As Easter approaches most of us are looking forward to a weekend of indulgence centred on chocolate, writes Ruth Doris.
The figures show that we like to indulge. Each Easter Irish consumers purchase 17.7m chocolate eggs, and one in four buys eight or more, according to Repak statistics.
Chocolate connoisseurs searching for something beyond the mass-produced supermarket brands are looking to independent chocolatiers who offer luxury treats with unusual ingredients pairings, such as sea salt, and special dietary options.
One such artisan chocolate maker is The Proper Chocolate Company. Owners Kelli and Patrick Marjolet focus on the quality and origin of the cocoa beans, including the place of origin and the harvest year on the packaging.
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The couple say their business is different from most of the other chocolatiers in Ireland because they take the cocoa bean and complete the entire process, from hand-sorting the beans to tempering and packaging the chocolate. While the “bean to bar movement has taken off like wildfire” in the US and UK, Ms Marjolet says it’s still relatively small in Ireland where she estimates there are “maybe five or six” doing it.
The couple’s chocolate journey began in 2012 when they were living in San Francisco. Ms Marjolet had received a bag of cocoa beans as a birthday gift and not knowing what to do with them had left them on a shelf. Curiosity led her husband, whose background is in IT and project management, to take down the bag and research how to make chocolate.
Ms Marjolet recalls that he would come home from his day job and go straight into the kitchen and start making chocolate. His knowledge and skill grew. “It just became an overriding passion of his, and he became better and better. And our friends at one point said to us, ‘you guys have to bring this to market’.”
And that’s what they did, following their return to Dublin in 2014. Kelli, from the US, and Patrick, from Brittany in France, had lived in the capital from 2006 to 2010 and had always intended to come back. They set up their business in Glasnevin close to the Honest2Goodness market where they have a regular stall.
Mr Marjolet develops the recipes, with their regular range including two speciality chocolate bars using beans from organic farmers in Tanzania. Chocolate ranging from 70% to 88% cocoa comes from beans sourced from Nicaragua. The company also produces a milk chocolate with a high cocoa content, dark chocolate with cocoa nibs and “fun varieties” that are popular in coffee shops and cafés.
Ms Marjolet says there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between wine making and chocolate making. Similar to a grape harvest, the flavour of the cocoa beans varies from year to year depending on the terrior and weather.
Those who are serious about their chocolate like to know where the beans have come from and alongside the place the company puts the harvest year on the packaging, she says.
This Easter they have three luxury eggs, using speciality cocoa beans and ingredients such as sea salt and real strawberries. Their eggs are gluten free and one is vegan.
Since they began in May 2016, they have used more than 10 varieties of what Ms Marjolet calls “high-end, premium and often rare” beans originating in Venezuela, Ghana, Colombia, Nicaragua, Tanzania and the Dominican Republic and have hand-sorted 1.5m cocoa beans.
So far the business has been self-funded. Since selling the first bar in July 2016, they have built up a base of stockists around the country, including McCambridge’s in Galway and The Hopsack in Rathmines.
Keeping the business small has its advantages, says Mr Marjolet. “It gives us the flexibility because we can order various types of cocoa beans and roll out small batches.”