Life is sweet for our Norfolk chocolatiers
It was Chocolate Week last week but why not celebrate Norfolk's love of chocolate making all year round? Emma Harrowing discovers that our chocolate-making past has become part of our present.
As a kid growing up in Norwich I can remember the sweet spicy aroma of chocolate wafting over our fine city from the Rowntree Mackintosh factory at Chapelfield. The scent made me feel like I actually lived in a magical land depicted in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we read at school. When the factory was bought by Nestle and then eventually closed down it felt like a little bit of Norwich's magic had disappeared only to remain in the romantic memories of those that had once smelt its warmth as it descended over the city centre.
Now it seems that Norwich's history of chocolate making has made a return. Caley's chocolate came back on the shop shelves a few years ago, while many small independent chocolatiers throughout Norfolk have also begun to revive our chocolate-making history.
Gnaw Chocolate in Brooke launched in March 2011 creating a chocolate brand that takes you right back to the paperback fiction of your youth with flavours including Banoffee Pie, Lemon Meringue, Mint Choc Chip and Chilli and Lime. Recently the company has moved to a larger factory on the old Livestock Market in Norwich due to increasing demand for its candies.
'We have grown extremely quickly and we think this is because we are unique and interesting with colourful eye-catching packaging and innovative great tasting chocolate,' says Gnaw Chocolate director Matt Legon.
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'We are proud to be Norfolk and we push the Norfolk connections with our brand. We use as many local suppliers as we can from our packaging designers and printers to our box manufacturers. We believe that if we give back to the local economy, the local economy will then give back to us.'
The Buy Local ethics of helping ourselves and our local communities by purchasing products made in Norfolk rings through the success of Gnaw. It could also be the reason why there are so many chocolatiers in our region.
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Margaret Sims, a partner in the Norfolk Truffle Company, also in Brooke, believes that the success of local chocolate makers is largely down to people buying local.
'There are quite a lot of us chocolate makers about in Norfolk,' says Margaret. 'Nowadays people are increasingly interested in locally produced items so when it comes to buying chocolates as a gift or for an event such as a wedding or dinner party they will look for something that is made in Norfolk, particularly if it is handmade and a bit different from mass-produced confectionery.
'Our truffles are sold throughout Norfolk, including our stall at Beccles' farmers' market, but we also supply all over Britain from the Isle of Skye to Cornwall. Luckily it seems that although people may have less money to spend on going out they will still treat themselves to some lovely chocolate to eat in front of Strictly on a Saturday night!'
Celebrities have also got a taste for Norfolk chocolate. Katy Perry, Coldplay, Noel Gallagher, Emeli Sande, Professor Green and Blur have all bought chocolate made by The Chocolate Deli in Wells-next-the-sea and Little Walsingham.
Owner and chocolatier of The Chocolate Deli Dale Skipper used to work at Kinnerton chocolate factory while she was studying ceramics at college before she set up her own chocolate business. 'We get a huge number of customers coming into the shop saying that they have made their own truffles that have not turned out quite right. We can give them an instant diagnosis to show them where they have gone wrong so that they can do better next time.'
In the Norfolk chocolate-making world no one is precious about the knowledge they have acquired. Angela Nubbert, owner and chocolatier at Norwich-based Norfolk Chocolates, developed a passion for making the sweet stuff when on a chocolate-making workshop with one of Norfolk's top chefs.
'I've always been interested in sweet making from a young age when I made marzipan fruits for my family for Christmas and birthdays,' says Angela. 'Chocolate became a serious interest after my husband bought me a chocolate-making workshop session with Richard Hughes for my birthday. Richard is really generous with his knowledge and I found the whole experience so enlightening I decided there and then to step up my hobby to a change of career!'
Angela shares her knowledge of chocolate making by holding chocolate-making workshops for adults and children. Kids classes are suitable for seven to 14-year-olds and workshops for adults include half-day taster courses to hen party and team-building workshops.
'Many people come on these workshops out of interest, because they love chocolate or because they want to know how to make chocolate at home, not necessarily because they want to become chocolatiers,' says Angela.
There is no doubting Norfolk's love of chocolate and many of us help our local chocolate makers come up with new flavour combinations. Bespoke chocolate is a service offered by many of the chocolate shops. The Norfolk Truffle Company often has customers requesting new flavours, the latest ones being Pistachio, Scottish Heather Honey and Toasted Oatmeal. All can create something that little bit different from the national brands.
Says Dale from The Chocolate Deli: 'You can now get chocolate creations made especially for you – no national chain can offer that. People used to travel to London to get high-end chocolate, these days there is no need to as we have it here.'
The increase in Norfolk chocolate makers doesn't give the same whiff of chocolate scent over Norwich as it once did, in fact its presence can sometimes be overlooked. However, this is chocolate with a local independent edge, a story full of sweet success about smaller chocolate makers and their sugar spun and cocoa laden creations that would make even Willy Wonka quake in his boots.