Why Fortunato No 4 Has Been Called The 'Rolex Of Chocolate'

Remember the theme song for the "The Beverly Hillbillies?" The show, which aired from 1962 until 1971, was about a poor mountaineer named Jed Clampett who was "shootin' at some food, when up from the ground come a bubbling crude." The rags-to-riches sitcom had an eerie similarity to the discovery of the rare cacao that goes into making what many believe is the world's best chocolate. 

According to The New York Times, a gear and food supplier servicing mining operations in northern Peru was in a mountain valley with his stepson when he noticed what he described as "football-size pods" protruding from tree trunks. Intrigued, he harvested a few seeds and sent them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research division for identification. Turns out the supplier, Dan Pearson, and his stepson, Brian Horsely, had discovered an extremely rare variety of cacao – so rare that it was considered extinct 100 years prior to their discovery.

Known as Nacional, the variety of cacao Pearson and Horsely stumbled upon that fateful day was believed to have succumbed to disease in the early 20th century. At the time of its supposed demise, the variety was prevalent in Ecuador, but attempts to cross-breed the plant failed to save it, so until the duo's curiosity got the best of them in the Peruvian jungle, Nacional in its purest form was thought to be gone forever.

The rest of the story

If you're following along with the "Beverly Hillbillies" lyrics, you know Old Jed became a millionaire, loaded up his truck, and moved to Beverly Hills. Horsely, who ultimately co-founded Fortunato No. 4 with Pearson, took a similar route. According to the company website, Horsely did "what any sane person would do:" He moved to the Peruvian jungle and built a cacao processing plant. Along the way, the duo partnered with Franz Zeigler, a Swiss chocolate expert, to learn how to process the cacao into fine chocolate. "The magnitude of this find is bigger than anything I have known," Zeigler told The New York Times in 2011.

Fast forward a decade and the cacao discovered by accident in Peru's Marañón River Valley is the basis for world-class chocolate with renowned chefs including Eric Ripert, Norman Love, and Thierry Busset among its most ardent fans (via Fortnato No. 4). Until recently, the product Swiss pastry chef Roger von Rotz called "the Rolex of chocolate," has been exclusively available to 5-star chefs and top-of-the-line chocolatiers. In 2020, Fortunato No. 4 began selling direct-to-consumer via its website.

And the name Fortunato? According to BBC, it's a nod to the location that led Pearson and Horsely to their unexpected discovery. The tree with the football-sized pods that so intrigued Pearson is located on property owned by Peruvian farmer Don Fortunato. It's still there, thriving under the care of Fortunato and his family (via Fortunato No. 4).