site.btaBulgarian Owns Factory in Tuscany Producing Chocolate Following 4,000-Year-Old Method
Bulgarian Krasimir Zhelyazkov is the founder of a chocolate factory in Tuscany, Italy. He produces chocolate from raw cocoa beans following a method, dating back 4,000 years ago, but using modern technology. The "bean-to-bar" machines at his factory are made by leading Italian companies in the sector. The chocolate factory, which used to be a biscuit factory before it was repurposed, imports raw cocoa beans straight from Nicaragua. Zhelyazkov's idea to open a chocolate factory surfaced after he visited Nicaragua in 2013.
Here is what he told BTA in an interview for BG World:
What intrigued the most in Nicaragua?
People's cheerful lifestyle, good character, and the breath-taking flora and fauna. I decided to not break my ties with this beautiful country and start a business. Cocoa was not my first idea, I tried different things, because I saw an opportunity in the business with cocoa beans, which are harvested in some regions of Nicaragua. I wanted to see whether there is a market for cocoa beans in Europe, but I had not yet thought about making chocolate.
Did Europeans show any interest in cocoa beans? Is it a winning investment?
In 2018, I took part in Sigep Rimini - a leading B2B (business-to-business) European event in Italy dedicated to the dessert-and-coffee foodservice industry, where I brough samples of the Nicaraguan cocoa beans. I wanted to see whether they are good enough for great chocolate. Every professional chocolate maker I met liked them and declared readiness to order them, so I immediately started preparing for import.
In 2019, I went to Nicaragua to find the same cocoa producers, whom I met during my first visit. My only focus this time was on cocoa. Together with other business partners I went to the cocoa plantations in Matagalpa, Matiguas, Esteli and Tuma-La Dalia.
Nicaragua is rich in wild and well-preserved varieties of cocoa, and the cocoa farmers are among the most experienced. In the beginning there were many challenges based on language and cultural differences, but I felt at home with the local cocoa farmers and their humble way of life.
How do Nicaraguans differ from other producers?
They are very far from the fast pace of life we are used to. They see the world from a completely different perspective. When they welcomed me into their homes, it felt like a real friendship. They treat you like a special person when you appreciate their work and pay them with dignity.
How did you come up with the idea for the chocolate factory?
I spent a lot of time observing the fermentation, drying and harvesting of cocoa beans. The first container was officially loaded and ready to go to Europe.
Once the 12,400 tonnes of fine cocoa beans arrived at the port of Livorno, I was in for an unpleasant surprise: all the people who had promised to buy the cocoa beans went back on their word, showing the utmost disinterest. After all the effort needed to import them, I ended up with all this extraordinary cocoa that no Italian chocolatier was interested in.
The idea was born spontaneously: to open a chocolate factory in Tuscany to turn these fantastic cocoa beans into a special and unique chocolate.
In 2020, in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, you set up the Tuscani Cioccolato chocolate factory. However, you have never been a chocolate manufacturer before. How and where did you learn about chocolate production?
I decided to learn the craft of bean to bar, producing chocolate bars starting from the raw cocoa bean all the way to the final product, from scratch. I attended many courses, in the meantime researching the best machines on the market and learning from professionals in the sector.
Which is the best chocolate in the world, in your opinion?
There are many types of chocolate and I wouldn't commit to rating or recommending any one type, it's all about choice, the markets offer plenty of brands and a history of how they are produced. For me though, the best chocolate is the pure product - cocoa beans and unrefined cane sugar. Nothing else should be put into a chocolate recipe.
How do you make this type of chocolate?
The nine steps include harvesting, fermenting, drying, roasting, fanning, conching, tempering, moulding, and wrapping by hand.
What is chocolate good for?
Did you know that organic cocoa is the plant food with the highest iron content, contains more calcium than cow's milk and has over 40% more antioxidants than blueberries. Chocolate and cocoa help stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters that can trigger the feel-good hormone.
Cocoa contains anandamide, the bliss molecule, which binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, creating a feeling of lightness and happiness, and phenylethylamine, also called the "love drug," which releases endorphins that impart cheerfulness, happiness and a better sense of well-being. Consuming cocoa not only improves your well-being, but also combats mood swings by boosting serotonin levels in the brain.
In short, a superfood suitable for those following a vegan diet or for those who want to find a balance between body and mind.