Marseille, France’s Second City, is home to L’Espérantine de Marseille, a company that makes and sells artisanal gourmet chocolates with olive oil.

These exclusive chocolates, a subtle blend of high-quality cocoa, orange peel, almonds and mint, are blended with organic olive oil. Espérantine chocolates have no added butter, additives and cream. The Espérantine chocolate is shaped like an olive leaf.

Chocolatier Francesco Martorana created and launched Espérantine chocolates for the 2,600-year celebration of Marseille in 1999. One year later it was awarded the prestigious Cordon Bleu award for ‘best confectionery of the year’ in Paris. Espérantine chocolates containing 70 percent pure cocoa, flavors of the Mediterranean and a hint of mint, are recognized for their high quality, nutrition and superb taste.

L’Espérantine comes from the French word Espérance (meaning “hope”), an appropriate name for these delights. The olive branch is recognized worldwide as a universal symbol of peace, nobility and victory.

Martorana’s love for olive oil started as a child growing up with his Sicilian parents among olive trees and olive oil. Today he is an advocate for the Mediterranean diet and his confections are strongly identified with Marseille, one of the world’s greatest port cities.

On arriving in Marseille, the gourmet entrepreneur said he was keen to unite his three passions — nutrition, culture and flavor.

“I wanted to create a specialty with good visibility. Gastronomy has an important role in France. I wanted to make an emblematic image of the Mediterranean and Marseille, which would incorporate Mediterranean flavors; olive oil seemed an obvious choice,” Martorana said. “Marrying the universally accepted healthy olive oil with products such as oranges and especially chocolate seemed right, and had not been done before.”

L’Espérantine de Marseille chocolates are beautifully presented in eye catching boxes, varying in sizes and perfect for gift-giving. They are not sold in supermarkets, only in three dedicated shops in Marseille and Paris, online and at food fairs.

Martorana said he uses a “direct distribution approach” to promote and sell his product. The Espérantine sales team is present at major food and gastronomy fairs in France giving first hand information, offering samples, collecting reviews and selling.

“It’s important for me to control everything,” Martorana explained. “I want my product to be well represented, so I control everything from A to Z. My sales team gives solid, first-hand information, there’s no middle man, and we have direct contact with the consumer.”

Espérantine’s sales manager Melissa Ingretolli has been at Espérantine for 10 years and said she enjoys leading her team throughout France at events such as the prestigious International Gastronomy Festival. Attended by leading Michelin starred chefs, visitors from some 28 countries and journalists from all around the world, this three-day event draws gourmets to the Mediterranean village of Mougins every year.

Melissa Ingretolli (right) with renowned Provençal chef Gui Gedda

She enthused, “I could happily consider staying in the company for the rest of my life. We are a pretty young team and are growing with our business. I cannot imagine I could ever be tired of creating, distributing and, especially, eating chocolate!”

With the healthy chocolate sector gaining public interest, this upmarket chocolate manufacturer with such original flavors is being approached by foreign companies in Europe, the U.S and elsewhere.

Interestingly though, one of the first countries that showed interest in Espérantine chocolates was Russia. Martorana recently received an offer from Tunisia and Morocco to make Espérantine chocolates there. “After all, they produce good olive oil, but I’m not yet quite sure of what I want to do,” he said.

L’Espérantine and its staff of thirty will be moving to new premises later this year, just opposite MuCEM — the new museum purposely built to celebrate Marseille as the “European capital of culture.” With this new laboratory the company will strive to be even more selective with suppliers and selections of raw materials, hoping eventually to turn towards organic production.

Could Espérantine chocolates be made anywhere else in France?

Francesco Martorana said: “Marseille is the capital of the Mediterranean, the seat of Provence. I wanted to contribute to a positive visibility in the region. We’re moving into our 14th year and as a team we are enjoying each second of this passionate adventure.”

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