Red Star chocolate
Today Kate Johns (of Chocolate Week and Nudge PR) and I made our way up to the North East of England, to Cleethorpes. This traditional English seaside town is the unlikely home of the UK’s second bean to bar fine chocolate maker, Red Star Chocolate.
Despite the impression some British chocolate companies like to give, until very recently no one in the UK was making fine chocolate directly from cacao. In fact, probably Cadburys were the only company in Britain making any kind of chocolate from the bean.
That all changed when Willie Harcourt-Cooze came along, in a big TV media splash launching ‘Willie’s Delectable’ chocolate and finally putting Britain on the fine chocolate maker’s map.
Willie is now joined by another new artisanal chocolate maker, Duffy Sheardown. Duffy has just made his first batch of commercial chocolate, using beans from Calceta, Ecuador. These were provided by Jorge Felix and his Italian based World Foods company. Calceta is Jorge’s ancestral town in Manabi province, Ecuador and home to some of the finest cacao I’ve tasted in Ecuador. (I was lucky enough to visit with Jorge during a visit to Ecuador last June.)
Duffy was first inspired to start making chocolate a few years ago, when he heard that “Cadburys was the only company in the UK making chocolate from beans”. Duffy’s background is in motor racing, but that sounded like a challenge he couldn’t resist, and he began to wonder exactly how hard it would be to make your own chocolate.
A few years later and the result is a modest and inexpensive setup in a small industrial unit in Cleethorpes. Here Duffy has proved that making chocolate is both easy in principle, and difficult in the detail.
From the samples we’ve tasted though, Duffy has shown it’s possible to make a pretty good quality of chocolate without building a million dollar factory.
On the other hand, as Duffy tells us, while there’s plenty of help out there for the budding chocolate maker, some things you just have to work out for yourself, such exactly what is the best temperature to conche at.
Chocolate making is a progressive art. The best producers are constantly trying to improve their quality, tweaking recipes and adapting their machinery. It’s early days for Duffy, but he takes an approach he picked up from his motor sports days – change only one thing at a time, then if the result is an improvement (or negative), you know what made the difference.
Duffy’s chocolate making equipment may not exactly be high end, but he is making good use of the most important tool available to any chocolate maker – taste. For example, his approach to roasting – keep tasting the cacao every few minutes until it stops tasting better.
Too many chocolate makers get lost in technical details and sophisticated quality control tests and expensive equipment, while ignoring basics, like how the cacao or chocolate tastes at every stage of production. Without this kind of approach, the results are rarely good.
As ever, there’s a simple message in Duffy’s cacao sources, common to good chocolate makers and chefs alike – choice of ingredients.
If you start with good ingredients and treat them with respect, you will usually have a good result.
As well as Jorge Felix’s single origin Calceta from Ecuador, Duffy is experimenting with cacao from Brazil and Panama, and also finishing liquor from a number of other sources, including Madagascar, which from what we tasted turned into a pretty good chocolate.
We tried all of these in various percentages in both dark and milk. As these were test batches, the results were mixed, but a few really stood out, like the Madagascar milk.
While we were at Duffy’s factory, he was finishing some Peruvian liquor into chocolate, and from the sample we tried off the refiner, this could turn into a pretty good chocolate too.
Duffy is very much about making chocolate for his local market, aiming at local retailers and local shows and fairs as his company gets going.
Perhaps here he could be the harbinger of a new trend – for local, micro-brewery type chocolate makers.
It was be easy to imagine that in a few years time the UK would have a handful of small chocolate makers spread around the country, all with some national presence but grounded in their local economy.
This is a model that seems to be taking hold in the US and just starting in Italy.
There’s no doubt though that if Duffy can keep going in the right direction and maintain his flavour based approach, you could well be seeing his chocolate on sale in high end chocolate emporiums and national outlets soon.
It’s very likely that the first, commercial, eating chocolate bar was a British invention, made first by Fry’s then Cadburys.
It’s been a long wait, but we finally have another two independent chocolate makers in the UK, this time working with fine beans from around the world.
Red Star Chocolate is a very welcome addition to the fine chocolate world.