It can stop angry delivery drivers dead in their tracks and make them all sweetness and light”, explains Duffy Sheardown when I comment on the amazing aroma in his factory. “They come in all huffy and ‘I’ve just spent half an hour looking for you’ and then suddenly it’s ‘Wow what’s that amazing smell?’ And then they’re smiling like kids. Chocolate will do that to you.”
It’s certainly a rich and almost euphoria inducing aroma. And it seems to stay around. For several days after my visit I feel as if I get an occasional waft of it. In the park. In the living room. In the garden. For a few days it seems like the whole world is full of chocolate.
Duffy Sheardown has been producing high quality chocolate in his premises in Wilton Road for seven years. He’s a chocolate maker, not a chocolatier. Chocolatiers make things out of chocolate.
Before that he worked in the motor racing industry, fabricating bodywork components for teams in Formula 1 and in sports car racing. One wall of the factory is filled with colour photographs of the cars he helped build.
And then one day it just came to an end.
‘I was driving with the boss to look at a house to rent near the team base. He got a phone call in the car and it was the main sponsor announcing that he had pulled out. That was it. No more team. I was unemployed.’
So what led him into the chocolate industry?
‘I was looking for a challenge. I saw a TV programme that said that there was only one firm making chocolate from beans in the whole of the UK. And I thought “I could do that”’.
Did he have any previous experience?
‘No. but I thought “How hard can it be?” I did plenty of research. And then we set up.’
Was it difficult to learn?
‘Not really he says. We buy the best cocoa beans in the world and then we try not to make a mess of them. That’s about it.’
He says it so disarmingly for a few seconds I almost believe him. But not really.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which are actually the dried and fermented seeds of Theobrama cacao, a tall elegant tree that grows in Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia. The best beans are from the new world, especially Venezuela, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Nicaragua. When processed they yield both cocoa solids and cocoa butter, a fine quality vegetable oil.
Of the three varieties principally used in chocolate making the rarest and most sought after (and therefore of course the most expensive), is the criollo. It is grown principally in the Americas but it’s a difficult crop and it makes up only 5% of world cocoa bean production.
Most common is the Forestero, grown extensively in Africa. The third variety of bean is the Trinitartio – a hybrid of the other two, again principally grown in the Americas.
Duffy’s chocolate is made only from Criollo and Trinitario beans. Mostly he produces single estate varieties so that customers know the exact source of the ingredients and he purchases via the Direct Cacao scheme, which is a bit like Fairtrade but better because under the Direct Cacao scheme growers are paid what they ask for their crop, with no quibbling. In return they commit to producing top quality beans that artisan chocolate makers require. Rather like good whisky it’s dark and richly flavoured with hints of vanilla or raspberries or citrus. Each estate’s product has its own unique flavour spectrum and it’s reassuringly expensive. Not arm and a leg second mortgage expensive but expensive enough that you know you’re buying something special. This isn’t lunchbox chocolate, this is artisan chocolate, for treating someone special.
Or for treating yourself.
Duffy’s call themselves ‘bean to bar’ producers which means that they take delivery of raw beans and process everything in house until the finished product is complete. No shortcuts, no substitutes.
The process starts with the roasting, shelling and sorting of the cocoa beans. Then they’re placed in large stainless steel vats where they are ground by rotating granite rollers. As the cocoa butter is released so the ground beans liquify. On the second day organic cane sugar is added and some cocoa butter for texture. At the end of the process a little sunflower lecithin is added to prevent the formation of bubbles. That’s all there is to it.
It takes between two and three days to completely turn to chocolate and for all the complex flavours to come through and each batch of 30kg of beans produces only 300 bars of completed product. Of course they could buy machines to do a lot of the work and increase production massively but you just know from being here that that isn’t the point.
The liquid chocolate is tempered on a granite slab and poured into moulds, cooled and then wrapped by hand ready to go out to specialist shops and enthusiasts all over the world.
(If we’ve whetted your appetite for knowing more then there’s some fascinating background information and an excellent video on the Duffy’s website at www.duffyschocolate.co.uk.)
And of course it tastes fantastic and it’s in high demand from chocolate enthusiasts all over the world. The factory only produces about 25,000 bars a year however so it doesn’t hang around. It’s available by mail order and via the Duffy’s website as well as from a select few retailers, including not only Deli-Licious in St Peter’s Avenue and Fortnum & Mason’s in Piccadilly but chocolate specialists all round the world. They have been awarded gold medals twice by the Academy of Chocolate.
We’re visiting the factory on the occasion of its open day, celebrating the businesses extension into the unit next door, in which Lindsay Gardner of Louth’s very own Spire Chocolates will be making her famous chocolate products including boxes of chocolates, chocolate bark, polar bears and alpacas. It’s an ideal tie up – superb Lincolnshire chocolate and delicious Lincolnshire chocolates made on the same premises.
They’ll be offering courses and experience days as well and if you’re a chocolate aficionado then a visit to Duffy’s, for a chocolate making and tasting session is something you won’t want to miss.
And then there’s the smell. Did I mention the smell?
Further information about Duffy’s Chocolate and their online shop can be found on their website at www.duffyschocolate.co.uk
Spire Chocolates are at www.spirechocolates.co.uk