The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation. What better a reason do we need to indulge in one of the nation’s favourite treats? HELEN GILDERSLEEVE samples gourmet chocolate that is made right on our doorstep in Newcastle and speaks to a producer from local business, North Chocolates.
The aptly named North Chocolates founded in 2013 is the brainchild of local lass, Bev Stephenson of Forest Hall in Newcastle whose products have been described as ‘more desirable than world peace’ and proudly won ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ (Newcastle Business Awards, 2015).
Made from the finest couverture (which means less sugar, no vegetable fats and lashings of cocoa and cocoa butter) they specialise in small batch gourmet chocolate bars from the classic to the unusual. Think surprising flavours that you wouldn’t expect at all to go with chocolate that just seem to work. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory here in the North East. The fact that they’re healthier than the average chocolate bar is an added bonus!
Chocoholics are spoilt for choice with North which has a core range of 15 to 20 flavours including popping candy, lemon and sea salt, lavender, chilli and lime and coffee and cardamom (a particular favourite of mine). Yum!
I was unleashed to try a couple of bars and I must say I will now be a regular customer at North. I’m a big fan of dark chocolate and ginger so when I spied the award winning ginger and fennel bar, I knew it was the one for me and boy was I right. It had the perfect combination of richness and smoothness with the delicious zing of ginger and infused fennel. It didn’t last very long.
Next I tucked into the lavender bar. The creamy milk chocolate is enhanced beautifully by floral lavender tones. I (almost) felt guilty breaking into it as North bars are packed so prettily, wrapped in an array of coloured foil complete with a quirky ribbon bow. These will certainly be high up on my Christmas list (family and friends, you know who you are).
I spoke with the chocolate goddess herself, Bev Stephenson, to find out the secrets behind her fantastic business:
How did you get into chocolate making?
I used to be a freelance journalist, specialising in food and lifestyle (The Guardian/ Observer, Metro North East) but then the recession hit! I’d been thinking long and hard about another career in food and I’d written articles on chocolate and played around with it a lot and thought I’d spotted a gap in the market. I got a lot of help from a friend who makes chocolate, went on a few courses and launched North in 2013.
Is the business going well?
Very well! I took on an apprentice last year, Gillian Ibbotson, who has been fantastic and I won ‘Artisan Producer of the Year’ in the Newcastle Business Awards last November which was a huge surprise. I wake up some nights thinking I need to hire more people and go bigger but then I wake up the next night worried people will stop liking the chocolate!
Which chocolate is the most popular?
Some bars have won awards including the dark Ginger & Fennel and the milk Lemon & Lemon Sea Salt so they have a head start, but the Chilli & Lime, Coffee (using the Ouseburn Coffee Company beans) and my new one Liquorice & Blackcurrant have sold brilliantly. Bizarrely the milk Geranium is one of my other best sellers – geranium is very similar to rose so it’s a little like eating Turkish Delight without the jelly! It’s a real love or loathe bar but for those who like it they keep coming back for more.
Many people would view what you do as a dream job, would you agree?
I truly love this job but it has its ups and downs. When you’re covered in sticky chocolate and you’ve done an 18 hour day to try and complete orders and then you have to clean down your kitchen, do the marketing, the social media, the admin and then pack and deliver the bars then it can get a little overwhelming! But all small businesses have those pressures and when someone says they love what you’re producing and come back for more it’s honestly the best feeling in the world.
How do you sample?
Some people prefer milk or dark so I always ask them that first and I try to winkle out if they’re adventurous or prefer something more classic in their chocolate bar. I have some flavours that people hate and that’s no problem – we all have different tastes and palates – but sampling is important as we’re sometimes a little safe and they may try and absolutely love something they wouldn’t necessarily buy and that’s a great feeling.
Where can people buy North chocolate?
I’m mainly based in the North East in a lot of delis and shops around the region including Fenwick and some National Trust outlets. You can buy via the website: www.northchocolates.co.uk or if you click on stockists on the site, it gives you a list of where to nab your bars!
More chocolate makers and sellers around the region.
There’s a wonderful variety of chocolate makers and chocolate sellers in and around the North East. Here’s a selection:
North Chocolates, Newcastle
Fabulous range of flavours from Bev Stephenson owner of Newcastle’s ‘Artisanal Producer of the Year’ 2015 (Newcastle Business Awards). Dark chocolate range includes Ginger and Fennel; Geranium and Orange and Chilli and Lime. Milk chocolate flavours include Lavender and Lemon and Lemon Sea Salt. There are many others to try. For details visit www.northchocolates.co.uk or find on Twitter @bevnorthchocs
The Chocolate Smiths, Newcastle
Unusual flavours made by The Chocolate Smiths of Newcastle include everything from bacon to bubblegum. Intriguing flavours include cheese and cracker and peanut butter and pretzel. The Chocolate Smiths sell through a number of North East stockists. For details visit thechocolatesmiths.com or find them on Twitter @ChocolateSmiths
Kenspeckle of Northumberland make unique chocolates and home-made fudge created by a dedicated team who create favourites of yester-year with a traditional artisan twist. Notable products include Northumbrian Honey Truffles and Puffin Beak pralines. Find them online at www.kenspeckle.co.uk or on Twitter @kenspeckle_choc
The Little Chocolate Shop, Leyburn, North Yorkshire
Situated in Leyburn in Wensleydale, this small chocolate factory has a visitor centre where you can watch chocolate being made. You can sample the wares in the adjoining shop and cafe. Visit online at littlechocolateshop.co.uk and on Twitter @littlechocshop
Kennedys Fine Chocolates, Cumbria
Based in Orton village near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, Kennedy’s is a small family chocolate making company producing more than 90 chocolate varieties. Visit their website at kennedyschocolates.co.uk or on Twitter @kennedyschocs
Chcocolate Fayre, Barnard Castle (shop)
Chocolate Fayre of 31a Horsemarket, Barnard Castle, have chocolates and truffles specially hand made for their delightful shop in this county Durham dalestown. For more details visit www.chocolatefayre.co.uk or Twitter @ChocFayre
Hotel Chocolat, Newcastle (Shop)