Chocolate with a conscience; that’s the phrase that seems to stick when it comes to talking about Falmouth based chocolate makers, Chocolarder. The award-winning small batch bean-to-bar artisan chocolate is the creation of Mike Longman, who launched the brand in 2012, and loves nothing more than to take today’s foodie norms and turn them completely upside down.
On a small and unassuming industrial estate just outside of Falmouth, the team at Chocolarder have recently set up an exciting new venture. Having finally made the push to upsize towards the end of 2019, their new factory and shop is bigger, better and ready to meet the growing demand of Chocolarder’s loyal following. Currently, they’re in the throes of one of chocolate’s busiest times of year – Easter. However, as with all things Chocolarder, there are no plastic wrapped rows of oval shaped treats to be found lining this factory floor.
“In many ways, we’ve hindered ourselves with the way we work. Our eggs aren’t easy, off-the-shelf products where hundreds are wrapped in plastic, placed in a box and a logo slapped on the front. None of that is sustainable and none of that fits into Chocolate,” begins Mike Longman, founder of Chocolarder. A former chef who loves nothing more than experimenting with the science and flavours of food, Mike is one of the driving forces behind Chocolarders innovative and eclectic spread of products today.
In true Chocolarder fashion, the brand’s own egg is wrapped in plastic free, recyclable packaging that’s not only good for the planet, but looks good too. It’s the latest in a long line of conscious creation that sees Chocolarder as one of the only true guilt-free chocolate producers in the country.
Why? Because behind the bright adverts, whimsical branding and endless range of chocolate products, the underbelly of the world’s oldest and most beloved sweet treat is undoubtedly a dark one. Slavery, poorly paid farmers and low-quality ingredients pumped with a long list of E numbers, additives and excessive sugars have turned the chocolate making business into a cheap art dominated by large conglomerates. It may seem like a discussion too big for a small artisanal chocolatery tucked away on the South Coast of Cornwall, but in order to understand what makes Chocolarder so different from its convenience competitors, a little digging is essential.
“Out of the thousands of chocolate brands in the country, there are only twenty of us actually making chocolate from scratch,” explains Mike, “so, all the brands that are ‘handmade’ chocolate actually buy from the same manufacturers in Belgium, which is all made from the same ingredients that come from the Ivory Coast, which is a pretty dire place to get your ingredients. The only way to have any sense of traceability between the cocoa bean growers and you as a producer is to go directly to them, even then there are plenty of people in between and many governments have created purpose-built barriers to limit traceability between farmers and customers are in place. In many ways, it makes the chocolate industry an awful one to be in, but this is exactly why we make it the way we do.”
Traceability and hyper locality are something that rank high on the list of Mike’s priorities when it comes to making Chocolarder chocolate. Everything imported is sourced directly from farmers who are paid well and can grow sustainably, which not only allows their communities to thrive but also keeps the local environment healthy as well. When it comes to his flavouring pairings, that where Cornwall comes in and from Sea Buckthorn to Wild Gorse Flower and Cornish Honeycomb, it’s all about using Cornwall’s larder to infuse and flavour some of their most iconic bars.
“I suppose it all stems from me being a chef, where I try to find something that’s good quality and being unable to, I just throw my hands up and say, ‘I’ll just make it myself then’.”
A former pastry chef, Mike spent the earlier years of his foodie career working in Michelin star restaurants and high rosette rated establishments across the country. It was here Mike was trained to make food from scratch, to discover why things worked a certain way, to challenge his taste buds and his skills in the complex world of pastry and desserts and ultimately to appreciate local, seasonal food, sourced with total transparency.
However after several years of exceedingly late nights, long shifts and fast-paced city living, Mike and his wife, who also worked in hospitality, found themselves longing for a change of scenery and a new direction,
“I still remember the night, we’d both finished really late and were sat at either end of our sofa just utterly exhausted, desperately trying to hold our heads up. We were both so done. We ended up having a conversation about what we were going to do and it was a coin toss between moving to Cornwall or moving to New Zealand.”
Evidently, Cornwall was the winner and it wasn’t long until Mike and his family had relocated to family to start a new life. Being a chef, it was almost instantaneous for Mike to obtain a position as a local restaurant nearby, but it was soon clear that Mike’s unwavering ethos’ when it came to food were going to be a struggle in a busy high street establishment,
“We’re in Cornwall, with a view of the sea, and we were buying in Greek seabass. I was certain a mistake had been made and sent the fishmonger away only to find the Head Chef turn up and ask where the sea bass was…It was what he’d worked his numbers out on, and Greek seabass was cheaper. As you can expect, I didn’t work there for very long, which I think in some sense they were quite glad about.”
Mike’s raw passion for exploring the ‘local larder’ was finally allowed to flourish at Trelowarren Estate, where he found himself working as a chef at the New Yard Restaurant. Suddenly, Mike’s obsession with hyper locality and pure creation was free to roam, as long as 90% of it was within a ten-mile radius of the restaurant. Foraging for local and wild herbs, vegetables, locally reared meat, butter, milk and even flour, sparked a competitive streak in Mike. From making his own dry cured bacon to exciting flavours of ice cream, it was about reacquainting himself with food on its most natural level and incorporating that into his cookery. Ultimately, it would be one product more than most that would capture Mike’s imagination.
“I did get hooked on one product, but that one product is an entire universe within itself.”
Mike’s penchant for food and science marry perfectly within the Chocolarder business and the factory alone is an incredible display of Chocolarder’s views coming into industrial fruition. In Mike’s eyes, each machine that provides a stage of the chocolate’s development has its own unique personality, be it the newly acquired French roaster that’s over 100 years old and the only one of its kind in the world, to a former Terry’s of York press (that’s Terry’s Chocolate Orange to most us),
“If you had the money, you could go out and buy an entire brand-new factory, where if you put some beans in one end, you’d get chocolate coming out the other. We didn’t want to do that, we wanted to do something that has soul and passion.
“As a result, it means that there’s not just three of us working here, there’s a bunch of other characters here, all antiques, that have a unique chocolate heritage. It’s such a nicer way of making chocolate and it adds so much charm to what we’re doing.”
The chocolate itself is something to behold, rich, sweet and fruity flavours toil within the factory room. Like the variety of grapes for wine, a similar experience in found in cocoa beans for chocolate, where a single region or a particular grower can offer beans that combine the aromas and essences of cherry, raisin and nuts, whilst others bring out vanilla and citrus fruits. When it comes to flavourings, everything is natural, organic and pesticide free, with many of the bars containing just two or three exceptionally high-quality ingredients.
Each bar, whether it’s an 80% Millot Farm Dark, a 40% Pure White (which if you’re wondering, resembles and tastes like caramelised white chocolate, except completely natural), or a Cornish Honeycomb 50% Milk, there’s a distinct smoothness that melts heavenly on the tongue and and a mirage of accompanying flavours resides in every mouthful.
“When we say we’ve got a £5 bar of chocolate, obviously people raise their eyebrows,” Mike says, keenly aware that his product is not an everyday sort of treat, “however when we start talking about everything that we do, that we’re plastic free, that we’re ethically made and slave labour free, people start to understand..
“You don’t need all these fabricated, chemical emulsifiers. People are starting to understand this more and more and we feel that in Cornwall, local people are so clued up to this, which is essentially why the business works…We want to reinvent chocolate to be a more ethical, sustainable and high-quality product…Everything we do is done to the highest of standards and our costs reflect that, there’s no dark under belly to our business.”
Sourcing direct from small sustainable farmers have allowed Mike the luxury of being able to select rich, well grown beans that as a result make for an exceptional chocolate. Despite the long distance, language barriers and logistics of transporting large quantities of raw ingredients across the world, the process has allowed the Chocolarder team to hold the bar high when it comes to paying for the right bean and ensuring that the money paid goes directly to the people who’ve earnt it. There’s no exception when it comes to the sugar either, sourced close to their cocoa beans the team choose raw cane sugar, believing it to be the best accompaniment to the cocoa flavour as well as having a lesser impact on blood sugar levels and making it easier for the body to digest.
Better yet is the team’s approach to running their business as eco-friendly as possible. The plastic free Easter eggs are just the tip of the iceberg, all the bars are securely wrapped in recycled and recyclable material and any beans that don’t quite hit the mark are used to make bakers chocolate. Perhaps Chocolarder’s most admirable efforts to run as low carbon as possible is their transportation method to get the beans to the factory.
“We use sail ships to transport our raw ingredients to us, our next shipment is arriving at Penzance in May. We’ve been bringing beans in from a lot of different sources over the last four years and it’s totally doable. For a small company it’s difficult, there are a lot of logistics and guess work of how much we need.”
Frankly, when questioning Mike on Chocolarder’s strong ethical and environmentally friendly morals, it garners a mixed response, and rightly so. In his mind, this is how all chocolate makers should work. Countless e-numbers, additives, sugars and a system that leaves farmers and producers across the globe in poverty, shouldn’t be something to compromise on and yet it’s managed to become the norm for so many mass-producing companies and consumers.
“There are some things where we are going above and beyond, like the sail ships… but the way we work shouldn’t be unique, it shouldn’t be revolutionary,” Mike says, “really, it’s the bare minimum.”
As the last of Chocolarder’s Easter eggs are wrapped and prepped, Mike is excited to continue developing the new factory and shop space and experiment with limited-edition flavours that satisfy his perpetual hunger for exploring the expansive universe of chocolate making.
“The point we’re trying to make is; we want to make chocolate without hurting anyone, or anything, and we want to make some pretty cool stuff in the process too.”
A small team evidently ahead of the curve, it seems that Mike and his team are finally realising the extent of the hard work they do to create a meaning and mindful product people can feel good about not only when buying it, but ultimately when eating it too and as a result launching this summer, Chocolarder will be opening its doors for the first time ever to the public to offer tours, tastings and a true insight into the magic that takes place in order to create these effortlessly stylish and tantalisingly tasty chocolate bars.
To find out more, and treat yourself visit www.chocolarder.com