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The Northern Ireland Chocolate Industry

Posted by Jenna Stevenson, Founder of BITETOSAVOUR on

Unknown to most, Northern Ireland has played a key role in the chocolate industry. Our most famous Northern Irish chocolate pioneer, Hans Sloane, some argue, leading the charge way back in about 1690. If the name rings bell it’s because you’ve probably heard of the Square named after him in London. If you look harder, not far from Sloane Square there is Hans Street, Hans Place and Hans Crescent. Yes, this physician, naturalist and collector from Killyleagh in County Down (1660-1753) certainly left a legacy many would dream of. 

Images: courtesy of hanssloane.com


So what’s the Hans Sloane link to chocolate?

If I told you that the Cadbury’s Brothers first sold ‘Sloane’s Drinking Chocolate’ before they set off boldly under their own ‘Cadbury’ brand, then the story might become clear. Following a trip to Jamaica as a physician in 1687, Sloane discovered cacao, which the locals mixed with water. He believed it had medicinal properties but disliked the taste and so mixed it with milk. The short version of a long story is that ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’ became the world’s first milk chocolate brand, being sold commercially by 1750.


Over the next 250 years successive pioneers and innovators followed, mainly as a result of Belfast’s position as a maritime port and trading hub, enabling the flow of both new foods from around the world and ideas.


The Northern Ireland Chocolate industry today

With only a population of 1.8 million people, Northern Irish industries tend to be small in number but high on quality. Innovators. World class talent, punching above our weight. Most of our chocolatiers use artisan production methods, meaning that they can hand-produce high quality, usually innovative products. Below we showcase our producers and invite you to meet them, hear their stories, taste their produce and if you’re based in NI we encourage you to ‘Buy local’. And if you’re from outside of NI you’re most welcome and we’d invite you to indulge yourself in our chocolate history and to take a small piece of our 300 year chocolate revolution home with you and to spread the word. #madeinNI!



THE NORTHERN IRISH CHOCOLATE PRODUCERS (The Hans Sloane Chocolate Society)

Google map showing the location of the Northern Ireland chocolate producers. Small in number but high in quality!



Aunt Sandras


Aunt Sandra’s are a small family owned confectionery company based in Belfast, with a rich history in confectionery production. It started back in the forty’s, when a young boy called Willy Dunne lived close to a Candy Factory. Willy, as most young boys do, loved sweets, so much in fact that when he grew up he pursued a career in the factory as a master candy maker. Willy then opened a shop on Belfast’s Albert Bridge Road and a second on Templemore Avenue and things went so well that he needed help to meet his growing demand, it was the that Aunt Sandra came on board. Sandra worked with Willy for 30 years serving the customers and as Willy grew older, Sandra took over production, mastering the art of candy making using Willy’s delicious recipes. When Willy finally retired and his shops closed, Aunt Sandra decided to continue producing hand crafted sweets and quickly opened a shop on the Castlereagh Road in Belfast, along with her two nephews Jim and David Moore and Aunt Sandra’s was born!

All Aunt Sandra’s handmade candies are made using high quality ingredients and traditional production methods. As well as their shop in Belfast where they retail their delicious treats and share their passion for quality confectionery through various demonstrations and workshops, they are also a welcomed addition to many food markets and festivals throughout Northern Ireland.



Cobden & Brown


Based in Lurgan, Cobden & Brown specialise in the production of scrumptious couture chocolate. Company owner Caroline McArdle always had a passion for chocolate but it was her son's diagnoses of Celiac Disease and an egg intolerance that provided the real inspiration behind her business and its ethos believing that ‘no-one should have to compromise on taste and flavour regardless of diet’. Cobden & Brown’s delicious multi-award winning handmade chocolate is wheat and gluten free, with some bars also being dairy free and suitable for vegans. 


Co Couture

Belfast made luxurious chocolates made in small batches using the finest raw ingredients to ensure the ultimate taste sensation. The Guild of Fine Food awarded their Irish Whisky Truffle the coveted 3 Gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2008. Their Dark Chocolate with Biscuit & Cranberry also received 2 Gold stars.

http://cocouture.co.uk/



Fosters Chocolates


Craigavon, Co Armagh – in 1990 Norman Foster, a confectionery wholesaler, grew tired of selling other manufacturers’ confectionery lines and decided to set up his own chocolate business with his wife Sandra. Aiming at the higher end of the market their unique lines include their famous ‘Monkey Bars’, boat shaped chocolate bars containing toasted peanuts, honeycomb, marshmallow, Rice Krispies and chopped hazelnut. The children’s range includes animal shapes such as Monkeys, Pigs and Lions and the luxurious chocolate bar range includes varieties such as Strawberry Crème, Orange Crème, Honeycomb and Dark Chocolate with Ginger Pieces.

http://www.fosterschocolate.com


H'evans Truffles


Based in Whitehead, Catriona Evans is the passionate producer behind the cleverly named handmade confectionery company ‘H’evans Truffles’. Being a mother or two ‘boisterous boys’, Catriona often turned to chocolate as a relaxing past time and was delighted to discover that she was a dab hand at chocolatiering, so in early 2016 she launched H’evans Truffles. Catriona takes pride in offering her customers melt in the mouth ‘heavenly’truffles and chocolates in a range of deliciously different and decadent flavours such as Orange & Cardamon, Grand Marnier, Limoncino, Chilli & Red Wine and Salted Caramel. Available in a range of display boxes and bags, these make perfect favours and alternative centrepieces for large social and corporate events. She also offers a range of artistic chocolate desserts and cupcakes for such events.



La Coquine

Based in Holywood, County Down , La Coquine is a boutique confectionary business specialising in the production of sumptuous hand-made chocolates, truffles, fondants, jellies and bars. Owner and chocolatier Brenda Fraser had previously within the confinements of an office job had always dreamt turning her passion for chocolate into a career and made that dream a reality in 2013. All La Coquine Chocolates are lovingly handcrafted in small batches by Brenda, who attended a tempering master class in London but is primarily self-taught. With a fabulous selection of both classic and contemporary confections, La Coquine’s extensive range is sure to appeal to anyone who is fanatical about fine chocolate. 


Neary Nogs


Bean to Bar Stone Ground Chocolate made from single origin cocoa beans. Rebel Fudgery (nothing traditional) and Hot Chocolate, Gluten Free & Dairy Free Range. The NearyNog family have been pairing best quality chocolate with winning flavour combinations for years in south Armagh. They sourced single origin cocoa beans from fair trade farms in Ecuador, Peru & Madagascar. They now roast, crack, winnow, stonegrind and then age, small batches of cocoa beans to make beautiful hand crafted chocolate. 

So how did it all start?
NearyNog [Mum] says: “One day our oldest daughter (Erin) decided to fly the nest and do some charitable work in India. So as a family we rallied around and helped to organise a fundraiser. We decided to make something for the people to take away to remember. I remembered my grandparent’s baking recipes which my mother used and were granted my mother's chocolate fudge recipe, so we made lots of jars of chocolate fudge and peanut butter fudge for the fundraiser. However, after the event people kept coming back asking if they could buy more and before we knew it they were off to weddings, craft fayres and markets. It caused such a laugh in the house that we just said "Oh Fudge!"... which is why for a while our wee business was called 'Oh Fudge Chocolates'. Later we changed it to 'NearyNogs Artisan Chocolate' - suits us all much better!”



NI Cho


Based in St Georges Market, Belfast on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, NI Cho is a new Northern Irish chocolate company that makes hand-made chocolate sold direct to the public.



Norr & Brown


Set up in Santfield in 2012 by Ann Candless, Norr & Brown is a family business in every sense of the word. The company name comes from the names of her parents, who loved confectionary, and now grandson Jack has joined the business to help take the business forward. The secret to their success and outstanding products is simple – fresh local ingredients and traditional confectionary production methods. The range includes ganaches and honeycomb smothered in high quality milk or dark chocolate, Norr & Brown signature chocolate brownies and delicious chocolate cakes. Bespoke chocolate gift items (shoes, cars, animals and more) and children’s chocolate party packs are also available.



The Chocolate Manor
Personalised hand-made chocolate, Coleraine.



Wee Choco


Based in Moneyreagh, County Down, Wee ChoCo specialise in the production of delicious handcrafted chocolates with profits made going towards supporting adults with learning difficulties in the local community. Company director Steph Fulton is a keen chocolatier on a mission to share her love of chocolate and passion for helping others. Wee ChoCo provides work experience opportunities for people with autism and learning difficulties in a real factory setting, which has been proven to develop their social and motor skills as well as offering an incredible sense of achievement in creating premium chocolate for you to enjoy.



THE HANS SLOANE CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL, KILLYLEAGH


The Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Foods Festival, Killyleagh, September
In honour of their most famous son, the town of Killyleagh holds an annual Chocolate and Fine Foods Festival in September which is well worth a visit. It’s a great showcase of both the town and the amazing artisan produce of Northern Ireland. For further details, to get involved and dates for the next festival http://www.hanssloane.com/

A nice history of Hans Sloane is on their site here: http://www.hanssloane.com/history/

Bitetosavour Northern Ireland Chocolate Box