Melanie May spills the (cocoa) beans on the exciting new generation of Irish chocolate makers.
It used to be that if you wanted fine chocolates you had to go to continental Europe. That’s no longer the case, as a new breed of artisan chocolatiers all across Ireland are crafting exquisite handmade confections and putting luxurious, small-batch chocolates within easy grasp.
Drawing on our rich dairy tradition, these chocolatiers have access to a special trump card: the finest Irish milk from grass-fed cows. With its distinctive, rich and creamy quality, Irish milk stands apart. Factor in a new creativity and exceptional skills, and you’ll see why Irish chocolates are beginning to upstage their European counterparts.
Wilde Irish Chocolates
On the shores of Lough Derg in Co Clare, the team at Wilde Irish Chocolates turn the finest milk, dark and white chocolate into truly scrumptious treats. “We hand-make over 80 different chocolate products, and probably have the largest range of chocolate bars in Ireland,” says owner Patricia Farrell. When it comes to producing award-winning chocolates, Patricia says it is all down to using quality products. “Top quality chocolate makers must use top quality ingredients. The cocoa beans in our chocolate are mostly sourced from West Africa from Cocoa Horizons sustainably sourced farms and we are always on the hunt for the highest quality nuts too.” One bite of the Pistachio Dark 70% or the Orange & Almond 54% and you’ll taste the difference. For something uniquely Irish, sink your teeth into the smooth fudge flavoured with Irish cream liqueur or suck a square of the Dark Chocolate Seaweed and Lime bar made with dillisk that’s been harvested along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Chocolate Garden of Ireland
The Chocolate Garden of Ireland in Carlow is a delicious destination. Set up by husband and wife Jim and Mary Healy in 2001, this award-winning family business produces handmade chocolates, bars and confections. The chocolate shapes are quirky and the fillings are fun and flavoursome: Think almond-shaped white chocolate encasing a creamy banoffee filling or a smooth dark chocolate sphere surrounding decadent dark cherry crème. Maybe you’d prefer a dark chocolate shaped with Amaretto filling or truffles spiked with Kilbeggan whiskey for a real Irish twist.
Koko of Kinsale
Koko of Kinsale encapsulates the flavours of Cork in chocolate. Owner and chocolatier, Frank Keane loves to incorporate local ingredients into his creations. “We try and use as many local ingredients as possible,” he shares, “like seaweed, honey, lavender and mint grown in our garden in the summer months.” The sights and flavours that colour Frank’s travels also inspire his work, making for a diverse and delectable chocolate selection. Open up that bright orange box, which looks like a hardback book, and you’ll find milk chocolate domes filled with Kinsale Gin and orange nestled beside white chocolate shells filled with cardamom and Turkish honeycomb. It is a taste of both the foreign and familiar, fabulously presented.
Chez Emily Handmade Chocolates
At Chez Emily, the highest quality Belgian chocolate marries with natural Irish ingredients. It is a perfect match, much like its creators, husband and wife, Ferdinand Vandaele, from Belgium and Helena Hemeryck, from Ireland. Ferdinand honed his craft alongside master chocolatiers in Belgium. Now, alongside his wife, they hand-make their exquisite chocolates in Dublin. Ferdinand uses traditional recipes handed down throughout the years to artfully design chocolates that delight the eyes as well as the mouth. Creations include orangettes, mendiants and individual chocolates including vanilla praline, salted caramel and cherry liqueur. The evocatively named ‘summer dream’ is a firm favourite, made of milk chocolate, shaped like a strawberry and tasting of fresh summer strawberries. Slabs of chocolate which have a satisfying snap come in nostalgic flavours of rocky road, macaroon and fruit and nut. Chez Emily chocolates are truly traditional, thoughtful and tasty.
Grá Chocolates is a sweet success story born out of a home kitchen in Galway. Gráinne Mullins, Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2019, started making chocolates for her family in her kitchen. Soon, word got around about her cocoa creations and orders flooded in. Seizing the opportunity, Gráinne started Grá Chocolates (Grá is the Irish word for ‘love’) with production moving from her kitchen to a micro chocolate factory in a converted kiln. Her handmade chocolates feature decadent and imaginative fillings, made with local ingredients. Sliabh Aughty Honey flavours rich ganache. Locally foraged water mint livens up fondant. Kylemore Farmhouse Raw Cream enriches white chocolate ganache. Achill Island Sea Salt elevates flavours. Beautifully hand painted, Grá chocolates are individual works of art. ”We mix the colours ourselves. I don’t use a chart because I want the chocolates to be slightly different every time. This makes them all individual.” As visually stunning as they are scrumptious, with just one look you’ll fall in love with Grá Chocolates.
Founded in Dublin in 2019 by Belgian chocolatier Erik Van der Veken, Arcane Chocolates are miniature works of art. Trained in the art of chocolate in his native Antwerp, Erik worked in prestigious kitchens in London and in the Middle East before moving to Ireland in 2017.
Here he began chocolate and pastry consultancy work, before founding Arcane with Ian and Rocky Redmond of Redmond Fine Food. Marrying exquisite flavours with artistry and craftsmanship, each of his chocolates are handmade and decorated using the finest techniques and ingredients.
Using 100% sustainably sourced chocolate from Cacao Barry, the prestigious French chocolate brand favoured by professional chefs and chocolatiers, Erik then works with the finest Irish ingredients, including butter, honey, balsamic vinegar and cream liquor, to create his exceptional treats. Flavours include blonde chocolate with caramelised cacao nibs, homemade hazelnut praline with traditional Belgian speculaas spices and wafer crunch; blackberry caramel topped with milk chocolate ganache; and ginger and honey ganache with a hint of chilli.
Erik’s imagination knows no bounds, and as one of only two Cacao Barry brand ambassadors in Ireland, the magical chocolatier will represent Ireland at the regional UK and Ireland heat of the World Chocolate Masters this year.