Driving up to the front door of artisan chocolate company The Chocolate Society, you’d never guess how much awesome stuff is happening inside that old milking parlour!
For the creators of Easter eggs for the likes of Harrods and Selfridges, who's luxury handmade chocolates are featured in an array of stylish magazines AND for chocolatiers who get five star reviews from Michel Roux Jr no less, their HQ is massively understated.
There’s no sign outside to say it’s their home and I wondered if I’d come to the right place at first, because right now it’s a bit of a secret… but all that’s about to change! Before we get to that though, let me share The Chocolate Society story… because it’s a very cool one.
It’s about two brothers Al and Duncan, who started out thinking they’d buy a domain name - www.chocolate.co.uk - from a chocolate business in administration. They got so much more than they bargained for though, and have ended up creating the most beautiful chocolate right here in the Somerset countryside! If that’s not Somerset Cool, we don’t know what is and on meeting Al, and listening to him talk about how it all happened, we felt pretty inspired - to say the least:
“It was a total fluke”, he told me, with a grin on his face. “I was in New York working in Web Design. I knew nothing about chocolate. Duncan asked me whether we should buy this web domain and sell it on, but it came with other parts of the company. I only came back to mum’s in Somerset to tie up a few loose ends”.
Before long though, Somerset had worked its’ magic and Al knew he wanted to make his home here once again. When he started getting calls from previous customers asking whether, as new owners, they were going to continue making chocolate honeycomb, he had a bit of a lightbulb moment!
“The previous owners had been supplying the likes of John Lewis and used to outsource all their production, so I visited the production lines and it really got me thinking. The quality was pretty poor and no-one seemed to care about what they were making, so I decided to have a go myself”.
We love that ‘get stuck in’ spirit - that 'how hard can it be'? Well, Al showed me a photo of his first attempt at the chocolate covered honeycomb he tried to make in his mum’s kitchen, and we both laughed. It’s pretty hard as it turns out! :)
“I had no idea back then”, Al said. “I didn’t know water actually splits chocolate, so I just put water in to the chocolate in mum’s kitchen and it wasn’t melting. I had no clue why!”
What a long way they’ve come since those very early days. For one, the now tiny (but perfectly formed) team of six, has a snazzy ‘chocolate enrober’ machine, to cover the honeycomb in that sweet gorgeous tastiness! (I saw it in all it’s glory when I put on my white coat and blue hairnet for a nosey around The Chocolate Society’s pristine factory. And no. I didn’t get any pictures of me in the hairnet!! :)).
For another, Al’s poured his heart and soul in to personally creating the very best handmade chocolate he possibly can, with all the love and care that was lacking on that very first production line he visited. To do that, he eats, breathes and sleeps it - gathering knowledge about the chocolate making process I mean! And he applies that knowledge with total dedication. The dedication of a true artist.
Al's been fully trained by French chocolate makers Valrhona - who are widely regarded as the best chocolate makers in the world - and when you talk to him about the art of creating quality chocolates in small exclusive batches, it feels like a very cool science… a mix of the finest ingredients: precision, love and innovation, as the recipe for total deliciousness!
And let’s talk about the taste. Err... wow!!
When I tasted some of the chocolates being created at High Winds Farm, I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory with the golden ticket. The sea salt caramels made me want to giggle and cry at the same time! I’ve never tasted chocolate quite that awesome, so it’s no surprise these guys have won big time at the British and World Chocolate Awards.
They’re also constantly coming up with new ways to make their chocolate the best, anywhere, ever… and because the company is small and agile, they can develop things really quickly. That’s how the holes in their beautiful Easter eggs came about. They were experimenting with heated apple corers and found out that was a great way to make holes with precision.
The way they came up with the unique velvet effect on their eggs was similar… Al experimenting with a chocolate egg that’d been made and frozen. He sprayed it with cocoa butter to see what would happen and discovered it created an exquisite velvety texture. You won’t see anyone else in the country doing this, and that’s what makes us so excited to see what this brilliant chocolatier and his right hand man James, (recently trained by Al) will do next!
Talking of what’s next, the big news is that soon everyone will be able to see behind the scenes at The Chocolate Society factory. The guys are working on opening a factory shop that will sell their beautiful chocolates (as well as seconds that haven’t quite hit Al’s painstaking standards). There’ll be a big picture window at the heart of it all, looking into the factory itself, so you can watch the magic as it happens! When it opens, around Summer time this year, it’s an absolute must-visit.
The one thing that will stay with me from my own visit there though, is what happened when I asked Al how long it’s taken him to learn all he knows. He just smiled.
“I’m still learning. I’ll never stop”…
and that, right there, is why the The Chocolate Society is absolutely the best.
Long may it continue! We need those sea salt caramels in our life! :)
P.S. Here’s some Easter Chocolate Society Trivia: Lots of their beautiful products are based on an Easter egg shape - the eggs (obviously!!), their Christmas snowman and another very exciting product that we’re sworn to secrecy over! As soon as it launches though, it’ll be on the blog. We can't bleeping wait!! :)