At $100 per pound, Tuscan chocolate brand Amedei is worth every dollar. At least if Food & Wine’s Peter Wells would have you believe. After tasting it for the first time, the chocolate left him speechless. He went to Tuscany to find out what makes it so good.
Amedei, founded in 1990, is the joint effort of a 42-year-old Italian named Alessio Tessieri and his younger sister, Cecilia. He buys the raw materials, she works it into something special.
Chloé Doutre-Roussel, the author of The Chocolate Connoisseur and one of the world’s leading authorities on fine chocolate, uses another word to describe what came next: vendetta. “Everything Alessio does, he does with intensity,” Doutre-Roussel says. “So this revenge became his focus. He put everything—the family money, even his sister—on this project.”
Within three weeks, the Tessieris decided that they weren’t going to buy chocolate anymore—they would make it. Cecilia apprenticed with bean-to-bar artisans around Europe. At first they bought cacao from brokers, but by 1997, Alessio had begun hunting it himself, from Ecuador to Madagascar to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This last region was especially rich with cacao of the first rank; a lot of money was at stake, and life could get rough. Four years ago, someone tried to murder a cacao buyer who worked with Valrhona, strafing his car with an automatic weapon and leaving him with a half-dozen gunshot wounds.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
Alessio went around to the brokers and negotiated directly with the farmers’ cooperative, offering to pay off their debts and triple the previous price for their beans. “By the time Valrhona realized, it was gone,” Doutre-Roussel says.
Turns out the genesis of the best chocolatier in the world came from being personally offended by French chocolate maker Valrhona.