So hands up, on receipt of a copy of Andrew Baker’s new book From Bean to Bar, I immediately checked the index to find the references to Lincolnshire. I was confident that Duffy Sheardown, ‘the Genius of Cleethorpes’, would feature but was interested to see who else was on the chocolate map. And I needed to reassure myself that the well-travelled Andrew Baker didn’t know more Lincolnshire chocolate makers than I did! That done, I sat back, relaxed and began to take in the rest of Andrew’s delicious journey.
Given Andrew’s status as a respected journalist and dedicated chocolate fan, I am sure there will be many expert reviews of this book. My aim is to encourage you to learn from the book and to seek out better chocolate wherever you find yourself in the UK. There is always something new to discover – as I found out when making my own Lincolnshire chocolate road trip.
From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain
People in the chocolate world often refer to their personal chocolate journeys: how they have discovered the different makers, tastes, origins and joys of this fine foodstuff, but there can be very few people who have packed so much in to such a short time. I admit being extremely envious of Andrew’s year long pilgrimage.
From Bean To Bar introduces us to some of the best artisan makers, tells the story of Britain’s own chocolate journey from industrial pioneer to centre of bean-to-bar excellence and reminds us what good chocolate is, how to find it and how to appreciate it. I love his straight talking approach. He doesn’t hold back from describing our nation’s general love of ‘rubbish’ chocolate and I really felt for the owner of the chocolate shop on Lincoln’s Steep Hill who had to admit to Andrew that he hadn’t heard of Duffy Sheardown.
I think we have now given up speculating on the number of bean-to-bar makers in the UK but I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew’s shortlist. I have tasted my way through most of them on my own chocolate journey but I still came across three that I hadn’t yet tried: Cocoa Elora in Matlock, Heist and NomNom in Wales. That, however, will soon be remedied.
Although titled From Bean to Bar, Andrew’s book is an excellent reminder that the chocolate revolution is not solely about artisan makers making chocolate from the bean but, that chocolate heroes come in all shapes and sizes. We discover the personalities and passions behind the small scale chocolate enterprises like Melanie Neil of CocoaMo whose mission includes growing and foraging for her ingredients (www.cocoamochocolates.co.uk), the large artisan makers like Hotel Chocolat (www.hotelchocolat.com) and the retailers, judges and educators such as Cocoa Runners (cocoarunners.com) and Hazel Lee (hazeljlee.com/) whose dedication and relentless commitment to making fine chocolate accessible to the UK most certainly deserves a mention.
So who will you meet in Lincolnshire?
The East: Following in Andrew’s footsteps
Seeking out chocolate makers in Lincolnshire, as Andrew Baker points out, requires a ‘lengthy pilgrimage’, but because we have one of the UK’s first and best bean-to-bar makers here, it is a journey many industry professionals are more than willing to make. The words Louth, Lincolnshire are met with the usual blank expression in the chocolate world but adding “just down the road from Cleethorpes where Duffy is based” usually does the trick. If you subscribe to Duffy’s newsletter you will find out exactly who has been making the pilgrimage and picking the brains of one of the industries most experienced makers. Of course, you don’t have to be an expert to visit, with a trip to the shop or a workshop, if Duffy is there you get to see exactly what goes into his chocolate. (Duffyschocolate.co.uk).
From Bean to Bar tells the story of Duffy’s journey from motor racing engineer to award winning chocolate maker. What I discovered was that Andrew and I share the same favourite Duffy’s bar, the Venezuela Ocumare 72%. It’s a real ‘pick me up’ bar, surprisingly sweet for a dark bar and packed full of banana, raspberry jam and almond notes.
Our other Lincolnshire bean to bar maker, like Andrew, I have not yet managed to meet, but I have tasted her chocolate. Emily Robertson of Goldfinch chocolate, is a fledgling maker compared to Duffy. Based on the edge of the Wolds in Market Rasen, Emily is experimenting with beans from the exciting new origins of India and Belize. Both her India and Belize bars were recognised in this year’s Academy of Chocolate Awards. (https://goldfinchchocolate.bigcartel.com/)
Louth’s mark on the chocolate map was initially made by chocolatier Lindsay Gardner of Spire Chocolates (Co-organiser of our Louth Chocolate Tasters club pictured on page 241!). After starting her business here in Louth, Lindsay now has a larger space alongside Duffy’s Chocolate on the Wilton Road Industrial Estate, near Cleethorpes. Andrew picks out her ‘beloved pralines’, and ‘endearing chocolate animals. I would add the Spiced Cherry and Really Raspberry truffles. No Christmas in our house is complete without a box of Spire Chocolate truffles.
In Search of More Eastern Promise:
Looking at who Andrew who has found on his travels inspired me to go even further off the beaten track and seek out some chocolatiers I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet.
Starting out from Louth, I headed north, through Market Rasen with a drive-by of the well known chocolate hang out, the Chocolate Drop. Owned by a very knowledgeable couple who make a huge range of filled chocolates and bars and who, quite correctly, evangelise about the benefits of using cocoa butter as a moisturiser. My destination took me on a drive through the Lincolnshire wolds where I met with the inevitable slow progress behind tractors; I wasn’t complaining: someone has to grow the crops here. I was however less tolerant of the roar of suicidal motorcyclists distracting me from the enjoyment of the stunning views. I eventually arrived in Kirton in Lindsey. Once the home of Catherine Parr and now the home of surveyor turned chocolatier Paul North.
No. 12: A Chocolate Shop of Memories and New Beginnings
I was lured to the No.12 Chocolatier in Kirton Lindsey by a slick website and the promise of truffles made with the renowned Pin Gin produced in Louth. What I found was a chocolate lover’s haven. A modern presentation combined with all the charm of a traditional chocolate shop.
Paul’s story has been written about in a number of local publications with the focus being on his change of career due to his diagnosis of Primary Progressive MS. A great story of course, but for me his chocolates tell an even better one. Paul is quite humble about his work; he sees himself as a new comer to the industry, still with lots to learn. However, in just over a year, he has built up a regular and successful trade: a substantial achievement for a chocolatier, particularly one in a small Lincolnshire market town, even one as pretty as Kirton in Lindsey.
Paul uses Belgium chocolate and his recipes may not be revolutionary but they are personal and quite delicious.
Paul told me, “I love experimenting with different flavours. My favourites are those that stimulate memories of childhood and their favourite foods. These are the ones that make people come back time after time.”
Paul’s Pin Gin truffles illustrate his ability to respond to customer tastes and trends but I felt I learnt more about Paul’s passion for making chocolates by tasting his salted caramels and pure lemon truffles. Paul was incredibly proud of his salted caramel, one of his first creations and you could taste the work that had gone into achieving the perfect balance of sweet and salt. Then the simplicity of the pure lemon puree and white chocolate ganache to me was like taking a mouthful of my mum’s homemade lemon meringue pie: the zesty kick of lemon contrasting with a light velvety texture of the meringue; superb! (www.no12chocolatier.co.uk)
Heading east again, we passed through Brigg, the home of Sciolti Chocolates who are on my list for another time and then over to Waltham and another bean to bar revelation.
The Chocolat Story: From Bean to Bonbon
Again attracted by her fabulous marketing, I decided to seek out Trace Clay founder of The Chocolat Story. I had seen the beautiful white boxes containing little chocolate art works, each telling its own story with flavours linked to characters from children’s stories. Then, recently I noticed that Trace had described her chocolate as bean to bar. That would definitely put her on the chocolate map. As far as I am aware, the only other chocolate makers that make their own bean to bar chocolate for their bonbons are Chocolate Tree in Edinburgh.
I found Trace in her workshop in Waltham, just down the road from Duffy. What a discovery. Trace is making flavoured bars and bonbons with chocolate made from scratch with a blend of Madagascan and Peruvian beans. Two of my favourite origins, it just gets better and better.
Trace first let me try some of the dark chocolate she had made from the bean. The fruit of the Madagascan beans sang out but were softened by earthier and more floral notes in the Peruvian beans. A blend that tamed the red berry flavour to add depth and character. Very impressive for a chocolate that was going to be made into flavoured chocolates and bars.
Trace explained why she was doing this: “This is a very different approach to what other artisan bean-to-bar makers are doing. They are coaxing the intrinsic flavours from the beans to express their unique character whereas my focus is the combination of flavours with the chocolate delivering just part of that. I tried to work with ready made chocolate but it just didn’t work for me. I needed to control the whole process and know exactly what was going into my chocolates”.
Trace even grows her own mint to go in her ‘Mojito’ chocolates. I was beginning get that familiar sense of nerdiness that you find in so many good chocolate makers.
“It’s all about science for me” Trace explained, “when I started, I needed to know about the science of chocolate, of flavour and even the machinery used to make it. I am a complete chocolate nerd, I admit”
So there you have it. Another chocolate nerd but that is perfectly okay with me. It was lovely to meet her and taste some of her favourite flavour combinations: Paddington dark milk orange, Mr Tumnus mint dark chocolate, Brothers Grimm gingerbread, and filled chocolates with pandan, passion fruit and tonka beans (illegal in the US apparently). All splashed, sprayed and brushed to fabulous effect. (www.thechocolatstory.com)
Not only had I discovered a new bean-to-bar maker but also found the perfect chocolate match to Andrew’s colourful book!
by Andrew Baker