Interview: Amedei founder and master chocolatier Cecilia Tessieri
Source: ©The Moodie Report
By Rahul Odedra, Senior Reporter
She’s already caught the attention of chocolate aficionados around the globe after creating the world’s ‘most expensive chocolate’. Now she wants to break into travel retail. Rahul Odedra meets Amedei founder Cecilia Tessieri.
"For me, chocolate is emotional, dependent on when you eat it. You can eat it yourself, or with a friend. You can divide it if you want to, or not. It can be eaten at day or night, or even paired with alcohol."
In some ways, Amedei founder Cecilia Tessieri has the job every child, and a fair proportion of adults, dream of: she makes, tastes and sells chocolate for a living. Of course, those very children have probably been nibbling away on modestly priced confectionery, designed to satisfy the sweet tooth we are all born with.
Tessieri, on the other hand, is creating something very different. She is seeking to take the humble chocolate bar to the same sort of level as fine whiskies and wines, in terms of the approach to its creation and its marketing.
Speaking to The Moodie Report shortly after delivering a talk and tasting session to the Academy of Chocolate, she explained the concept and ethos behind her company, which last year began selling the Porcelana, dubbed the ‘world’s most expensive chocolate’.
“Amedei was set up over 20 years ago, with the aim of producing chocolate without compromise. The ingredients are so important, especially the cocoa beans – that’s why it is more expensive than others.”
Naming the company after her grandmother, Tessieri set off on her journey in 1990 with one employee and a workshop covering just 45sq m. However, taking time to search for the perfect cocoa beans and the antique machinery that she needed, the chocolate itself did not hit the market until 1998.
The company now has around 30 employees, mostly women, working out of a 2,500sq m unit and producing 120 varieties of chocolate, with cocoa sourced from across South America, the Caribbean and Madagascar.
Located in the rolling hills of Tuscany, near the historic town of San Gimignano, the Amedei factory is far removed from the Swiss and Belgian heartlands of the chocolate industry. But Tessieri doesn’t seek to separate herself from traditional chocolate-making. “I was fortunate to be employed in a Belgian shop, where I worked with a master chocolatier, and then in big factories in Germany and Holland,” she explains.
“This was important because I was able to then understand what is possible to create, both in a small shop and through big industry. Amedei is a perfect combination of the two in terms of mentality and philosophy – working with patience, as in a little shop, but expanding it to a large business. This balance is very important.”
So what exactly makes Amedei ‘unique’? For a start, there is Tessieri herself – she claims to be the only female master chocolatier in the industry. And the company is breaking new ground: it offers a range of ‘mono-origin’ products, with chocolate made from cocoa beans sourced from one location, rather than a blend.
The chocolate is already available at selected outlets around the world: in London it can be bought in the upmarket food halls of Selfridges and Harrods, as well as fine foods retailer Fortnum & Mason. With a turnover of almost €4 million, 45% of the company’s sales are made in Italy. The main export markets are Europe, the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
Amedei creates all of its chocolate at its Tuscan base
Get Tessieri talking about what chocolate means to her and it becomes clear that it is much more than accolades and six-figure sums on a balance sheet. “For me, chocolate is emotional, dependent on when you eat it. You can eat it yourself, or with a friend. You can divide it if you want to, or not. It can be eaten at day or night, or even paired with alcohol.”
The mention of alcohol is a particularly appropriate, especially when one considers the description of her company’s latest limited-edition product. “Blanco de Criollo is 70% dark chocolate and consists of a rare blend of Peruvian cocoa with aromas of wild berries and wild mushrooms, alternated with a hint of dried plum and toasted almonds. Finally, the delicate trace of liquorice helps to enhance the aroma.”
Blanco de Criollo, the latest addition to the Amedei range
The description could easily come from the tasting notes of a single malt Scotch or a rare wine. Tessieri wants to elevate the status of her chocolate products into the same realms, and this is a reason why she believes the travel retail market could provide a perfect opportunity.
“When I go into a duty free shop, I find a big variety of whisky and cigars, but the only chocolates available are the mass-market ones. There should be a luxury approach to chocolate.”
Amedei chocolates are already available in some Italian airport duty free shops, but Tessieri is seeking to spread her reach – and is already in discussions with retailers elsewhere.
Tessieri and other members of the Amedei team
That is not to say that her enthusiasm for travel retail stems only from her business interests. “When I am at home, I don’t have the time to do shopping because I am so I busy. When I fly, I have that opportunity, so I can get my creams and perfumes, and that moment is just for me.
“If I don’t have the family or children with me, I try to arrive early for flights so I have that time. For me, the airport is a good place for shopping – not for mass-market products, but for more interesting things. Generally, the service is also very good. It is possible to just concentrate on myself.”
The Amedei team package some of their latest products
Regardless of her attempts to break into travel retail, Amedei is clearly a thriving business. Amedei chocolates are marketed around the world, with a particular focus in the UK and Far East, and are being used by high-end chefs such as William Curley, four-times winner of ‘Britain’s Best Chocolatier’.
Does Amedei have a big future in travel retail? Because of its high price-points it won’t be suitable for some locations. But for those retailers seeking to trade up their customers and cater to the countless chocolate aficionados around the world, Cecilia Tessieri’s exquisite products offer a tantalising opportunity.
Tessieri inspects some of the ingredients that go into Amedei chocolate