Like many things in the life of Duffy Sheardown, his entry into chocolate making began with a challenge. In 2007, Duffy was listening to BBC radio when he heard a small bit about chocolate making. According to the correspondent, only the Cadbury company actually made British chocolate directly from the raw cacao bean. All other producers started the produce further along in the refining process, using chocolate liqueur or paste in the beginning stages. Some producers purchased roasted beans and did their own grinding and conching, but nobody was really brave enough to roast, grind and completely refine. This intrigued Duffy, who wondered just how hard it could be to refine chocolate from the bottom up. This natural and in-born curiosity soon prompted Duffy Sheardown to see for himself, launching him into the chocolate limelight in Britain.
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While Duffy Sheardown has always enjoyed and been fascinated by the flavors in chocolate, his early career was about as detached from chocolate making as you could imagine. Indeed, Duffy was not trained in the culinary arts at all and never attended a hospitality or catering school like many British competitors. In actuality, Duffy spent most of his adult life working in motor racing. His forte has always been precision and attention to detail, and his background is distinctly in science. Moving from this environment to a more artistic and less precise career might seem to be a challenge, but similar skills have made both careers successful. For example, in order to get off the ground, Duffy began producing with less than stellar equipment. His engineering background, however, has allowed him to not only repair touchy machinery, but improvise equipment to do what he needed to accomplish.
The chocolate company founded by Duffy Sheardown is branded as Red Star Chocolate. However, all the products offered directly by Red Star Chocolate are sold under the Duffy’s chocolate bar label. Duffy produces the chocolate in a very modest factory located in Cleethorpes. This small British town is along the Lincolnshire coast. Duffy uses the same cacao beans from the same plantations for each small-batch of chocolates. Different lines of Duffy’s chocolate bars may come from different sources, but consistency is evident among the same type because of these sourcing practices. Duffy credits his supportive wife Penny for much of his success, indicating that she helps extensively with tasting, a task that is much more difficult than most people would think. He relies on her heavily to help discern and discriminate quality and taste, though she is otherwise out of the company limelight.
The massive success of Duffy Sheardown’s Red Star Chocolate starts with the beans. Looking for the best quality, Duffy has undertaken a great deal of research to find these rare gems of chocolate making. Beans from Africa, Central and South America have been tested. Sheardown has even tried beans from the Far East. The first batches of commercial chocolate, however, were made with beans sourced from Ecuador, Panama and Peru. The most consistent product of Red Star Chocolate marries Sheardown with the Ecuador grower Jorge Felix. Felix grows in Celceta, Ecuador and provides the foundation of Duffy’s production line. Most of the chocolates made by Red Star are available in both dark and milk chocolate variations. The majority of Duffy’s dark chocolate mixtures range at around 70% cacao. While not all beans are organic or fair-trade certified, Duffy favors growers who use practices that are in line with these philosophies.
Because making chocolate from bean to bar is such as a delicate and painstaking process, it’s not surprising to learn the Red Star Chocolate requires three days to move through the various stages and reach the finished chocolate available to the public. Constant tasting ensures that the progression is what Duffy expects for the chocolate that bears his name. In addition to the Duffy’s brand, the company also produces custom or “bespoke” chocolates that are sold under different brands and labels. Many other chocolatiers are beginning to recognize Duffy Sheardown and Red Star Chocolate for excellence in the industry, while the chocolate bloggers have responded very favourably to his creations.