When Cecilia Tessieri set out to conquer the world of chocolate 24 years ago, she had only one thing in mind: to make the best product possible using the highest quality of ingredients and the most ethical approach. Her journey took her to Belgium, France, and Germany for apprenticeships, and then to Madagascar, Venezuela, and Trinidad and Grenada, where she established relationships with farmers who were harvesting some of the finest cacao beans around the globe. It took eight years of research before her family-owned, Tuscany-based company Amedei finally produced its first bar of chocolate: the Toscano Black 70.
Today, the self-proclaimed world's first female master chocolatier is no less involved in day-to-day productions—even now that her chocolate has made its way onto menus at Scott Conant's Il Buco and Scarpetta, Alice Waters's Chez Panisse, and Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck. They're also sold at a Harbour City counter in Hong Kong and, as of January, a tiny shop off of New York's Union Square. (Standalone stores in Asia and London may be next.)
After meeting Tessieri in New York for the opening of the shop, it's clear that she believes that being a woman in a male-dominated world gives her an edge. "Ten years ago, a French journalist tasted my chocolate and understood that it was very complex and made with passion," she says. "The men I worked with didn't have the same passion. Maybe women have a more emotional approach to this kind of work."
"I treat the cocoa beans with a motherly approach," she continues. "I like to follow the different steps, from when they arrive at the factory to when they get into their nice packaging."
This caring approach is evident in the Porcelana, which, at $16.50 for a 1.76-ounce bar, has been called the world's most expensive chocolate. It's made with a difficult-to-find criollo bean from a tiny plantation in Venezuela, and they arrive in Tuscany by airplane rather than boat, like most beans. "I have to roast them immediately because otherwise they will continue to ferment and it will affect the flavor," she says. "Only I do it."
Tessieri also creates the recipes, including constantly updating existing ones. "Every year, the recipes are adjusted because the cocoa changes, even if it comes from the same place," she says. This is no easy task, especially for flavors like the "9," an extra-dark bar that incorporates beans from nine different plantations.
Tessieri's relationship with her farmers is an integral part of her business. "It is one of respect and collaboration," she says. "We ask them to work following our standards and we grant them an income all year long, even if we only use the two very best harvests. Our goal is to help improve working conditions and make everybody happy."
Though Amedei has plantations across the globe, the company, and Tessieri herself, are very much committed to their Italian roots. To wit: the pistachios she uses are from Bronte, a town in Sicily, while the almonds come from Avola, Sicily. And the Amedei factory in Pontadera, Tuscany, offers 2.5-hour tours that trace the production process from bean to bar. It includes the finest finish of all: a chocolate tasting.
That chocolate tasting is important because it's not until you actually taste a piece of Amedei chocolate—or try one of the dozen or so pralines or sip the rich hot chocolate—that you realize that Tessieri has accomplished what she set out to do. As she puts it, "I was inspired to become a chocolatier when I realized I could make my own chocolate the way I wanted to make it, with my philosophy and no compromise."
Click through the slideshow to see more examples of Tessieri's chocolates, spreads, and confections.
About the author: Brooke Porter Katz is a Los Angeles native now living in Brooklyn. She is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.