The wonderful thing about food is that everyday is a chance to learn something new. For instance, who knows the difference between a Chocolatier and a Chocolate Maker?
One might assume that the more highfalutin sounding “chocolatier” is the one that holds the higher prestige. Certainly it can be said that Chocolatiers are more ubiquitous that Chocolate Makers. And so a Chocolatier is someone who takes ready made chocolate bases, blocks, bars, nuggets etc and turns them into other chocolate products by adding other ingredients to make, say truffles or flavoured chocolates. A Chocolate Maker is someone who actually takes the raw cocoa beans and roasts, grinds, tempers and creates their own base chocolate which they use to make chocolate products. That means that anyone who takes a bar of chocolate, melts it and pours it into a mould for example, can call themselves a Chocolatier. I, for instance, do this on a regular basis for a bit of fun, so technically I could call myself a Chocolatier, not that I actually would of course! Allison Roberts of Clonakilty Chocolate is a Chocolate Maker, the only one in West Cork in fact. Not only is Allison making her own chocolate from scratch, in 2014 she launched a crowd-funding initiative to raise funds for business expansion and the purchase of certain chocolate making equipment which would enable her to bring the cocoa beans into Ireland from the Fairtrade farming co-operative in Ghana she supports in order for her to realise her dream of creating a unique and true “bean-to-bar” chocolate factory in the heart of Clonakilty.
Needless to say the crowd funding was a complete success raising funds beyond the €15,000 target, and after putting down a seriously hard years graft, 2015 will see the start of Allison producing her full range of Bean-to-Bar chocolate going on sale in an ever growing number of retail outlets as well as fulfilling orders from her website (www.clonakiltychocolate.com) and selling from her bike-cum-stall at the weekly Friday Clonakilty market to her faithful band of chocolate devotees.
Allison is no stranger to the world of chocolate making. Since the tender age of 12, Allison has been making chocolate honing her craft and skill. Hailing originally from Canada and now a fully-fledged Clonakilty resident active in the community, one could argue that it takes a certain mix of place, people, vision and determination to achieve what Allison has achieved. In 2013, Allison was awarded the opportunity to visit Ghana to meet the community of cocoa farmers to see how Fairtrade has had a positive impact not just on the farming co-operative there, but also the community at large. Money goes into schools and education; health and medical needs and work enough to sustain, feed and grow and successful community. That visit inspired Allison to create the opportunity within her business to be able to import the beans directly from the farm and create the chocolate and the products all under one roof at the chocolate factory.
And the positive impact keeps going. Allison is now employing a number of people from the local community to help her with the chocolate making process, fulfill orders and also to teach them all she knows about chocolate and small business enterprises. So that is four people earning a living. Four people who are economically empowered to have an impact in their own local community and to enrich their lives by working and learning.
Never one to stand still for five minutes to rest on her laurels, Allison is always reviewing her products and inventing new ones! Wanting to make her products as health beneficial as possible comes the idea of using natural sugar substitutes that are in fact sugar free and with all the health benefits that flows from that. In the same vein as the origin of the cocoa beans, Allison is actively sourcing these ingredients from ethical suppliers that are farming the products in line with her and the companies ethos. The chocolate is also gluten free and vegan friendly, and if that wasn’t enough, even the packaging is 100% recyclable and compostable.
Allison’s seemingly unending enthusiasm for what she is creating is clear to see. Despite the monumental work load, there is almost an element of “I can’t believe this is happening” about her. But why shouldn’t it. This isn’t a mass produced, cheap product. This is a high quality, ethical and truly hand made product that is made with love and a steadfast belief in what can be achieved if a company employs the right attitute to business as a social enterprise. This is just one business in a small town in a small country on the very outpost of Europe. Imagine the possibilities if more and more businesses took this ethos and ran with it in the same way. I challenge anyone not to spend just 5 or 10 minutes chatting to Allison about chocolate making and her outlook on business to never look at a mass produced chocolate item in the same way again. You just cannot compare, and if like me you are a choco-holic, two squares from one of the bars will give you the same chocolate hit that you would struggle to find in five or six mass produced chocolate bars. And without the sugar or the hazy outlook on trade and environmental issues to name but a few. Sure, you may spend a little more on your chocolate, but look at what you are supporting by doing so – and isn’t that just worth every single cent?
And just for the record, if you get the chance to hold raw cocoa beans in your hands – do it. There is a great tactile nature to the beans and a real sense of origin as you dig your hands in and around the hessian sack and let the beans tumble through your fingers, and yes, they really do smell intensely of chocolate!
Find Allison every Friday, rain or shine, at the Clonakilty Farmers Market or go to her website to purchase online or to find local stockists around the country, and beyond!
Clonakilty Chocolate: Small Business, Big Heart
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