When I met Marinko Biškić, it was obvious from the very beginning that this man has not only manners and style, but he’s also one of those legendary characters you find in movies. Marinko had greeted me with apologies about his looks (needless to say he looked flawless) as he just came from his garage, where he was fixing his iconic old-timer Fiat Topolino. - I’m preparing Nadalina Topolino for a trip to Slovenia where I’m invited to participate in a chocolate fair and I’m really looking forward to it - said Marinko, who broke the Guinness record in 2015. for making the biggest chocolate in the world in Peristil in Split. - We donated all the chocolate to the citizens, especially making sure the elderly and the homeless get their cut. This was our way to celebrate the company’s 25th birthday - explains Marinko.
This real-life Willy Wonka is the owner of Nadalina, a company based in Split (actually the factory is in Solin) that produces crafted chocolate and a variety of spices. You can find Nadalina’s chocolate shop right in the heart of Diocletian’s palace, and trust me: once you discover it it’ll be your favorite sweet-spot (literally!). Just as we met, Marinko, a genuine gentleman, offered me a selection of some of his favorite Nadalina pralines, and I was enchanted with aromas right from the start. As crunchy almond-fig praline was melting in my mouth, I started asking Marinko questions about how he started producing chocolate. For those of you who haven’t heard of Marinko Biškić before, he was one of the first punks in the alternative music scene of the 80’s in Split, and is still playing music with some of the most popular singers/songwriters like Neno Belan. It was interesting to find out how this ex-punk musician became a chocolatier. - It was all because I was addicted to chocolate. I started the business because my friends were making jokes about my chocolate addiction. Back in socialist Yugoslavia, when people took trips to Trieste (Italy) to buy jeans, clothes or cigarettes, I’d go with them, but just to buy a chocolate that wasn’t distributed in Croatia. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, but I’m seriously addicted to chocolate! - says Biškić in laughs and grabs another praline. - At the same time when I first started experimenting with chocolate, I was recording my first album with my band in the studio. I’d go to the studio everyday with a new chocolate I invented, and give it to my band mates to try and give me feedback. I put a sign on it as a joke, I wrote - this chocolate wasn’t tested on animals, just on musicians - laughs Marinko as he remembers how he started two of his projects at the same time. - In the studio I made my first album with my band, and at the same time I also created my first chocolates (10 different recipes)!
I was curious about the craft chocolate scene in Croatia, because the only producer of bean-to-bar chocolates I knew so far was Marinko’s Nadalina in Split. But apparently, my local-patriotism got ahead of me as it turns out there is another chocolatier in Zagreb. - I was actually the only one in Croatia who was producing bean-to-bar artisan chocolate until last year. A Croatian rapper started producing crafted chocolate bars, too! Just take a look at how funny it is: the chocolate craft scene in Croatia is run by an ex-punker and an ex-rapper! - laughs. - His brand is quite cool, it is called Taman (it can mean either “dark” or “just right” in Croatian, depending on how you pronounce it).
Being the only craft chocolate producer for years, it must have been quite easy having nobody to compete with, but on the other hand, Croatia has quite a few chocolate giants who dominate the industry. Well, that must be a challenge to compete with: - In Croatia we have really good big producers like Kraš and Zvečevo who produce very good milk chocolates - for me personally, their chocolates are way better than Milka. These producers have old factories, but they do produce good quality milk chocolates - explains Marinko as he praises Croatian chocolate companies. - They even produce some amount of dark chocolate, but it’s nothing similar to crafted dark chocolate made by Nadalina. To make a high-quality dark chocolate you need time - I grind my cocoa for two days in order to produce high quality dark chocolate. For example, big producers would grind it for 3-4 hours, but the longer you grind it, the deeper your aroma develops.
Combinations-flavors (jars + pralines)
One of the most recent things I discovered at Nadalina’s chocolate shop were chocolate spreads. If you’re on my team (eating-Nutella-on-a-spoon-team), you should seriously consider replacing Nutella with one of Nadalina’s spreads (there are spreads with olive oil, with rakija, with carob etc.). I wondered how Marinko came up with that idea. - I go to the factory and ideas just pop in my head. I’m very proud of my olive oil chocolate spread, for which I experimented quite a lot. The base is olive oil cream, I don’t use palm oil or any other oils. It’s very difficult to produce olive oil cream in terms of consistency, and I’m very satisfied with how it came out, compared to other popular spreads like Nutella. I put around 22% cocoa, 10% hazelnut which gives it a very intense flavor.
I understood that Marinko’s passion about chocolate goes beyond a hobby, but how he learned to experiment with chocolates was still a mystery for me. - I come from a family of bakers and it is written in my genetic code to produce sweets. I went to many chocolate fairs and workshops and I’ve experimented a lot until I was able to find recipes I like. Right now the newest type of chocolate I produce is called dark milk chocolate with cacao beans from Ecuador - this means they have 50-60% of cocoa and a small amount of milk. All the beans I buy are fair-traded. Dark milk is my favorite chocolate now, I eat it all the time! Last year I was eating dark chocolate with Cuban cocoa beans most of the time. I have a new favorite every now and then - explains Marinko how he’s never bored with all the experimenting in his factory. - I also produce a very old-fashioned style of chocolate called primitiva. For this chocolate, it’s not necessary to grind the cocoa beans for two entire days like I do - the point is for it to have chunks of cocoa and sugar (hence the name - primitiva). When you take a bite of primitiva, all the flavors start to develop in your mouth, it’s like an explosion of aromas. This type of chocolate is widely produced in Mexico, where they use the same machines that grind corn, so the cocoa bean is not minced too finely.
Recently I tried hemp-protein white chocolate at a Nadalina shop, which became my favorite and Marinko surprised me with some great news: - One of my latest experiments that turned out to be a great product is white chocolate with cannabis protein. Right now I’m working on a project with CannaVis company from island Vis, who produce high quality industrial hemp. It will be the first chocolate from island Vis! - say Marinko as I realize a new favorite might be on the horizon.
As Split is a very touristy city it was interesting to find out what flavors are popular amongst tourists. - At the moment, our best-selling chocolate is dark chocolate with dried figs. People also like chocolate with sea salt. I make pralines with dalmatian spices, like sage, dried figs, carob, lavender and so on. I try to buy local spices as much as I can, for example my lavender is from island Hvar, carob I use is from Drvenik and so on.
Marinko never gave up his other passion - music. He still actively plays with his band and his friends. Whenever I ask Marinko about music he nostalgically nods his head explaining how the pandemic made it really frustrating since there were no proper concerts in the last two years. His latest song was recorded with Neno Belan 3 years ago and it’s called From bean to bar. - The song is basically a recipe or let’s say a story of how the cacao bean made its way to my factory, and how I roast it, I grind it, and all the magic that happens in a chocolate factory. We wrote the lyrics and recorded it both in English and Croatian. The video was recorded in the Nadalina factory in Solin.
I noticed most, if not all Nadalina chocolates are vegan and Marinko commented about how he sees this as the future: - All of my spreads are vegan so far, but not all Nadalina chocolates are vegan: the dark milk chocolate is the only one with milk. In the future I plan to make this one with almond milk or coconut milk, one can find plenty of alternatives these days. It would be maybe a bit too expensive for Croatian people, but I believe it will find its audience.
Only chocolate shop Nadalina has is the one in Split. All those who travel might have seen Nadalina chocolates in airports, too. Where else can we find Nadalina chocolates? - I have my Nadalina shop here in Split old town, inside Diocletian’s palace and my chocolates can be purchased in duty free shops in airports across Croatia: Split, Zadar, Zagreb, Dubrovnik. Apart from that, my chocolates are also available in other bigger shops and supermarkets, usually in bio or organic departments.
As a huge vinyl-fan I was amazed when I found out Marinko was the first one in Croatia to make chocolate vinyl: yes, you’ve read correctly - a chocolate vinyl! Nadalina chocolate LP’s not only play music, but are also edible. - Chocolate LP was a project that took 6 months of experimentation. First I bought a single LP and made a mold of it. Then it took some preparation to put the chocolate in the mold and for this experiment to succeed. It takes a lot of time to make just one chocolate LP. Nadalina chocolate LPs work on most turntables, if the adjustment is right. I have an old one, and with adjusting the needle correctly it works perfectly! You can play the chocolate LP more than 10 times, it can even play for the whole day if it's a cold day, but in the summer - I’m not so sure - laughs Marinko. - Also, people sometimes wonder if it will do any damage to the turntable and it really does 0 damage - it’s proper chocolate and you can eat it after you play it! I met some chocolatiers who also produce chocolate LPs and they steal other people’s music. Their chocolate LP’s play music from the 60’s or 70’s. I just put out my own music, for me it's a great way to unite my two hobbies: chocolate and music, without violating any copyrights or stealing from other musicians.
Another interesting thing that caught my attention was the release of a storybook for kids about the world of chocolate. - The whole thing started when I kids from Juraj Bonači (center for children with developmental difficulties) came to visit my factory. When I saw how excited they were I suggested a collaboration with the center and kids started visiting my factory as a part of their therapy. The kids wanted to do a series of postcards, and it inspired me to do a children’s picture book. In collaboration with the illustrator Andrijana Grgičević the picture book was released in English and in Croatian languages.
Even though Marinko’s optimism is truly unbeatable, we ended the interview on a sad note. We started discussing the insane rise of prices and Marinko confessed how this year, for the first time in the last 25 years that he’s been running a business he had to face the unhappy situation of letting some of the staff go. - I was always organizing team building trips, taking all of my staff to Budapest, or Venice, or somewhere in a neighboring country, which I can no longer afford. We’re a small company, but I think of us as a big family. When big supermarkets decided to withdraw more than 50% of my products off their shelves it was the worst news to get on a New Year’s morning. On top of that, all the materials and ingredients have doubled in prices and I increased my prices by only 10%. Luckily, some of my employees needed to retire anyway, but still having to face this situation really broke my heart - said Marinko with genuine sadness in his eyes as we were saying goodbye. - Where is my Topolino? I already forgot where I parked it?!