Duffy Sheardown – a second UK bean to bar chocolate maker

Duffy Sheardown monitors his chocolate refiner

Duffy Sheardown monitors his chocolate refiner

Red Star chocolate

Today Kate Johns (of Chocolate Week and Nudge PR) and I made our way up to the North East of England, to Cleethorpes. This traditional English seaside town is the unlikely home of the UK’s second bean to bar fine chocolate maker, Red Star Chocolate.

Despite the impression some British chocolate companies like to give, until very recently no one in the UK was making fine chocolate directly from cacao. In fact, probably Cadburys were the only company in Britain making any kind of chocolate from the bean.

That all changed when Willie Harcourt-Cooze came along, in a big TV media splash launching ‘Willie’s Delectable’ chocolate and finally putting Britain on the fine chocolate maker’s map.

Willie is now joined by another new artisanal chocolate maker, Duffy Sheardown. Duffy has just made his first batch of commercial chocolate, using beans from Calceta, Ecuador. These were provided by Jorge Felix and his Italian based World Foods company. Calceta is Jorge’s ancestral town in Manabi province, Ecuador and home to some of the finest cacao I’ve tasted in Ecuador. (I was lucky enough to visit with Jorge during a visit to Ecuador last June.)

Racing formula

Duffy was first inspired to start making chocolate a few years ago, when he heard that “Cadburys was the only company in the UK making chocolate from beans”. Duffy’s background is in motor racing, but that sounded like a challenge he couldn’t resist, and he began to wonder exactly how hard it would be to make your own chocolate.

Adding sugar slowly controls the temperature

Adding sugar slowly controls the temperature

A few years later and the result is a modest and inexpensive setup in a small industrial unit in Cleethorpes. Here Duffy has proved that making chocolate is both easy in principle, and difficult in the detail.

From the samples we’ve tasted though, Duffy has shown it’s possible to make a pretty good quality of chocolate without building a million dollar factory.

On the other hand, as Duffy tells us, while there’s plenty of help out there for the budding chocolate maker, some things you just have to work out for yourself, such exactly what is the best temperature to conche at.

Chocolate making is a progressive art. The best producers are constantly trying to improve their quality, tweaking recipes and adapting their machinery. It’s early days for Duffy, but he takes an approach he picked up from his motor sports days – change only one thing at a time, then if the result is an improvement (or negative), you know what made the difference.

Duffy’s chocolate making equipment may not exactly be high end, but he is making good use of the most important tool available to any chocolate maker – taste. For example, his approach to roasting – keep tasting the cacao every few minutes until it stops tasting better.

Too many chocolate makers get lost in technical details and sophisticated quality control tests and expensive equipment, while ignoring basics, like how the cacao or chocolate tastes at every stage of production. Without this kind of approach, the results are rarely good.


Duffy with Calceta cacao bags

Duffy with Calceta cacao bags

As ever, there’s a simple message in Duffy’s cacao sources, common to good chocolate makers and chefs alike – choice of ingredients.

If you start with good ingredients and treat them with respect, you will usually have a good result.

As well as Jorge Felix’s single origin Calceta from Ecuador, Duffy is experimenting with cacao from Brazil and Panama, and also finishing liquor from a number of other sources, including Madagascar, which from what we tasted turned into a pretty good chocolate.

We tried all of these in various percentages in both dark and milk. As these were test batches, the results were mixed, but a few really stood out, like the Madagascar milk.

While we were at Duffy’s factory, he was finishing some Peruvian liquor into chocolate, and from the sample we tried off the refiner, this could turn into a pretty good chocolate too.

Local chocolate

Duffy is very much about making chocolate for his local market, aiming at local retailers and local shows and fairs as his company gets going.

Perhaps here he could be the harbinger of a new trend – for local, micro-brewery type chocolate makers.

It was be easy to imagine that in a few years time the UK would have a handful of small chocolate makers spread around the country, all with some national presence but grounded in their local economy.

Red Star's Indian made refiner/conche

Red Star's Indian made refiner/conche

This is a model that seems to be taking hold in the US and just starting in Italy.

There’s no doubt though that if Duffy can keep going in the right direction and maintain his flavour based approach, you could well be seeing his chocolate on sale in high end chocolate emporiums and national outlets soon.

It’s very likely that the first, commercial, eating chocolate bar was a British invention, made first by Fry’s then Cadburys.

It’s been a long wait, but we finally have another two independent chocolate makers in the UK, this time working with fine beans from around the world.

Red Star Chocolate is a very welcome addition to the fine chocolate world.


  1. Daniel Haran March 8, 2010

    I’ve never seen that type of conche: can you say who made it?

  2. Duffy Sheardown March 8, 2010

    Hi Daniel,
    Is is an ECGC60 from Inno Concepts.

  3. Fiona Sciolti March 8, 2010

    Duffy’s chocolate is truly wonderful and it is indeed a very welcome addition to the fine chocolate world. He has put an incredible amount of time and research in to his product, and it shows because the taste is superb. Since the Autumn Duffy has been working very patiently on a blend for my chocolates too, and I’ve very excited for future collaborations. Wishing you every success, Duffy, Fiona.

  4. Brian Acito March 8, 2010

    This is a far cry from the Cadillac days. From motorsports to chocolate. Who would have thought! Congrats!

    Regards, Brian

  5. Daniel Haran March 8, 2010

    Thanks Duffy, and best of luck!

  6. andy lindop March 8, 2010

    having tasted the chocolate you made, i would a say its very good, better than cadburys produce.custom wrappers is a nice touch as well.
    god luck pal, andy

  7. andy lindop March 8, 2010

    having tasted the chocolate you made, i would a say its very good, better than cadburys produce.custom wrappers are a nice touch as well.
    god luck pal, andy

  8. Jill Farrimond March 8, 2010

    Very much looking forward to trying your chocolate Duffy, hope you will be selling kg size packs to us home chocolate makers too.

    Lots of luck


  9. Matt Cox March 8, 2010

    I have sampled many many bars of Duffs research and development bars, and the results were amazing. Now he has the facility, quality and consistency will follow sharply no doubt.

    For those of you that have not had the pleasure of meeting Duffy, you should be aware of the following………He is an inspiration and remarkably giving. For many years he has helped many people create their dreams, myself included. He has always nurtured young aspiring types to challenge themselves in impossible situations. In motorsport there is no such thing as ‘the impossible’ or second best. I have had the pleasure of working on many projects with Duff, from road, race and almost air (Landspeed car!!) to mention just a few. He demands quality, dedication and has an incredible thirst for knowledge. These are just a few of Duff ‘s qualities that everyone who deals with him will find out. I challenge all of you who read this article to find your own way of getting to know Duffy better and in turn his chocolate.

    This man deserves everything he achieves and if anyone can help him work his way to the top I would urge you to do it now…………….if not he will achieve it anyway.

    All the very best,

    Matt and all at URT

    Ps. That is twenty bars you owe me!!

  10. jorge felix March 9, 2010

    I have just arrived from Ecuador. I was visiting Calceta’s plantations. Congratulations for this nice article. We are happy that you are using our beans and we will continue doing our best to provide the highest qualitity “Pure Nacional Cacao” from our origins.

  11. Lee Patterson March 9, 2010

    Hi Duffy,

    Very pleased to hear that things are progressing nicely for you. Certainly a big change for you which makes it all the more impressive!

    Good Luck and I will look forward to sampling some more in the near future!


  12. sue neave March 9, 2010

    Brilliant article Duff! Well done for getting up and running – and running well by the sounds of it.
    Good luck with it all. I love your packaging and know it will be the selling point – as well as the taste of course!
    Sue x

  13. Forest March 11, 2010

    This is brilliant. Well done mate…punk chocolate making.

    Doing it your self and doing it ‘Up-North’.

    Can’t wait to try a bar of Red Star Chocolate.

  14. Alex Cundy March 19, 2010

    Hello Duffy, JP passed on a link to this page to show us what you are up to. Looks fantastic. Much more fun than rushing around trying to get parts machined!! I’ll have a few bars from you. Mainly just wanted to wish you the best of luck, Cheers,
    Alex + Peter.

  15. Trackback: BBC Panorama: Chocolate – The Bitter Truth | Seventypercent.com

  16. Inspired Chocolates June 4, 2010

    I’m loving the idea of “micro-brewery type chocolate makers.” Good luck Duffy.

  17. Humaira Ali October 16, 2010

    Hi Duffy,

    Met your lovely wife at the Chocolate Unwrapped fair today and bought some of your Honduran Indio Rojo. Fantastic. I think what you are doing is brilliant and have spread the word by Facebook.

    All the best


  18. RedStar October 23, 2010

    Hi Humaira,

    She deserves a lot of credit. She doesn’t make chocolate (yet…) but does a lot of tasting. Sounds good but tasting 20 different roasted nibs in one evening takes stamina. I wouldn’t be doing this without her, that’s for sure.
    Glad you like the bar; there should be a limited edition Venzuela out in January.


  19. Andal Balu November 14, 2010

    Hi Duffy,

    Thanks for showing the pictures of our Grindeur (Grinder + Melangeur combo) in making chocolate. If anybody wants these Grindeurs or small scale melangers for their personal use, they can contact us at info@cocoatown.com. We are located in USA and our phone number is 770-594-1815.

    Andal Balu

  20. Geert Vercruysse November 22, 2010

    Hello Mr. Sheardown,

    My name is Geert and living in Belgium, West Flanders and I just received tree bars from your chocolate: Panama, Peru and Dominican Republic.
    I’m a chocolatier with my own shop in Kortrijk, near de border with France and I would like to sell your chocolates because I like the way you approach this Fairtraided & Organic way of making chocolates. I love the chocolates made with passion for the community and the people of origin.
    Sorry we don’t have this approach with our large companies
    Lots of succes and maybe we will meet some day.

    Greetings from Belgium

  21. Sam April 1, 2011

    I have just read your article. I too would like to become a chocolate maker but the courses are too dear for me. Are your skills self taught. I would like to start a chocolate cottage industry based in Africa. Please advise.

  22. RedStar April 7, 2011

    Hi Sam, I did do the Ecole Chocolate Makers course on_line and although it had some useful stuff in there it wasn’t much help to anyone who actually wanted to start making chocolate. Check out instead the Chocolate Alchemy American web-site for lots of practical advice and also The Chocolate Life – less good on practicalities but some good stuff if you wade through old strands.

  23. Andal Balu April 23, 2011

    Hi Duffy,

    Congratulations on winning the Golden bean award for best Chocolate in the whole world! It is awesone! We wish you more awards and recognition in the future.

    Andal Balu

  24. Lindy March 6, 2012

    Hi Duffy

    I’ve been checking out the chocolate Alchemy website, which is very helpful. I’m considering buying the kit from them i.e. the cocoa mill, champion juicer and spectra stone melanger. Do you recommend their kit (it looks and sounds convincing to me)? However, before I do is there any where in the UK I can purchase the kit?

    Thanks for your help.


  25. duffy March 8, 2012

    Hi Lindy, Thats is exactly how I started so I can recommend the machines you mention. I’d look for a Champion juicer int he UK though – they are very heavy and the shipping costs could be expensive. Also, you can juice the juicer without the screen on (makes sense when you have one) to break the beans into pieces so you can save on the Crankenstein breaker too. You could put thebeans in a bag and bash them up with a rolling pin too.
    Talk to Cocoa Town direct – when I ordered there wer no added shipping costs, making it a very good deal.
    Good luck,


  26. point of sale australia April 28, 2013

    Well I think this is probably the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

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