Choc Tactics

Choc Tastics

Chocolate’s getting a whole lot more interesting.
Elise Rana Hopper takes a look at some of the artisan producers causing their very own sweet sensation 

A love of chocolate may be a year-round romance for many, but with Valentine’s Day and Easter on the horizon now is the time to set our sights a little higher than the industrial-sized slabs of Dairy Milk that might usually satisfy our cravings.

Chocolate can be serious business, with fashion-set favourite and self-styled haute chocolatier Pierre Marcolini recently opening his first boutique in London and ‘bean-to-bar’ the latest trend pushing the envelope in how we perceive chocolate.

In the North East, a new wave of chocolatiers is bringing bespoke bars and experimental flavours to the foodie masses, with local brands such as North Chocolates and the Chocolate Smiths a hit at the region’s food shows and shops. For Gareth James, whose Tynemouth-based boutique is heading into its sixth year, it’s a positive trend – as long as the flavours are right.

“You go into Fenwick Food Hall now and there’s a vast choice,” he says. “Quirky flavours can be a selling point, but only when it’s done to genuinely enhance the flavour and texture of the chocolate or present it in a different way.”

Gareth credits shows like Great British Bake-Off with re-invigorating the country’s interest in home cooking and helping to create market demand for the kind of kit previously only available to commercial caterers, from disposable piping bags to sous-vide machines. This in turn has led to a growth in small-scale producers challenging the established players and often helping to raise the bar in terms of quality.

“People are increasingly seeking out products that are interesting, more unusual, or they perceive to be of a higher quality than the norm – it’s why independent coffee shops are starting to draw people away from Starbucks,” he says.

In terms of flavour trends, salted caramel continues to rule the roost and has undoubtedly helped to normalise the inclusion of savoury notes that might once have raised eyebrows.

“Two chocolates we have on at the moment are goats’ cheese and lemon, and port and Stilton. If we’d put those on when we first opened, people would have walked out the door,” says Gareth.

“But they work because there’s an element of familiarity – you’re looking to either link people back to an existing memory or give them an experience that creates a new one. Food isn’t just functional – it’s personal enjoyment, you want to put a smile on someone’s face.”

Gareth James Chocolatier, Front Street Tynemouth NE30 4DX, tel 0191 257 7799

Top of the chocs

Boutique chocolate in the North East…

Named after the fruit of the cacao tree, Cabosse was established in Warkworth, Northumberland in 2008 by master chocolatière-pâtissière Louise Frederique Keeble, who worked for the likes of Rick Stein and Betty’s of Harrogate before completing her training at L’Ecole Cordon Bleu in Paris and working with various master artisanal chocolatiers in France. Specialities include figurines exquisitely moulded in fine chocolate – try the Fish and Lobster tablets and scallop shell filled with prawns and winkles.  

North Chocolates
Former journalist Bev Stephenson launched North Chocolates from her Newcastle home studio in 2013, and quickly gathered a following for her grown-up flavour combinations. They include Ginger and Toasted Fennel, Geranium and Orange, Grapefruit and Pink Peppercorn, and Rosemary and Lemon Sea Salt. The brand was awarded Artisanal Producer of the Year at the Newcastle Business Awards 2015.

The Chocolate Smiths
Launched in 2014 by young Northumbrian musician-turned-entrepreneur Stefanja Smith and graphic design whiz Amy Francis, the Smiths’ ethos is ‘chocolate that doesn’t take itself too seriously’. Their irreverent Bizarre range is a case in point, with the Pretzel & Peanut Butter Americana bar, Banana Jam Coconut Rum Caramel Bahama bar, and the headline-grabbing Bacon Bizarre among the varieties. Stocked at Fenwick Food Hall, House of Fraser, and numerous independent delis.

Classically trained under master chocolatier Philippe Burger, Jane Williams (nee Davenport) preserves the traditional Swiss method of ‘enrobing’ in her creations, using an antique machine bequeathed by Burger himself. It uses a chocolate wheel to draw the molten chocolate to a height then send it cascading back into the vat. A professional chocolatier since 2000, Jane’s signature creations include the raspberry and rose truffles inspired by roses in her parents’ garden.

Essy & Bella
Vegan Amy Granger’s foray into the world of chocolate-making was inspired by the food allergies of her three young daughters and the desire to create sweet treats that they could enjoy. Based in Gateshead, hers is one of the few dairy-free chocolate factories in the world and uses rice milk to create her dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan creations. Along with grown-up bars such as Lemon and Poppyseed, Raspberry Crunch, and Sunflower Seed and Sea Salt, the original range of kid-friendly shapes includes monkeys, dinosaurs and a cute range of forest creatures.

Taking its name from a traditional Northumbrian word meaning distinctive or easily recognised, Kenspeckle specialises in silky luxury chocolates, creamy toffees and melt-in-the mouth fudge with a twist of North East inspiration. Among these are Northumbrian Honey Truffles, Puffin Beak Pralines, and the Selfridges-stocked Edible Coal, inspired by the region’s mining history.

Coquet Chocolates
Roz Tinlin runs a Rothbury guesthouse, is the business brain behind Coquet Whisky and also finds time to produce her own handmade Coquet Chocolates – with her Black Rory whisky blend and Myrtle gin known to have made their way into her creations. Roz also runs chocolate-making workshops for would-be chocolatiers.

Recipe: CHOC Chick’s Heart Melting Eastern Spice Raw Chocolates

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