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Words: Dominic Franks
Photography: Dominic Franks
Featured in the April 2012 issue

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Imagine a magical place where the heady aroma of dark chocolate permeates the air, where roasted cocoa beans and the bittersweet scent of hot, melted cocoa butter fills your senses. Welcome to Cleethorpes!

Yes, you did read correctly, for this unsuspecting North Lincolnshire coastal town is the home of Duffy’s Red Star Chocolate. Founded in 2007 by motor racing manager Duffy Sheardown, this artisan producer is now heralded as one of the best chocolate producers in the UK, winning multiple awards for his incredible chocolate. Set in a rather plain warehouse, on an industrial estate just off the A16, not far from Grimsby, it’s not exactly what you’d imagine to be the home of such wonderful delights; but it’s here that the magic really does happen.

It was while listening to The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, where it was mentioned that Cadbury’s was currently the only chocolate manufacturer in the UK which makes chocolate direct from the bean, rather than buying it in paste form – which most chocolatiers do – that Duffy Sheardown was inspired to pack his bags and take a trip to Guatemala to find out just how hard it could be. It was a challenge that this Scunthorpe born chocolatier told his wife would make him produce the finest chocolate in the world.

Duffy said: “She didn’t scoff out loud but I knew she thought I was dreaming.” And it’s testament to them both that his chocolate is indeed now in high demand on an international level.

To say that Duffy is a perfectionist is an understatement. If you liken chocolate making to wine making and think of the delicate intricacies we all know that go into that process, along with the finesse and complexity of the finished product, then you are some way into imagining what its like to produce fine chocolate and Duffy’s is a true artisan manufacturer. This is industry on the smallest of scales, with just himself and sometimes one or two others to help turn out 300 chocolate bars a week.

Finding a willing supplier is not cheap and has not always been easy. Duffy has had to travel far and wide throughout South America to find cocoa bean farmers who can provide the small quantity of beans he requires. To keep quality at a premium he uses beans from a single crop to go into a single batch of bars; sourcing this can sometimes prove tricky. He has even purchased an entire crop from one small island to create his chocolate. Over time he has built up a list of trusted Fair Trade suppliers. He has even been instrumental in the setting up of Direct Cacao, a new organisation launched to help those people working in the chocolate industry support the growers supplying the cacao. It’s this dedication to quality that can be tasted in the finished product.

Because of the purity of the finished product the process itself is actually quite simple, from the delivery of the finest beans, which then get roasted and grounded. The shells are removed and the remaining ‘nibs’ are then ground again for twelve hours at which point they turn into a liquid cocoa, ready for the finely ground sugar to be added. This process is called conching and takes a full forty-eight hours. The cocoa is then poured into the tempering machine, which heats the chocolate to a secret temperature before being poured into the moulds, which are then cooled. It’s this final step that is most tricky and should produce the perfect ‘snap’ that a high quality chocolate should have.

Duffy now produces a range of twelve chocolate bars from the deeply rich Corazon Del Ecuador 83% Dark to the roasted earthiness of the Cocoa Nibs and Ground Coffee and my absolute favourite, Cocoa Nibs and Oak Smoked Salt Corazon Del Ecuador 43% Milk Chocolate with its subtle, salty taste setting cocoa flavoured fireworks off on my taste buds! All available from a variety of online and high street retailers across the UK from Royston’s Deli in Louth to Fortnum and Mason in London.

Sometimes, when I mention to people that I write about food, many say that I must love my job because I get to meet so many wonderfully passionate producers and visit some incredible places, getting to try all sorts of culinary delights. I have to say that my visit to Duffy’s chocolate factory, learning about the manufacturing process and of course sampling the divine chocolate, was a privilege.

Remembering a job I had as a teenager working in a chocolate shop with chocolates of far lesser quality, where I would go home at the end of the day hating the stuff, I asked Sue, the lovely lady responsible for pouring the chocolate in the moulds, if she ever tired of being surrounded by chocolate and her response was an immediate and resounding, ‘No!’ I can understand why!

More information about Duffy’s chocolate, including a detailed list of stockists and an online shop can be found at www.redstarchocolate.co.uk

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