Most of us have experienced this scenario once in our lives: You travel to a new region, sample the local cuisine and fall head over heels for a unique food or drink. Perhaps you ask for the recipe so you can re-create this amazing repast in your own kitchen. Maybe you buy every box or bottle you can find and stuff your suitcase with liquor, pastries or cured meat. Then again, you might have a case of the delicacy shipped to your home.
If you’re anything like New York City restaurateur Pepi Di Giacomo, you don’t stop with a case of your favorite, Tuscan-made chocolates. “I wanted the chocolate for myself. How can I get it? I open up a shop,” she says.
In January, in a jewel-box-sized storefront a few blocks north of Manhattan’s Union Square, Di Giacomo opened America’s first Amedei chocolate shop.
There she sells a variety of velvety chocolate pralines, bars, truffles and drops; a rich, silky chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Crema Toscana; and luscious hot cocoa. Most of these treats contain a minimum of 70% cocoa. All pack a powerful flavor punch.
Amedei chocolate made by master chocolatier
The sweets at Di Giacomo’s well-appointed shop come from the Tuscan town of Pontedera, Italy. Home to the dashing Vespa scooter and sustainable Castellani wine, Pontedera is where the world’s first female master chocolatier, Cecilia Tessieri, and her older brother Alessio produce Amedei.
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Named for Tessieri’s maternal grandmother, who, according to Cecilia Tessieri, “loved chocolate and was the heart of the family,” Amedei came out with its first chocolate, Toscana Black, in 1998. Cecilia Tessieri worked for eight years on this nuanced dark chocolate bar before deeming it ready for the public. Like fine wine, exceptional chocolate takes time.
Toscana Black possesses a clean, refined flavor. It comes from a blend of Venezuelan Criollo and Trinidadian Trinitario beans.
While Toscana features only two varieties of beans, the “9” chocolate bar includes beans from nine cacao plantations. All nine had been on the verge of closing when the Tessieris encountered them. The siblings saved, restored and put the plantations back into production, growing the beans used in Amedei’s award-winning chocolates.
As Di Giacomo points out, Amedei is “a true bean-to-bar company.” She adds, “They oversee plantations, work with farmers’ cooperatives, collect the beans, and roast, grind and mix them. They source the best ingredients and make their chocolates very pure and complex in flavor.”
Like many Amedei devotees, I first became hooked on its bar chocolate. A bite of aromatic Chuao or creamy milk chocolate flecked with toasted Piedmont hazelnuts proved to be the perfect afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner sweet. After I progressed to the rum-laced, dark chocolate praline Passione and ginseng-infused, milk chocolate praline Equilibrio, I understood why Food & Wine contributing editor Pete Wells called Amedei “the world’s best chocolate.” Smooth, well balanced and mature flavored, Amedei’s filled chocolates, or pralines, are divine creations.
Considering how heavenly Amedei’s filled chocolates are, I wasn’t surprised to learn Cecilia Tessieri started her confectionary career as a praline maker. She trained and worked in small chocolate laboratories and large factories across Europe. She also apprenticed with European bean-to-bar masters, learning firsthand how to craft exceptional chocolate and pair unusual ingredients.
Inspiration, she says, comes from her travel experiences as well as her emotions. “Much also depends on whom the chocolate is meant for,” she says.
Each year Amedei introduces one or two new chocolates. The small number is a result of the large amount of time spent perfecting the chocolates. “Pralines and tartufi — Italian truffles — need one year of study and tests before they are released,” she says.
These are chocolates worth the wait. Past newcomers include such delicious goodies as the cinnamon-walnut Toscanello and the cherry- and maraschino-liqueur filled Badia. Inspired by Brunelleschi’s dome on Florence’s renowned Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the dome-shaped Badia is sublime.
Thanks to Cecilia Tessieri’s creativity and Pepi Di Giacomo’s initiative, we all can enjoy sumptuous, otherworldly chocolates any time, anywhere. Along with selling Amedei at her shop on East 18th Street, Di Giacomo offers the same products online at the Amedei website.
“It makes me happy to feed people and feed them good food,” she says. With Amedei, Di Giacomo has made not only herself but also countless chocolate lovers quite happy.
Main photo: Chocolates for sale at Amedei in Manhattan. Credit: Kathy Hunt