer bacon slices to a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet or large plate. Using a silicon brush or icing spatula, lightly spread Nutella onto the top of each bacon slice. Place plate into refrigerator and allow Nutella to harden. Once coating is firm to the touch, sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve.

Per serving: 150 calories; 10 g fat; 3.5 g saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; no fiber; 355 mg sodium; 15 mg calcium.

VARIATIONS:

n Reduce the amount of black pepper to ½ teaspoon and add ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper to the spice mixture.

n To make a European Elvis sandwich, spread the top of one slice of bread lightly with honey, top with the coated bacon and thin slices of banana, then close with a second slice of bread.

Adapted from a recipe on the bell’alimento blog (bellalimento.com) linked from the World Nutella Day website (nutelladay.com)

NUTELLA TARTINE

Yield: 4 servings

¼ cup Nutella

4 slices brioche or challah bread

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup orange marmalade (preferably the bitter kind made from Seville oranges)

Fleur de sel or another coarse salt

About 12 hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off and coarsely chopped or crushed

1. Turn on the broiler. Line a baking sheet or broiler pan with aluminum foil.

2. Put Nutella in a microwavable bowl. Heat for about 15 seconds, just until softened and warmed. (Alternately, heat in the top of a double-boiler.)

3. Brush one side of each slice of bread with melted butter. Put the bread, buttered side up, on the baking sheet. Broil the bread until the tops are golden.

4. Spread marmalade over hot bread. Using the tines of a fork, generously drizzle with warm Nutella. Top sparingly with fleur de sel, then sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Per serving: 475 calories; 25 g fat; 12 g saturated fat; 105 mg cholesterol; 9 g protein; 55 g carbohydrate; 27 g sugar; 2g fiber; 260 mg sodium; 55 mg calcium.

Adapted from “Around My French Table,” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

TASTE TEST

We sampled seven Nutella alternatives, all of the single-color variety. (Some of the spreads available in stores were swirls of dark and light; we omitted them to keep the sample manageable and consistent.)

Overall, we found that those with sugar as the first listed ingredient (usually followed by some sort of oil) were unsatisfactory. The best had a listed percentage of hazelnuts in excess of 10 percent. Most are available online.

RECOMMENDED:

n Excellent Crunchy — $4.79 for 200 grams. Darkest color, aromas of chocolate and nuts. Nut chips in the paste (which has both hazelnuts and almonds), excellent balance of distinct nut and chocolate flavors with almonds most notable on the finish.

n Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Blend — $9.95 for 16 ounces/454 grams. Sandy, textured surface. Dominant aroma is of nuts; least sweet. Would be the best of those we sampled in a basic sandwich.

n Ulker Golden — $4.69 for 350 grams. Creamy, with an excellent balance of major hazelnut flavor and minor chocolate flavor.

ACCEPTABLE:

n Franck Eurocrem — $4.89 for 400 grams. A touch of oiliness, but reasonably close to Nutella in texture and flavor.

NOT RECOMMENDED

n Alpella — $5.19 for 500 grams. Creamy, but with almost no discernible nut flavor.

Armella — $5.19 for 750 grams. Film of oil on the surface. Only a hint of nuttiness, with a main flavor like the cream filling in an Oreo.

n Spar — $4.19 for 400 grams. Aroma and flavor each have a vague chemical touch. Almost no chocolate flavor and even less nut flavor.

MORE IDEAS

n Make a banana Nutella trifle by layering banana pudding and cookie sandwiches made with vanilla wafers, Nutella and banana slices.

n Soften Nutella in the microwave and use as an ice cream topping.

n For French toast sandwiches, spread a thin layer of Nutella and a thin layer of orange marmalade between two thin slices of bread. For two sandwiches, whisk together 2 eggs, about ¼ cup milk and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Dip the sandwiches into the liquid, saturating the bread. Fry in butter over medium heat until browned, turning as needed.

n Use Nutella to make hot chocolate, shakes or smoothies — or dilute it with milk or cream and flavor your coffee.

n Stir Nutella into partially whipped cream, then finish whipping.

n Use Nutella to flavor milk- or cream-based cocktails.