A story of female empowerment in the chocolate industry

For International Women’s Day 2020, I would love to share with you a story of true female empowerment in the cocoa industry.

Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, makes chocolate using cocoa beans sourced directly from farmers around the world. Luisa is currently the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Nottingham.

She has won several prestigious awards including a Gold from the Academy of Chocolate for her 92% Philippines, and two Bronze Awards for her Makira and Madagascan bars. These awards confirm the fine quality of her chocolate, which is fundamentally different in taste and ethos to mass-produced confectionery.

Everything Luisa makes is vegan, gluten-free, and made without refined sugar (with no compromise on taste), making her products a healthy, ethical alternative to mass-produced confectionery. Luisa says: “Not only do we make dark chocolate, but have also recently launched ‘casholate’, a delicious alternative to milk chocolate, using cashew nuts to give a creamy taste, as well as a range of truffles.”

89382271_787027355119941_591050275171598336_n

We asked Luisa to tell us a bit about herself, how she got into chocolate making.

“I started learning how to make ‘bean-to bar’ chocolate in 2017. This was after a year or two of making healthier chocolate treats from my kitchen and selling them at local small producer markets. At the time I was a teacher of Textiles, Art and Food, and I’d always had a love and appreciation of chocolate.

My emphasis now is on producing delicious high quality dark chocolate using directly sourced beans. We work directly with our farmers and monitor the crop to ensure quality.

We also pay them a direct trade price more than two and a half times the average farm gate price, which we believe reflects the true value of the cocoa beans and is a better than fair deal for the farmers.

carmen

Could you tell us about your experiences in Colombia?

Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates is the commercial partner on an Innovate UK project to understand the importance of fermentation in the chocolate process, and to identify the microbes present during that fermentation. The project runs over three different crop cycles, and this enables us to identify any improvements in the taste of chocolate arising from the scientific data and the related changes in the fermentation process.

Going out to meet the farmers – Martha Castillo, Carmen Erazo and Yanira Linero, was incredible. I saw the beautiful valleys in which the cocoa pods are grown, and we shared stories about our families, our children and, of course, our harmonious love of cacao, which is the central connection of how our paths would be drawn together to create a beautiful journey of women in chocolate. It was such an exciting moment to be presented with three huge sacks of cocoa from the female cacao farmers, and I could not wait to start the chocolate-making process, turning this creation from bean-to-bar.

We are building a solid partnership with them. They are benefiting from feedback from scientists at the University of Nottingham, aswell as getting paid more than three times the Fairtrade price, and improved beans thanks to the project.

Building a close rapport with the female farmers has enriched my practical knowledge, and seeing the vital positive change farming cacao, and being paid a better-than-fair price for their beans, has made to the lives of each farmer, was the chance of a lifetime. “

Wow, what an amazing project this must be to be a part of. I can’t wait to try the chocolate that came from Martha, Carmen and Yanira’s beans (I have ordered some, so watch this space!).

89265134_787027538453256_7945262573555810304_n

For more chocolate related news, tips and discussion, join our facebook group by clicking here.

Interview – Lisa from the Chocolate Tart

What got you interested in chocolate?

I had an event catering company. I was a recommended caterer in The Lord Chancellors Residence in The House of Lords, cooking events for the government, senior judiciary and charities.  I was honoured to be invited a number of times to cook for the Queen. On the first occasion Eton Mess was requested for her pudding. I made cylindrical, wafer thin chocolate cups to serve it in. So many of my chefs didn’t know how to temper chocolate which gives the fabulous shine and snappy structure to the chocolate  – and I wasn’t too good at it either!! So I started to research. I got quite obsessed and then the idea of sharing my knowledge with a chocolate school was born! Initially I imagined only teaching other chefs. But right from the beginning I had students who just loved chocolate or wanted an experience and a lovely memory!
lisa

How long have you been running chocolate workshops?

I started The Chocolate Tart in 2007.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is meeting so many lovely people. Everyone coming into the workshop is celebrating something, having a treat or just simply “me time”. I get quiet groups, noisy groups, groups of total strangers who all have the love of chocolate or creativity in common! I love the mix and have made many good friends through my work.

You are running the Knackali making workshops? What are Knackali, and what skills will we learn?

Knackali are chocolate discs set on edible cocoa butter screen printed transfer paper. The pattern is embossed on the underside of the chocolate as it sets. The discs are decorated with a selection of toppings. We have everything from mini candies, crystallised flowers, fruit and nut. You will learn how to make these gorgeous little mouthfuls so that they look professional and are packaged for you to take home and show off to friends and family.
Lisa is running her popular Knackali making workshops throughout the festival this weekend. If you would like to book a space, click here to visit the booking page!

Interview – Ali from Truly Scrumptious

What got you interested in chocolate?

I have always been fascinated by the art of chocolate making so after trying a few truffle recipes, I decided I wanted to know more and enrolled on my very first course.  YouTube and recipe books only taught me so much and there were questions I had that online tutorials couldn’t answer.

When did you first make chocolate?

About 3 years ago when I was just playing around with some recipes.

IMG_5923

How was your first attempt at making chocolate?

Not brilliant, hence the reason for enrolling on a course!

How and from where do you source your ingredients?

My ingredients are sourced as locally as possible. For example, I use a terrific vanilla paste that it manufactured locally from the ‘Little Pod Vanilla Company’.  My chocolate is sourced from suppliers who, in turn, source an array of ethically produced couverture chocolate. They are mindful of the carbon footprint and all of the chocolate is fair trade!

Anything you are particularly proud of about your products?

I won the Runner Up prize for best new business at the Exmouth Chamber of Commerce business awards. The parties I run are unique and equally fabulous in their own right with many reviews from parents. The chocolate I use is very delicious and I only like to use natural ingredients.

IMG_5050

What’s your best-selling product?

My parties are by far my best selling product!

What are your ambitions for the future?

To increase my party areas and recruit party chocolatiers to run the parties in other areas. To be the No 1 chocolate party supplier throughout the south west.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

Milk chocolate all the way, followed by dark.

If you would like to talk to Ali about booking a children’s chocolate party, she will be at the Exeter Chocolate Festival running the chocolate lollipop decoration station!

Interview – Kate, founder of Choc Ami

What got you interested in chocolate?

My interest stemmed from an early age. I’ve always loved eating it (I’m a girl; can’t help it)!

When did you first make chocolate? And how was your first attempt?chocami_kate2resize_54796

I first made chocolate when I was 10. My mother had an hotel and I remember making a ghastly concoction which contained an industrial amount of cheap catering chocolate  melted and mixed with lemon juice. It was absolutely disgusting!

How and from where do you source your beans / ingredients?

I source my ingredients from various suppliers, as long as it’s ethically traceable and sustainable.

Anything you are particularly proud of about your products?

My customers are testament to my products as they return time and time again.

What’s your best-selling product?

Definitely my bespoke truffles. They are to die for.

What achievement are you most proud of?

The constant development of my truffle recipes.

What are your ambitions for the future?

My main ambition is to get my name out there and build my business further.
chocami_2000PX_54860

What’s your mission statement?

All of my chocolates are hand crafted in Dorset and made in small batches for exceptional quality and taste.

What’s your favourite type of chocolate?

My favourite chocolate is definitely Equateur 76% single estate.
You can buy Kate’s handmade chocolates at the Exeter Chocolate Festival. But if you can’t wait until then to get your hands on them, you can buy them from her website by clicking here.

Interview – Helen from Harth Truffles

When did you first make chocolate?IMG_4607

The first truffle we ever made was to showcase a chocolate tart from our restaurant in Bath. We attended a handful of local festivals to promote the restaurant in the early days of taking it on and felt we needed something tangible to show people our food. After receiving some lovely feedback and having quite a few people interested in buying them, we decided to set up a separate project focused solely on chocolate.

What is your mission statement?

Chocolate should be an indulgence and something to be savoured. Having a small amount of something delicious should be a treat and the beauty of our product is that you only need a small amount to get your fix! We truly believe in only using the simplest and finest of ingredients and working as responsibly and sustainably as possible. It also needs to look pretty!

Where are you based and what do you love most about the area you work in?

We’re based in a small rural village called Ubley in The Mendip Hills. What I love most about our peaceful location is how beautiful the views are. We can see both Blagdon and Chew Valley Lake from our upstairs window and I feel very lucky to have the countryside all around us. It feels like a little pocket of calm.

When did you set the business up and what inspired you?

We started Harth back in 2017 in between having our two boys. We also own a Vegan
Restaurant in the heart of Bath and Harth developed from a chocolate dessert we used to sample in the form of a truffle at various festivals to showcase the restaurants’ food. Our customers showed an interest in buying them, and so Harth was born. Our inspiration has always been to create food simply, using the finest ingredients. As with the restaurant we work with incredible seasonal plants rather than using substitutes to replace animal products. The same can be said for our chocolate. We add no preservatives or additives and believe all things can be enjoyed in moderation.

Harth

What do you love most about what you do?

Making chocolates is a gentle process and requires patience and calm. This is something that feels a world away when being a full time mum, so the contrast for me is a welcome one. I also enjoy meeting new people at the different markets we do. Everyone has a story and it’s fantastic meeting other traders and hearing their creative journeys as well as getting to see and enjoy their products.

What is your favourite product and why?

I love our Fireside truffle. For me, it is the perfect balance of flavours and conjures up beautifully my favourite time of year, Autumn. I love food that strikes a memory or a feeling and this truffle always makes me think of sitting round a campfire, quietly enjoying the evening sunset. I also love watching peoples reaction when they try it. I like seeing them go through the transition of flavours and tasting something they didn’t expect. When the warmth of the Cayenne sings through at the end, I like seeing them smile as if they’ve just experienced something completely new.

How/where do you source your ingredients?harth2

We choose to use Chocolat Madagascar who responsibly source their cocoa from the
Sambirano Rainforest in Madagascar. Farmers are paid fairly for the quality of the rare cocoa harvested and the beans are crafted in to fine chocolate in the local factories, which helps to raise the skills, values and ultimately contributes to the Madagascan economy. Chocolat Madagascar pride themselves not only on the craft of their product but on providing sustainable wealth at source, whilst reducing the impact on the environment.

For our truffles we use 100% cocoa solid chocolate, which contains no sugar. Because of this we are also able to use our own blend of sugars, including an organic, unrefined cane sugar, and completely control the sweetness of our product. For our peanut butter caramels we use an incredible sugar called Panela, made sustainably in Columbia from freshly harvested cane juice.

What are you proud of and what are your ambitions?

I am extremely proud of how far we’ve come with Harth as it has been a side project and grew organically from the resources available to us from our restaurant. In between having children, Harth has grown to be something special which I hope will inspire our children to see both of their parents putting something they truly believe in, out in to the world for people to experience. The beauty of Harth is it could take us in many different directions, depending on what products we create and how they fly. I believe as long as we stay true to using great ingredients and putting ourselves in to our product, then Harth with continue to grow. It has a long way to go, but only time will tell what that direction may be.

Harth Truffles will be at the Exeter Chocolate Festival, but if you can’t wait until November to get your hands on some of their scrummy vegan truffles, you can buy direct from their website by clicking here.