World's best spills the beans; Imagine setting out to make the world's best chocolate bar - and then achieving your ambition just 12 months later. Editor LAURA STUART-COOK discovers how an artisan producer from Cleethorpes made his mark on the world of fine chocolate ...
If I told you that the World's Best Chocolate of 2011 - as judged by the international Academy of Chocolate - was crafted right here in Humberston, you probably wouldn't believe me.
In fact, you would probably question whether there is even a chocolate producer in the village at all, let alone one that has manufactured bars to grace the shelves of London's prestigious Fortnum & Mason.
But there is - and that's exactly the way owner Duffy Sheardown owner likes it.
There isn't even a sign welcoming you to Duffy's Chocolate, off Wilton Road Industrial Estate, in fact, the only reassurance that you're knocking on the right door is the rich aroma of molten chocolate emanating from within.
It is here that former motorsport engineer Duffy works his magic - taking up to seven days to craft each perfectly-formed bar, under the trading name of Red Star Chocolate.
"Very few people in the country make chocolate in the way it should be made," he muses.
"Our bars are all single origin, meaning they are made with beans from one harvest, from one region of one country.
"People often think they won't able to tell the difference between chocolate based on the origins of the beans, but anybody who has tried two of our varieties will tell you otherwise.
"For instance, the bar from Panama tastes of liquorice, while the Ecuadorian has a flavour of bananas and flowers. You don't need to be a chocolate connoisseur to pick that out.
"In fact, the taste of each individual bar varies year-on-year as the growing conditions change.
"I always pay our producers well over the odds to ensure the cocoa beans are the highest possible quality and are ethically sourced.
"I've purchased beans from a man who attended a fine food show in London with them in his suitcase, and I currently buy the whole crop of a small island in Panama."
Born in Scunthorpe, Duffy joined the motor racing industry in 1983 and working his way up to team manager.
After facing the regular upheaval of redundancy at the end of a championship-winning season, Duffy simply decided it was time to make chocolate.
He purchased a small chocolate-making machine and starting experimenting.
"It all began when I heard a BBC radio feature in 2007 saying that Cadbury's was the only chocolate maker in the UK to roast their own beans," says Duffy, who moved to Cleethorpes five years ago.
"I set out to understand why that was so and began to appreciate the immense effort and cost involved in sourcing beans direct from suppliers and then processing them from scratch.
"You might think that the worlds of motorsport and chocolate couldn't be more different, but they actually both involve passion, long hours, hard work and a technical rigour.
"I log and taste everything obsessively myself and I didn't actually do any market research before I launched because anybody will say they like chocolate if you give it to them for free!" So, how does the bean to bar production process work? Duffy's modest headquarters is divided into two distinct areas. The first is home to the enormous hessian sacks full of beans, which all bear the mark of their country of origin - today there are beans in stock from Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras and Peru.
Each batch is roasted in its shells for 30 minutes at 130degC and then meticulously sorted by hand to identified any beans that won't be bursting with flavour.
These are then chopped into tiny pieces and the shells separated from the nibs.
While the shells can be used to infuse vodka or make cocoa tea, the precious nibs are combined with a little cocoa butter and granite ground for two days until they reach a decadently gloopy state.
A heating tank can then be used to keep the chocolate liquid, or it may be allowed to harden and stored for a couple of weeks to improve its flavour.
From this stage, it progresses into the adjoining "finishing" room and is cooled from 45degC to 29.5degC in a tempering machine, which allows crystals to form - creating that satisfying snap.
The liquid is poured into moulds and cooled for 10 minutes in the workshop before being refrigerated to set - with each and every bar checked twice for quality control.
After being packaged in understated wrappers depicting scenes from the beans' country of origin, Duffy's is ready to hit the shelves. Varieties currently include milk and dark chocolate, with cocoa concentrations ranging from 40 per cent to an impressively bitter 83 per cent.
The winner of 2011's golden bean trophy for World's Best Chocolate was the Honduras Indio Rojo, and Duffy has high hopes that his strong milk variety, from Venezuela, could scoop the award this year.
Duffy, who turned down a job working on the land speed record car to pursue his chocolate dream, explained: "I suppose it could have been an anticlimax when we won first time around, because I'd set out to make the world's best chocolate and then achieved it.
"But it actually just inspired me to keep making chocolate that is even better.
"The awards are only held every two years and I'm feeling very positive about our milk entry, it really is perfect."
And with his track record of producing exemplary chocolate, you get the feeling Duffy may well know his beans.
Duffy's chocolate is available to buy online at www.redstarchocolate.co.uk, or locally from Deli-licious, in St Peter's Avenue, Cleethorpes; Zest, in High Street, Waltham; and Royston's, in Louth.
Fine chocolate maker Duffy Sheardown. Below, from bean to bar, the process of making awardwinning Duffy's chocolate.
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2013|
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