PUBLISHED: 11:55 15 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:09 20 February 2013
Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks to Anna Turns about his all-consuming passion for the art and the science of chocolate making
As the only chocolate producer in the UK making bars from beans, Willie Harcourt-Cooze is at the forefront of the real chocolate revolution. I feel hugely privileged to be doing a job I love, and also to be able to work with something as fascinating as chocolate, says Willie. I find it quite exciting, and I really and truly believe in what I am doing.
Much of the modern world may have got used to bland mass-produced blends of chocolate, but Willie is getting people excited about the diversity of flavours of premium dark chocolate sourced from around the globe.
An artisan chocolate maker, Willie lives near Tiverton with his chocolate factory in nearby Uffculme. He is also a chocolate farmer. In 1995, after travelling around South America, he discovered his passion for chocolate. He bought the neglected Hacienda El Tesoro, a cacao plantation founded back in 1640, and he planted 10,000 cacao trees.
In 2006, he moved back to Devon with his young family, and began to build his chocolate factory from scratch, buying beautiful, antique cacao-processing machines and second-hand equipment. By early 2008 he was in production, and Willie now produces nine 100% cacao bars and five chocolate bars from his factory in Devon.
My three children just cant wait until theyre old enough to get summer jobs in the factory!
I love the rhythms of my factory, says Willie, and it certainly is a sensory explosion, with sounds, smells, taste and sights that go with the science of chocolate production.
I roast everything myself. There are no managers here in the factory, explains Willie. Because I work 24/7, I manage to deliver artisan chocolate to a wider audience, and it has captured peoples imagination.
Willie is very hands-on at every stage of the process, tasting it every step of the way from bean to bar. There are so many stages of processing to produce just the dried bean and the bar of choc, and Willie is keen to get each bar just perfect.
The real perk of my job is questing for beans
The real perk of my job is questing for beans, says Willie, whose passion for chocolate and all that goes with it is evident. I go to amazing places all over the world looking for the best cacao beans. Earlier this year I was in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Plus he has been back to Venezeula four times this year. 50% of my beans come from Venezuela, with a fraction of this from my own small farm.
The lowest price he pays is $4,000/tonne for raw cacao beans. We buy directly from farmers with fair prices to match the premium quality of the beans.
With premium dark chocolate there are endless possibilities, because cacao beans from different regions and climates have so many gorgeous flavours.
There are so many types of cacao bean I would never get bored. Willie explains that chocolate is like a wine. There are over 400 chocolate flavour notes just like wine tasting. And like a fine wine, Willie leaves his chocolate bars to settle for three weeks to improve their flavor.
Chocolate is steeped in history and traditions which Willie delves into throughout his book, Willies Chocolate Bible. He tells the story of how he discovered the secret of making sweet chocolate that retained the beautiful flavours of the cacao he sources from all over the world.
Uniquely, Willie is producing cacao in its 100% form, without adding any sugar or additives, and he also uses expensive cocao butter rather than animal fat. There hasnt really been anything like this on the market before. The chocolate is also great for diabetics, opening doors to them as 100% cacao has no sugar added.
Willie is proud of what he has achieved and enjoys making his proper chocolate accessible. I think people here in Devon really have an appreciation for local foods there is so much available across the county and my locally produced chocolate is another example of this. Even his three young children love the taste of dark chocolate. They just cant wait until theyre old enough to get summer jobs in the factory!
DID YOU KNOW...?
Cacao beans from the cacao tree are cleaned, roasted and processed.
Solid dark chocolate is produced from cocoa mass, cocoa butter and usually sugar.
100% cacao is made from just processed cacao beans without any sugar.
You can add chocolate to olive oil, grate it into gravy for a wonderful richness, add some to your Bolognese sauce or your brandy butter, plus it goes great with chilli
Willies Chocolate Bible is a testament to his passion for cooking with chocolate, with so many new recipes using dark chocolate in savoury dishes as well as sweet.
I am obsessed with chocolate, but it really is great to cook with in so many ways. Willie explains that for people who really enjoy cooking, cacao is a fantastic ingredient. You can add it to olive oil, grate it into gravy for a wonderful richness, add some to your Bolognese sauce or your brandy butter, plus it goes great with chilli.
The lead-up to Christmas is the factorys busiest time of year. Willie is at his happiest when making chocolate or cooking with it, so no doubt hell be making more creations at home.
One of my favourite Christmas recipes is mince pies with chocolate and orange pastry an unusual twist with sugar-free mincemeat.
The factorys last panic delivery will be three days before Christmas Eve, then he will get a few days off work. But as Willie says, people still eat chocolate in January, and there will always be more beans to roast and chocolate bars to make.
Here, Willie shares some of his seasonal chocolate recipes from his mouth-watering new book. Delicious chocolate heaven enjoy!
Chocolate Candied Orange Peel
"Wait until late November or early December when you see lovely big oranges in the shops before making this preserved fruit. Once you have made your own peel, youll never want to go back to using the ready-made variety. Homemade peel keeps well for several months in the fridge and can be used for decorating cakes, biscuits and desserts, as well as for making this fabulous festive snack.
Makes about 250g
6 large unwaxed oranges
1 vanilla pod
150g granulated sugar
For the coating
Venezuelan Carenero Superior 100% cacao (for a more bitter peel), or Venezuelan Rio Caribe Superior 72% chocolate (for a sweeter peel). For quantities, see below.
1 Remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of each orange. Cut the fruit into quarters, then remove and set aside most of the pulp, leaving just a small amount attached to the pith.
2 Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the prepared orange quarters and leave to bubble over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Drain into a sieve, then place under cold running water for about 5 minutes. Return to the pan, cover with more boiling water and boil for another 5 minutes. Again drain into a sieve and rinse under cold water for 5 minutes. Repeat the boiling, draining and rinsing once more. This process removes any bitterness from the pith.
3 Squeeze the juice from the reserved orange pulp into a clean pan. Add the boiled and rinsed orange quarters, the vanilla pod, cloves and sugar. Add just enough cold water to cover, then bring to the boil over a medium heat. Lower the heat, cover the pan and leave to simmer very gently for 1 hour. Remove the pan lid and cook for another 30 minutes. The mixture should be very thick and sticky.
4 Preheat the oven to 100C. Place a wire rack on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Tip the candied orange quarters onto the rack, then place in the oven for 1-2 hours to dry out.
5 Slice the candied orange into strips 5mm thick. Weigh them and for every 250g peel, measure out about 100g of your chosen chocolate. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
6 Temper the chocolate. Skewering the strips of candied orange on a fork, dip them into the chocolate until well coated. Shake off any excess chocolate, then push off the fork onto the lined baking tray and leave in a cool place to set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
This is a truly sumptuous, sweet liqueur. Because of the high alcohol and sugar content, it will keep well for at least a year. A small glass of it, served with a biscuit, makes an instant (if rather alcoholic) pudding. It is also a wonderful topping for home-made ice cream.
Makes 1 litre
160g Indonesian Javan Light Breaking 69% chocolate, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod
4 large egg yolks
300g caster sugar
400g unsweetened evaporated milk
75ml 80% pure alcohol (ask a wine merchant or pharmacist to get it for you)
1 Melt the chocolate by placing it in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not in contact with the water. Leave to cool slightly.
2 Meanwhile, split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and place them in a blender or food processor with the egg yolks and sugar. Blitz to combine, then, while the blender or processor is running, add the evaporated milk in a slow steady stream.
3 With the blender or processor still running, first add the melted chocolate, then the cognac and alcohol. When everything is well combined, pour the mixture through a sterilised funnel into a sterilised 1 litre jar or bottle and cork or seal. Leave to stand for at least 2 hours, ideally longer, before drinking.
4 To serve, pour the quantity required into a saucepan and heat gently until warm.