Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Friday, 30 July 2004 11:52 UK

Slave island ignites chocolate passion

by James Melik
World Service business reporter

Claudio Corallo examining cocoa pods
Claudio Corallo: driven by a passion to produce pure chocolate

A tiny volcanic island off the coast of equatorial Africa has become home to what is described as the world's best chocolate.

Principe, and its sister island Sao Tome, was the first place in Africa to grow cocoa - the principal ingredient of chocolate - which was introduced by slave ships returning from the Americas.

One man has taken on the world's largest manufacturers and started a personal crusade on Principe to produce the pure old-fashioned chocolate that our grandparents used to enjoy.

Claudio Corallo, an Italian expert in tropical agronomics working in Zaire, moved to the island after his wife brought back what turned out to be original cocoa beans.

Slave history

The island of Principe was first colonised in the 15th century by the Portuguese.

The flavour brought back old memories of how chocolate used to taste
Claudio Corallo

When chocolate became popular in Europe and demand rose, farmers started using more intensive methods of producing cocoa.

There has been a tendency over the past 30 years to substitute the less productive original cocoa plants for the more productive hybrid varieties.

But these hybrids have lost much of their original flavour, so modern chocolate has other ingredients added - such as vanilla, to improve its taste.

Jurassic cocoa

Mr Corallo realised that the beans his wife found were the original variety introduced to the island centuries earlier - rather like finding dinosaur eggs.

"The flavour brought back old memories of how chocolate used to taste," he says.

workers employed by Claudio Corallo
Nearly 200 families are now employed by Mr Corallo

Political unrest in Zaire prompted Mr Corallo to move his family to Principe, where he rejuvenated two old cocoa plantations and began recovering old varieties of the bean.

Despite having to live in a building without a roof, he gradually expanded his business using original methods in order to preserve the authentic taste.

Mr Corallo now employs 40 families, plus another 120-150 small farmers to whom he subcontract parts of the production process.

"We work with extreme precision through the various stages of production - and we grow the plants without using fertiliser," he says.

Chocolate gold

His customers are people who are sensitive to the original taste of chocolate, and his product came to the attention of Chloe Doutre-Roussel - the chocolate buyer at Fortnum and Mason, one of London's most prestigious stores.

"I was attending a conference in Paris," she says, "when I saw a man with a cigar next to my favourite chocolates."

Incensed that a man should have a cigar in the presence of her favourite brand, even though it was unlit, she felt compelled to approach Mr Corallo.

"I walked over to him, a big smile on my face to disguise the Kalashnikov in my eyes, and introduced myself.

What you ultimately want from chocolate is pleasure
Chloe Doutre-Roussel

"He told me about his plantation and I later went to visit him in Principe."

The amenities on the island were either non-existent or poor, so Mr Corallo set up a blackboard next to some machinery to teach his own children and those of the people who worked for him.

Discerning taste

"At first I didn't like his chocolate, but it has gradually improved. Now it is among the best in the world," Miss Doutre-Roussel says.

"What you ultimately want from chocolate is pleasure - and the less ingredients which are added the more pure the chocolate.

"What I ultimately want is chocolate with no added sugar or vanilla."

Modern chocolate bought in supermarkets has so many additives that not everybody appreciates the taste of the real thing.

Mr Corallo's chocolate comes at a price however.

A small bag from Fortnum and Mason costs £10 ($18) - a modest sum to pay for so much pleasure.



SEE ALSO
Sweet revenge
16 Jul 04 |  Magazine
Disease threatens choc production
25 Jun 04 |  Science & Environment
Cup of cocoa may keep doctor away
08 Nov 03 |  Health
Chocolate is good for you - official
21 Dec 98 |  Health

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific