Sitting proud on the Tuscan landscape, just outside Pisa, is where you will find Amedei, a small and perfectly formed artisan chocolate makers with a rather big name, not just in Italian chocolate but the world over. We have had the pleasure of visiting Amedei and its two founders, brother and sister Alessio and Cecilia Tesserio, who gladly spent an afternoon discussing with us just how passionate about chocolate they really are.
Amedei putting Italy on the map
We have got to know Amedei very well since we first included their outstanding chocolates into our collection. It has been refreshing to experience first hand a true desire for perfection, which sadly isn’t all too common in the world of chocolate, particularly in the UK. However we, at Chocolate Trading Company, certainly enjoy searching for and are proud to share with you the finest of chocolates from around the world, real chocolate. Amedei certainly is the pinnacle of fine chocolate. Amedei, particularly in the last year, have become known around the world for their chocolate, in particular their Porcelana chocolate. One of the many reasons for their high acclaim is a strong and honest desire to create the best chocolate at whatever cost and above all else, a commitment to the precious most susceptible cocoa species and the unsung farmers right at the roots of the cocoa plantations. Amedei is largely responsible for entering Italian chocolate on the map and sitting firmly side by side with French chocolate as the best in the world.
Quality over quantity
Amedei is important to us all in many ways, it is creating a chocolate that not only surpasses many of the larger chocolate companies around the world, giving us a chance to experience chocolate in its finest form, but it is doing so with a conscience. Amedei strives to use fairly traded cocoa, it closely monitors how this cocoa is produced and clearly has an intention of protecting the rarer cocoas and assisting with their continued growth. Alessio and his agronomists, combined with various agricultural agencies and experts in cocoa, have worked hard to ensure supply and supervision of the most valuable plantations and support their production. Amedei is not interested in the mass produced cocoa, such as Forastero, which is often used to replace the higher quality but lower yielding cocoa varieties in favour of increased profits. This invasion of low grade cocoa, and even more profitable crops such as bananas and oranges is an ongoing threat to the worlds finest cocoas, as cocoa farming isn’t the most profitable of incomes for many farmers it continues to be a growing concern. To attain the finest cocoas for Amedei's chocolates, such as the revered Chuao, Alessio originally paid up to three times the current price given to the farmers from existing merchants and even assumed the farmers debts. His belief to attain the best cocoa was worth the great effort and cost, with constant supervision of how the cocoa is farmed.
The precious cocoa
With a growing awareness of how important and precious such fine cocoas really are and the requirement for them increased by the likes of Amedei, maybe the trend for quantity over quality can be reversed, or at least halted. For many years cocoa varieties have been crossed to increase their yield and greater resistance to disease, sometimes with devastating effects. In recent years germplasm banks have been created to preserve the true historic strains and research undertaken into new cocoas from findings of a few isolated and forgotten plants. Commercially this is becoming increasingly viable - as long as the requirement is there. It seems ironic that it was these very fine cocoas that the Spanish originally discovered and brought to the rest of the world with such excitement. Wouldn't it be a great shame if all was lost simply due to commercial gain and that all we were left with is a shadow of what used to be.
Amedei's prized chocolates
Amedei's most prized chocolate comes in the forms of the Single origin, and to be precise, single variety, Porcelana bar and Porcelana neopolitans and as the name suggests is created solely from the very rare and valuable Porcelana cocoa bean, the purest form of the Criollo cocoa bean (Criollo meaning “native”). This particular cocoa bean is revered around the world for its superior taste and with such short supply, a mere 3,000 kilos a year, Amedei only produces 20,000 Porcelana chocolate bars, each numbered by hand. Amedei has conducted in-depth agronomic research and genetic testing on the Porcelana cocoa and today it buys up a substantial quantity of all that is grown, paying up to eight times more for Porcelana than the lower grade Forastero cocoa, the most widely grown and used cocoa in the world. The next prized Single origin chocolate from Amedei, again comes in the forms of the Chuao bar and Chuao neopolitans,created solely from the world famous Chuao cocoa bean which has an exceptional fruity flavour and unique character. This particular cocoa bean legend is named after the plantation it is grown on Venezuela's coast. Therefore technically these chocolates can be more accurately referred to as Single Estate. Up until a few years ago, the Chuao cocoa was the exclusive domain of the great French chocolate makers. Now Amedei has managed to break this long-standing tradition and is today the sole producer in the world at this time creating chocolate using this precious cocoa bean.
The Amedei blends
The Amedei range of blended chocolate bars are created from the two favoured cocoa beans amongst the premium chocolate makers, from the three main cocoa types, the Trinitario and Criollo. Amedei’s Toscano Black 70% bar Cecilia (master chocolate maker at Amedei) describes as “all the flavour that chocolate is capable of giving” and is, as we found, her own personal favourite amongst the finely blended dark Toscano Black 66% bar and Toscano Black 63% bar chocolate bars created by Amedei. We sampled the range of blends comparatively and discussed their unique characteristics. The 70% we agreed is the most powerful and full flavoured of the blends, it provides a wonderful rounded taste that fills the mouth with cocoa, with not too much acidic fruitiness and not at all drying on the finish. The 66% and 63% blends are quite different in that they have an increased fragrance with the 63% providing the fruitier flavours and the 66% with a unique balsamic quality. Even though the cocoa percentages of the blends are very similar it is very apparent the differences noted in each chocolate when tasted comparatively and considered. And that’s exactly how chocolate should be eaten, like all fine foods and wines, it must be savoured and enjoyed and not just consumed as a fast snack. Chocolate Trading Company's aim is to provide people with that opportunity to experience and enjoy the finest chocolates available, and to prove that there is much more to real chocolate than we were brought up to believe perhaps. It's certainly our passion anyway and one that we hope you also enjoy and share.
We then moved on to the Crus or single origin neopolitans which, with their gradient of colours, look nearly as impressive as they taste. With water between each tasting to cleanse the palette of course we continued to treat our taste buds to an oral chocolate trip around the world. Firstly, we sampled the Toscano Brown Milk Chocolate again as this is the best way to begin a tasting as milk chocolate prepares the mouth. Amedei’s milk chocolate it has to be said is definitely one of the most flavoursome of milk chocolates we have experienced. And that's a lot! The full-bodied tastes of caramel and fudge fill the mouth with the creamiest of finishes, with added notes of malt and honey. This is how milk chocolate should taste. Not a sugar filled explosion with a cloying texture with no or little taste of the actual cocoa. Once prepared, and collectively purring with delight, we began with the more delicate and lighter Crus such as the Venezuela and finished with the more intense and robust, such as Ecuador. Cecilia explained the work involved in understanding each Cru and her aim to enhance their individual complexities and extract the most potential from the raw cocoa:
CRU NEOPOLITAN TASTING NOTES:
A light and aromatic scent with a slightly spicy edge. Notes of toasted hazelnut.
A delicate flavour with a fruity refreshing taste. Creamy finish.
Strong flavour with a classic balance of cocoa and fruit.
Strong cocoa flavour and scent with a spicy tone. Slightly bitter edge but a sweet finish.
Intense aroma which acquires an earthy strength as it progresses.
Possibly the most robust of the group with a strong cocoa flavour, spicy notes and a lasting finish.
Finally, we chose a few of our personal favourites from the rather enticing plate of Pralines. We find that pralines generally in the UK receive a very mixed reception. With many of us brought up with the mass produced “candy” style chocolates this has inevitably led to a large audience with an in built fondness for those sugar filled cream centres. If however, you do possess a palette and appreciate the actual taste of the chocolate, then Amedei’s pralines will force you to make those satisfying noises that just have to be made when tasting something very special. They provide great richness and depth of flavour that is so rewarding you find more than a few is quite enough. The ingredients are of course as fine as they can be and when a flavour is mentioned it is just that – not an artificial flavour assault! The Pistachio and Marzipan for example in white chocolate with a milk chocolate centre reveals all the enclosed flavours in rich succession, with no fighting, eventually leaving the mouth slowly with such a smooth and rich finish... try for yourself, all will make perfect sense.
In the world of fine chocolate it’s not just the fine flavours alone that make one chocolate stand out from another, the importance of texture plays a large role in the majority of peoples opinions of what makes the best chocolate. Amedei again has perfected these processes, and most importantly for this particular requirement it is the grinding and conching process, which plays a large role in creating a silky smooth chocolate with no gritty or flakey textures. Some may argue this is not so critical and that it is the taste predominantly that should be the main focus, but in the quest for making the finest chocolate in the world every aspect of the chocolate experience must be the best possible. To create such a smooth tasting experience Amedei grinds their cocoa beans to no more than 15 microns, your mouth can only detect a granule size of over 18 microns and industry standards are approximately 30 microns. The grinding of the cocoa at Amedei is still performed on a traditional granite stone mill, which incidentally, sits as proud as an art installation in the immaculate surroundings of the factory at Amedei HQ. It does no justice at all really to call the building a factory. Arriving through some rather impressive electric gates that, proudly display the Amedei name, and witnessing the meticulously painted frontage with its richly illustrated cocoa beans and foliage, it feels more like arriving at a museum, or even a gallery of some description. Again the attention to detail is rewardingly present all around you. In fact the illustration used on the Porcelana and Chuao packaging is photographed directly from the brickwork frontage. It really is that beautiful.
Time to savour
We are of course very familiar with all of Amedei’s chocolates, but it was a great opportunity to sit down together with Alessio and Cecilia and sample their complete chocolate range and chat. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to find such a personal attachment from Cecilia to each of her creations, she explained her thoughts when creating certain combinations of flavours and told us of the personal connections and stories attached to some of the chocolates laid out before us. Cecilia is quite simply an artist with a passion and something you perhaps forget when usually only experiencing the finished, packaged “product”. Just remember when you are next enjoying an Amedei chocolate, the flavours you are experiencing are from many months, even years of Cecilia's work and personal taste. That particular note of malt, liquorice or spicy edge your experiencing has been refined, balanced, tamed and, still continues to be with each batch of fine cocoa that arrives at Amedei.
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By The Chocolate Traveller
Chocolate Trading Company