Artisan Chocolate Bars
The world of artisan chocolate bars
For many years the art of the chocolatier and production of what has become known as Craft Chocolate or even Artisan Chocolate Bars remained solidly associated with France and Belgium. But in recent years England has seen a dramatic rise in the number of chocolatiers producing traditional and more innovative artisan chocolate than ever before.
English chocolate is big business
In 2017 it was reported that the number of independent chocolatiers creating in England had risen by a dramatic 63% between 2015 and 2016. On 1st April 2018 England’s own government website announced that exports of artisan chocolate from the UK had risen by no less than 84% since 2010. The UK Government website also states that chocolate, sugar confectionary and cocoa manufacture contributes £1.1 billion to the UK’s economy and in 2017 over £68million of English chocolate was bought by foreign consumers.
The rise of the English chocolatier
So why has there been such an increase in the number of independent chocolatiers in the UK? For increases in supply to take place there has to be demand. It seems that consumers are making conscious choices to seek out and buy artisan chocolate to provide pleasure for themselves and others. And to fill the need more and more independent chocolatiers are establishing themselves and their businesses.
Passion, dedication and pride: Becoming a proficient chocolatier requires passion, dedication and hard work. And launching a new business in any field requires enormous effort, commitment and continued hard work. The world of artisan chocolate is more competitive now than ever, yet more and more people are entering the market and even achieving considerable success and take enormous pride in their work.
Supply and demand: There is without doubt a positive circular interaction between consumer demand and the creation of new artisan chocolate production. As demand increases so does the number of suppliers which in turn creates a larger choice for consumers who respond with greater demand.
A variety of tastes: The increased demand for artisan chocolate reflects the variety of tastes and requirements consumers have. Some prefer traditional products whilst others look for something contemporary or even quirky. Certainly there are many consumers who search for chocolate created using sustainable ingredients and which demonstrate an eco-friendly approach to creation and selling, for example by using bio-degradable wrapping made from re-cycled materials.
So what drives someone to become a chocolatier? And what exactly goes into making an artisan chocolate bar or piece of confectionary? Let’s take a look at the end products first.
What goes into Artisan Chocolate Bars?
Chocolate bars, chocolate creations, individual pieces of chocolate artistry – whatever the shape, size or form there must first be ingredients.
Harvesting and processing the cocoa beans: Everything starts with the cocoa tree. Without it there can be no such thing as chocolate. Cocoa pods grow on trees and are harvested twice yearly. The pods are cut open once cut from the trees. The white pulp which contains the cocoa beans is removed and placed in containers where it ferments for between five and seven days. Even at this early stage the manner in which this process is handled can impact upon the final taste of the chocolate produced from the raw harvest.
Following fermentation the cocoa beans are separated and dried, usually by being laid out on flat areas. Once dried, they are packed into sacks and sent on their way. A vital component of preparation is ensuring that the beans are thoroughly dried.
Chocolatiers quite often deal directly with cocoa farmers. There are many co-operatives that form long-lasting relationships with their clients who have direct input into how the cocoa is grown, harvested, stored and shipped.
Unique roasting: Once the chocolatier has received a shipment of beans they must be roasted. In this the chocolatier has total control. The way in which the beans are roasted will have great impact upon the taste of the final product and forms a part of the often secret recipes used by chocolatiers. Some will roast slowly in conventional ovens, others will employ different methods. This gives rise to beans that are light, medium or dark roasted, terms that are often applied to bars of artisan chocolate.
Post roast: When cocoa beans have been roasted they retain a papery remnant of their shell that needs to be removed. This is called Winnowing. What is left is called the Nibs. Cocoa nibs are ground until they turn into a paste known as cocoa liquor or mass. This contains cocoa butter and solids, which can be separated. The more butter that is used the smoother the final chocolate taste. Cheaper manufacturers replace cocoa butter with vegetable fat.
After further refining in a machine commonly called a Conch all of the other ingredients are mixed in with the cocoa mass and then the whole is tempered. The process of Tempering raises and lowers the temperature of the whole final mixture until the desired outcome is achieved. The mixture is then moulded to form the final product.
Who wants to be a chocolatier?
There are no formal qualifications to be acquired in the art of the chocolatier. A number start off by acquiring other qualifications in catering and then move on to acquire experience, knowledge and expertise in the art of the chocolatier, often through apprenticeships.
There are many terms applied to hand-made gourmet chocolate: Craft Chocolate, Artisan Chocolate, Artisan Chocolate Bars and others but what unites them all under one canopy is the art of the chocolatier. There are many success stories amongst English chocolatiers and their routes to becoming leaders of the art are all different. One route into the craft is through cooking in other areas.
Some of the famous chocolatiers
Paul Young is one of the foremost names in English chocolate making. His route to his current position was through the study of hotel catering and management and from there through restaurant kitchens and then to position of head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White. From this point Paul chose to specialise in chocolate and opened his first shop in 2006. He is now renowned for what can be termed his taste alchemy with which he combines chocolate with experimental and daring ingredients.
Chantal Coady OBE Chantal founded Rococo Chocolates in 1983 to achieve her aim of changing the way in which fine chocolate creations were perceived. Chantal’s start was as a Saturday confectionary assistant in Harrods. Rococo employs a number of chocolatiers to produce its leading products.
Philip Neal founded his company in 1999 and he remains proprietor and chocolatier. Head Pattisier to many of the UK’s leading restaurants Philip creates all of his chocolate which uses only five ingredients and has no non-natural additives.
Iain Burnett The “Highland Chocolatier” began his career by learning about ingredients from his father and from there to Japan to learn about chocolate making at the highest level. Iain then went on to train under the finest Belgian, French and Swiss chocolatiers before setting up his unique business. Iain’s signature Velvet Truffle has been judged the world’s best dark chocolate truffle.
What does it all mean?
Artisan chocolate is big business and England has its fair share of the world’s finest chocolatiers. Not surprisingly some of them started by learning in other areas of the culinary world before specialising in chocolate. For those at the cutting edge of chocolate making their dedication, passion and inventiveness must be limitless. Their control over their creations can start at the very beginning with input into how cocoa beans are grown and harvested and following through to the very final stages of creation.
The English have always loved chocolate and the demand for it at the high-end of confectionary’s perfection is such that productivity is thriving. The British now have a secure standing in the world of chocolatiers. With more and more chocolatiers establishing themselves in not just the UK but on a worldwide basis the future is bright for the chocolate lover.