Everyone loves the sweet taste of chocolate, but did you know Scotland has its own diverse army of artisan chocolatiers? Julia Bryce opens the lid on the box of delights available on our own doorsteps…
When we think of artisan chocolate-making, thoughts often wander to Switzerland or Belgium, where the craft has been a major industry for decades.
But right here in Scotland, we have a blooming new business sector and are now blessed with a whole range of flavours including ruby, green tea, mint, salted caramel and so much more.
The traditional white, milk and dark are still as popular as ever, with brands releasing new and improved products all the time.
To celebrate World Chocolate Day today (July 7) we are shining a light on the smaller artisan brands who are leading the way in the world of Scottish chocolate.
Having to adapt business operations during lockdown has not been easy, but in order to survive, that’s exactly what needs to be done.
Diversification is key
In Wick, Ruth Falconer who started her business Caithness Chocolate eight years ago has been diversifying her business.
Trained under the watchful eyes of the UK World Chocolate Master Ruth Hinks at her chocolate school in Peebles, Ruth says she takes inspiration from her childhood memories when dreaming up new chocolate designs and flavours.
She said: “I’ve always been interested in the food and drink sector and I’ve always enjoyed chocolate. I actually went and learned how to make chocolate with Ruth Hinks, who is a UK World Chocolate Mastrer. I learned so much from her. She’s the chocolatier behind the Cocoa Black range and is very well respected in the industry.
“I think one of my favourite products has to be the ‘I Love Caithness’ chocolate bar, and the Peedie Sands chocolate bar. They are inspired by my childhood – and so many other people’s childhood from this area. I spent a lot of time down at the beach and picking whelks and winkles and that’s why I’ve made it with them, and the pebbles and shells. The Peedie Sands one is inspired by a secret local beach and looks like sand on top of it.
“A lot of what I do is inspired by my childhood and memories I associate with it. I love to play around with different flavours and I’ve got a wide range for those looking for something more classic, to those looking for something a bit more unusual. My chocolates come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – and I love that my customers enjoy a real wide range of things.”
Creating unique flavours which her customers love, Ruth takes pride in bringing something different to her offering and has experimented with a range of ingredients – some of which, she says, a few may not usually want to try.
As well as adding unusual flavours into the mix, she also actively supports local producers, showing their products off in a delectable way.
She said: “For my flavours I work with a lot of the local producers near my home in Wick, Caithness. There’s so many amazing businesses around here like the team at Rock Rose Gin, Old Pulteney whisky and other local producers. I like to incorporate them into my products to really show off the local area to people and I think people really like that.
“I did a few really different ones for the Caithness International Science Festival earlier in the year like curry and Marmite. We never told anyone what they were before they tried them, because if we had, they probably wouldn’t have tried them. It seemed to go down well which was great – but I think they were really surprised.”
Launching a Make Your Own Chocolate Truffles Kit throughout lockdown, Ruth says it was one of the best things she could have done during this period, and has been overwhelmed with the support of many people purchasing them.
She added: “The kits were actually born out of lockdown. I saw a lot of other chocolate makers doing similar things so I launched my own chocolate making kits and I’ve had some fantastic feedback. There’s plenty in it for you to be able to make some for yourself and gift some to others. A lot of my customers have been doing that and it’s brought a real sense of community and support to others.
“It’s something people can do with their kids, with their families and is a lot of fun for all. It’s not something I had originally planned on doing but when lockdown kicked in, it seemed like the right thing as more and more people were looking for things to do.”
With the Scottish chocolate-makers scene growing bigger and bigger by the year, Ruth is delighted the industry is getting its moment in the spotlight.
“I’m really excited about the Scottish artisan chocolate scene. It seems like more recently there’s been an explosion of chocolate businesses, which is brilliant, and it’s great to see the industry getting bigger and bigger. Everyone is doing different things,” said Ruth.
“I think Instagram and social media in general has really helped shine a light on smaller artisan businesses. We can show off our craft really easily there and be seen by a wide audience of people. Being able to support and collaborate with other businesses like Rock Rose Gin has been really wonderful. I think more collaborations and things like that will definitely be good for the business.”
Charlotte Flower who owns chocolate firm Charlotte Flower Chocolates based in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, is among many business owners who have had to think on their feet when it comes to adapting during the pandemic.
Foraging for flavours
Starting her company in 2007, it was her passion and interest in foraging that inspired her to pursue a career in chocolate.
She said: “I wanted to find out whether you could use wild flavours in chocolate. Chocolate makers are always looking for the next exotic flavour and I decided to search on my own doorstep for them.
“My style is quite seasonal and I make fresh chocolates to complement that. The seasons lead me in terms of flavours.
“I started off doing seasonal, fresh chocolate, but there was a limitation to short shelf-life chocolate. Years ago people weren’t familiar with that concept and only a few speciality shops and restaurants across the country would have it. Now, thanks to the chocolate revolution, they are much more common place.
“For example, I make mint ganache ones when it is in season, and I’ve tried to capture the flavour in numerous different ways. I’ve dehydrated and ground it down until you can’t feel the texture of it, and it’s just amazing, it’s bright, colourful and fresh. I’m always learning and trying new things. I learned how to flavour solid chocolates with the wild flavours, as well as the ganaches. I’ve added seasonal flavoured chocolate bars, too, and once they are gone, I have to wait until next year to make more.”
Using a range of chocolate she sources from firms across the UK and further afield, Charlotte’s way of supporting the industry is by investing in products created by these to use when making her own bespoke chocolates.
“I can use a wide range of chocolate from artisan producers across the UK, Vietnam and so many other places. There’s a whole world of craft chocolate out there. I really just try to add something different to my chocolates. I’m always playing around with different flavours,” said Charlotte.
“The Scots pine is very popular and the elderflower. The Scots pine is made with Madagascar single origin dark chocolate and the elderflower is made with white chocolate. My shortest shelf-life products and my most expensive would be my filled seasonal ganache chocolates. There’s a lot of chocolate makers out there, but I think the seasonality of my flavours makes me stand out.”
COVID-19 Workshop dilemmas
Running workshops where she teaches students how to make their own chocolate – and give them the opportunity to taste a whole range of flavours – the businesswoman has had to put her class bookings on hold, and doesn’t expect to be able to run them for the rest of the year.
And although Charlotte is disappointed she won’t be welcoming anyone back to her premises for a while, she is eager to connect with them in other ways and will soon offer virtual tastings and workshops.
She said: “One of the things I’ve realised is that I’m probably to going to be able to host workshops in my space for the rest of the year. The pandemic isn’t going away and working with numerous people in my workshop it wouldn’t be good for social distancing, or people having to travel here.
“I’m trying to learn about holding online classes and I’ll start initially with online tastings. This will be a bit easier for me as I’ll be able to adapt this easier. I can easily send out chocolates and talk about them.
“For workshops, I would need to figure out how many people I could host, how long it would be as my workshops are usually around three hours minimum, so I’m not sure anyone could spend three hours on Zoom! It would be possible, but I just need to figure out what it will look like. The workshops are a big part of my summer, so I’m just having to assess that.
“I’m also thinking of launching foraging and chocolate walks. While I won’t be able to do my workshops inside, I could go on guided walks with people where I forage and talk about how I do what I do, and talk about what is in season and how I use different plants. I think people visiting on holiday or in Perthshire for a day out, it might be something they would be interested in.”
Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier – Pitlochry
Award-winning master chocolatier Iain Burnett is best known for his velvet truffles which can be found in some of the UK’s top restaurants. Used by many celebrity and high-profile chefs, Iain’s clientele love the taste of luxury his chocolates provide them with.
His decorated chocolates are widely known for their unique designs and he has also just launched an audio-guided chocolate tasting experience which his customers can enjoy at home.
Cocoa Ooze – Aberdeen
Established in 2008, luxury chocolatier Cocoz Ooze produces a range of handcrafted artisan chocolates. From truffles to popping candy, not to mention hot chocolate packs and DIY chocolate making kits, there’s something for all the family to enjoy.
The chocolate firm has also recently partnered with Castleton Farm in Aberdeenshire to launch chocolate dipped strawberries which are available for local delivery.
Almighty Foods – Perth
Made from natural ingredients including organic seeds, nuts, roots, fruits, flowers, essential oils and tree saps, these chocolates are vegan and certified organic.
As well as chocolate bars, Almighty Foods also make high-quality nut butters.
Chocolate Galley – Auchterarder
Boasting a sit-in cafe, the Chocolate Galley is usually a great place to take part in chocolate making workshops. But while the experience side of the company is closed, it’s still business as usual with demand for chocolate higher than ever.
Whether you’re looking for a big box of chocolates or a small bag of homemade chocolate drops, there’s definitely something sweet available to satisfy your taste buds.
Chocolates of Glenshiel – Ratagan
If you’re looking for chocolates with a boozy twist, then look no further than Chocolates of Glenshiel.
Offering a box full of gin-inspired chocolates featuring Edinburgh Gin, Rock Rose, Misty Isle Gin, Harris and Caorunn Gin, not to mention a whisky box with five different Scottish whiskies, these chocolates are the perfect gift if you’re looking for something different.
Oban Chocolate Company – Oban
Making a large range of products which come in a whole heap of flavours, Oban Chocolate Company guarantees there’s something for everyone.
With flavours such as rose and almond, brownie fudge, slated caramel, chilli and sea salt, not to mention raspberry cheesecake, lemon meringue pie and apple crumble, there certainly is enough excuse to purchase a whole bagful of goodies.
Ocelot – Edinburgh
Established by husband and wife team Matt and Ish Broadbent in 2013, Ocelot chocolate is now sent across the world. Starting off selling their products at farmers’ markets, the business now operates at a small factory and uses the highest-quality ethical produce to create the products.
Mackie’s of Scotland – Aberdeenshire
Produced on the Mackie’s family farm in Aberdeenshire, the chocolate is made with fresh milk from the family’s dairy herd.
The on-site ‘chocolate factory’ ensures the firm has full control over every product’s journey, making and packaging each bar individually.
More in this series…