It's now a week since I exhibited at the London the Speciality and Fine Food Fair at Olympia and I can finally feel my feet! Standing for 9 hours straight in heels (a must I'm afraid, as being only 5ft'3 it's hard to be seen otherwise!) for three entire days is no mean feat. It's a fantastic trade show that gives small and large businesses alike the opportunity to meet and present their products to buyers from high end and major retailers as well as delis, speciality foods and farm shop owners from the UK and around the world. Since setting up my business CHOC Chick in 2008, I've had the pleasure of exhibiting at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair's Speciality Chocolate section for the past four years and it's amazing to see how much this particular section has grown. Four years ago there were around 25 UK chocolatiers represented in the newly launched Speciality Chocolate area and this year I counted over 60 chocolate stands!
It's truly CHOCtastic to see how much the UK's appreciation of fine chocolate has increased over the years. Consumers are more sophisticated and aware of the difference between single origin and bean to bar chocolate making and have a real appreciation for the skill and quality required to produce truly high end fine chocolate. I love meeting my customers and chatting about the origins of my cacao (cocoa) ingredients. I am extremely proud to be able to say that I source my ingredients directly from cooperatives in Ecuador that I was very fortunate to visit in 2011. People genuinely want to be reassured that the chocolates they buy are ethically sourced and are able to distinguish the origins and the unique tastes and flavours of different varieties of cocoa beans, whether from Madagascar, Venezuela or Ecuador.
Nonetheless, it's a highly competitive market and chocolatiers have to constantly come up with unique ideas to attract the more discerning pallet. I loved wandering round the exhibition and tasting all the different flavour pairings. Chocolates were displayed from all over the world and as already identified by Chocablog, tea seems to be an extremely popular and quintessentially British combination with chocolate. The lovely people at Prestat were the first to infuse chocolate with Earl Grey tea, Paul A Young's jasmine chocolates are an absolute taste sensation and combinations with Matcha tea seem to be a particular favourite at the moment.
But it's not just the English chocolatiers that are rocking the tea and chocolate trend. Hungarian fine chocolatiers Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé's (bit of a mouthful, to pronounce) are real masters of bean to bar chocolate making. Their Venezuelan Trincheras bar in particular and their white chocolate Matcha tea chocolate slab are simply divine. Their beautifully decorated stand was right opposite mine and I loved the classic 'old European' look of their packaging. Their chocolate is lovingly made in small batches from bean to bar and they truly know about the origins of the cocoa beans they use. I went across to say hi and offered them some of my raw chocolates to taste and was utterly amazed, when not only did they love the chocolates I'd crudely made an hour beforehand at my stand, but they even identified the exact cooperatives and plantations where my cocoa ingredients come from! To say I was amazed is an understatement, but having tasted their incredible bean to bar chocolates I'm not surprised. Their attention to detail both in the design of their packaging and the chocolate bars themselves together with their impeccable knowledge of cocoa beans and their ability to coax incredible flavours has enabled them to create truly admirable fine chocolate.
I loved being immersed in all things chocolate for three entire days and it was simply wonderful to meet so many other chocolatiers and chocolate lovers who have such respect and appreciation for the humble cocoa bean. Yes, my feet were sore but I returned home with lots of excellent leads, wonderful new contacts and a renewed faith in the future of great chocolate making. Long live the fine chocolate industry!