November 20, 2012
From racing car engineer to fine chocolate maker, a home-grown success story we are lucky to have.
Flying the flag with superb chocolate, Duffy Sheardown is a rare and precious thing. Sourcing the best possible beans, and with a strong commitment to do right by the beans and the farmers that grow them, Duffy is working hard to create a successful business and the finest chocolate.
The results really do speak for themselves. I first tasted the chocolate at the Chocolate Festival in 2011 and its combination of refinement and complexity of flavour stood out, in what was already illustrious company. I stopped, and talked, and have wanted to tell Duffy’s story and spread the word about his chocolate ever since.
While contemplating a change of career, having been a formula one facing car engineer for 25 years, Duffy chanced upon a radio show about chocolate makers.
“I was really surprised – knowing nothing about it I’d assumed every chocolatier in every chocolate shop made their own chocolate. A typical motor-racing argument is “how hard can it be?””
With an established mastery of mechanics, and a ‘can do’ attitude he set about his new task with the focus on fine details that sets his work apart. In his own words his chocolate making is “slow and inefficient”. I would say that what this means is he is prepared to try, and try again, feeling his way towards the best treatment of each batch of beans to maximize their flavour. Or as Duffy states:
“There is a lot more flavour in even the most basic and humble of cocoa beans than you would first expect – if you roast the beans carefully and refine them slowly and gently you will bring that out.”
It is this refusal to compromise or standardize that is producing such exciting chocolate. And he is far from using the most basic beans, the bars I tasted had been made from some of the finest around.
Duffy has made a dark milk chocolate out of fine Criollo beans from Venezuela for his Ocumare 55% bar. The bar is a deep warm brown, a classic chocolate colour and has a strongly satisfying caramel smell. The whole is cocoa rich and profoundly chocolatey. Its greenest notes are at the start, with banana being predominant. Then it mellows into honey and the toasted caramel that was so evident in the smell and has a smooth cocoa and molasses finish. This bar is very easy to love, combining the comforting qualities of milk chocolate with the complexity and depth of a dark bar.
The same beans made into a 72% bar have an equally delicious but different result. The fruit in this is evident right from the start in the smell. I would say this bar is really quite green, with high acidity. Raspberries jumped out at me, and their promise was fulfilled in the first taste of the chocolate. As the flavours progressed their brightness mellowed into raisins, then green almonds and a coffee rich ending.
Another 72% bar, the Corazon Del Equador, Camino Verde, is made with Nacional beans and as such is visibly darker. There is less fruit in the smell and the flavour and the bar starts for me very nutty, with walnuts and hazelnuts in the mix. I found the brightest notes here in the middle, when it gets leafy, a mix of grass and nutmeg. The ending retains the spice, where it mingles with strong pure cocoa notes.
Duffy’s own desert island chocolate, Honduras Indio Rojo, a Criollo 72% bar is also my favourite of his dark bars. It is a joyful explosion of light and dark notes. It smells of currants, and it bursts with raisins as soon as it starts to melt. Then the chocolate get’s even more zingy, with what I experienced as peach and lemon before moving on to the roundness of a salted caramel flavour and its finish of deep smoky cocoa.
I may have my favourites, but truly all of his bars are worth your attention. As Duffy makes chocolate dependant on the availability of beans you may not find all for sale at all times. But try what he does have, it will be good, and keep your eyes peeled for any new or occasional bars. Such great home-grown foodie talent deserves our support, and aren’t we the lucky ones!