We recently spent a night with Cecilia Tessieri, founder of Amedei Chocolate. Following some of the questions asked during the night, her take on quality chocolate, how Amedei is produced and her vision on the future.
Q: Back in the 1990, what was the inspiration to start Amedei? Why were you so passionate about chocolate?
A: I wanted to start this chocolate adventure as a family business and my first step was to travel to where the beans are produced, necessary in my long journey to create a new idea and market for dark chocolate.
Q: It took a few years to create the first bar, you wanted it to respect certain standards. Talk us through the process.
A: I had a different idea on the chocolate that I wanted to produce. For me it was very important to create a new philosophy of chocolate. I selected all the different ingredients, to obtain the best quality for the product that we were producing. We were the first to introduce the concept of "beans to bar", because that's exactly what we did.
Q: You are the first and only woman chocolatier in the world, tell us about what it means in the work you do.
A: When I started 26 years ago I immediately searched for new ingredients and new ways to process the chocolate. A new approach to create a chocolate bar. I lived for many years in France, Germany and Netherlands, to learn and work with different people, schools, approaches. Of course, I worked mainly with men and decided that to be more credible, it was important to be as qualified as they were.
Q: Do you think you had to work harder as a woman in order to prove that you were really serious about what you were doing?
A: In the beginning yes. The chocolate world has been historically dominated by men, and clearly it wasn't a place for women. Although when I started to share my philosophy around the chocolate I envisioned, immediately everyone opened their doors for me. Especially when they realised how serious and committed I was. I was arriving early morning, working till late at night, they saw how much passion I put in every little thing, so they thought "ok, she works like a man, she can work with us"!
Q: Tell us about the name, where does it come from?
A: It is my grandmother's last name, an amazing woman I wanted to dedicate this business to.
Q: We know that sourcing the beans means a lot to you, and that you did an extensive research before choosing the plantations. Tell us about the beans used and the relationship with the growers.
A: The relationship with the growers is very important. When I started I found that farmers grow the beans, but they have no idea what happens afterwards. We created a wonderful synergy with the growers that are now part of the family. Also, new plantations were selected and now have three engineers working in Madagascar, South America, Africa, making sure that the quality and processes in place follow the highest standards.
Q: You regarded the farmers as the "Guardian of knowledge", it seems you have huge respects for these people.
A: The same when I buy almonds in Sicily, pistacchio in Bronte or hazelnuts in Piedmont. We work with people committed to creating the best possible produce, and that applies to everywhere we source our raw materials from.
Q: Take us through the process from beans to bar
A: It is a very long journey. To process chocolate is not easy, and it all starts with the origin of the beans. Of course we must travel to South America, Africa and so on, to find the right produce. After harvest, the beans are fermented and dried, they then embark on a long journey by boat to Tuscany, where is processed. Only the most precious beans, like Porcelana, are delivered by plane.
When the beans arrive, we start checking, cleaning, then roasting. This last step is crucial: every single variety has a different temperature (never above 48°C) and duration of roasting, plus they go through this process individually (different varieties are never mixed together at this stage). We prepare the recipes and start working with the cocoa mass, and when it gets to a fine consistence, it is transferred to a conche (a surface scraping mixer that evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate, and may act as a 'polisher' of the particles) and there it remains for 72 hours: this to develop the aromatic parts of the chocolate. After obtaining a liquified and smooth chocolate mass, they are combined according to recipes, then finalised in the packaging department. Last last step, they come to you, wherever you are!
Q: 72 hours is a lot longer than many other chocolates take, why is that?
A: The industrial chocolate does not use the machine we have at Amedei, and we decided to invest in a process that could take the best flavours out of the raw material. It all goes back to our philosophy and our commitment to create the best chocolate out there.
Q: Amedei Chocolate range is huge, what inspires you to create new chocolate varieties?
A: We always come up with new combinations, but before launching them on the market we want to make sure they have the right balance, and add a new experience in our customers chocolate journey.
Q: What is your opinion on cacao beans and organic cacao beans?
A: We work with very little plantations so they cannot afford the organic certification, but this doesn't mean the product is not of the highest quality. I prefer to work with small farmers, involve them in the whole production process and pay them more than an organic cooperative could probably do. Also, we don't use pesticides and we have a really good protocol in place to not use any chemicals on the beans.
Q: What is the best temperature to eat chocolate?
A: No higher than 22°C.
Q: Do you change the recipes in winter or summer?
A: No. People might change, but chocolate remains the same!
Q: Do you use any emulsifiers?
A: We used to in the past, however we don't anymore. It is very hard to find good quality soya lecitin to add to our chocolate, and that would alter the taste anyway. Instead we decided to adjust the fat of the cacao beans inside to create a chocolate without. The fat is the cocoa butter inside the beans: we don't adjust the cocoa butter, we use it to our advantage.
Q: Can you tell us where the 9 beans of the 9 chocolate come from?
A: (Laugh). The recipe of the Amedei 9 is a secret, as they are all the plantations where the cacao beans come from. They are from South America, and from different countries. Some plantations are incredibly small, it took a while to find them and the amazing result is for everyone to taste.
Also remember that the beans change, so we need to adjust the recipe all the time, in a very similar way to champagne.
Q: In the 2016 Academy Chocolate Awards, Amedei won 6 gold 6 silver and bronze, that must be an incredible recognition for the chocolate you create.
A: This year was great for Amedei, not only because of the awards for the already existing, and amazing, chocolates, but for the new ones as well. Pralines nougat presented for the first time won the gold medal. It was an incredible honour to be awarded these medals and to be recognised by experts as the producers of some the best chocolate in the world.
Q: One incredible product you recently created is called "Prendime", tell us more about it.
A: Prendime ("Take me") is 1kg of chocolate and is thought to be either a great present or something to share with the people you love.