Salcombe Dairy launch ‘The Bar’, a brand new range of chocolate
- Credit: Archant
The owners of a famous Devon ice cream company have launched a new foodie venture, as Catherine Courtenay discovers
It must have been a dream come true for the Bly family children when mum and dad announced they were all off to South America on a chocolate finding holiday.
Last winter Dan and Lucia Bly and their four children went to Costa Rica and Peru, the aim being to research cacao plantations. It was an idyllic holiday, but it was also a carefully planned business move for the family who are more commonly known for their ice cream-making skills.
This summer Salcombe Dairy has branched out into chocolate making, a move which Lucia and Dan, who run the company, say came about quite naturally.
“In winter, no one buys ice cream,” says Dan. “We have about 20 full-time staff but around 50 on the books in the summer. We wanted to try and create employment that works all year, to keep the skills in the business.”
So, they talked about soup, then biscuits, but then about two years ago on a trip to Austria they had a look around a chocolate factory called Zotter.
Lucia says: “The kids said, ‘Can’t we have a chocolate factory like that?’ ”
The chocolate suggestion made perfect sense. “All the systems were in place for us to do food well, we had a great brand and a lot of the ingredients were the same,” says Dan.
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But they decided to set about making bean to bar chocolate, where they source where the cacao beans are grown and then make the chocolate, almost, from scratch.
The research holiday took determination and planning, with the couple raising funds for the trip by renting out their home with all six family members living in “a cupboard” for seven months.
It was important for them to take all the family, says Lucia, who reveals that the junior members of the Bly family - Rafaela, Alexander, Xavier and Sebastian - have always taken an active role in the business, from selling ice creams at festivals to social media marketing and photography.
Once the Bly family had seized on the chocolate idea, there was no stopping them. Dan went to Italy to source the machinery and learn more skills in creating bean to bar chocolate and after a long testing period, as well as a refurbishment of the Salcombe Dairy shop in the town’s Island Street, the chocolate making venture was launched this summer.
Organic Peruvian cacao beans are used to create The Bar chocolate, a range of 10 flavours which mirror the Dairy’s ice cream varieties and, through a glass wall, visitors to the shop can watch the chocolate being made in the factory.
Whatever your age, Salcombe’s famous ice cream and now chocolate shop, is a delight. The business was started in 1979 by Peter Howard and taken over by the Boscawen family at Tregothnan in Cornwall 25 years ago.
For Dan and Lucia, Salcombe Dairy marked a return to their roots. Both are from Totnes where they went to school, before heading off to university and living and working in Surrey for 15 years. Lucia was in fashion and Dan trained as an aerospace engineer but ended up working for Unigate, then Dairycrest, managing big accounts.
When they came back to Devon 10 years ago Dan went to work for Ginsters then moved to an ice cream business in Wales. They were living in an old farmhouse in Chillington which they were renovating while Dan was travelling to work.
With the demands of bringing up young children and the commuting it was a tough time, but about seven years ago, via a network of Salcombe gossip channels, they heard a rumour that the Dairy was up for sale.
So began a trail of phonecalls and enquiries by Lucia in her spare time, trying to find out more details. It turned out the rumour was untrue but by then Lucia had been put on to a person in London who, unbeknown to her, turned out to be a key advisor for the Tregothnan estate.
He confirmed that the dairy wasn’t for sale – but his interest was sparked and led to Dan being offered the job of managing director.
It seems fate played a hand in bringing the Blys to Salcombe Dairy and during Dan’s time at the helm the business has trebled its turnover; its ice cream is now sold in outlets across the country, from pubs and restaurants to farm shops, National Trust properties and even on Singapore Airlines.
Funnily enough, the only place you won’t find it is over the border - a Devon ice cream in Cornwall is a no-go!
The cacao may have come from Peru but Dan and Lucia are set to make The Bar chocolate as much a part of Salcombe as their ice cream.
Not only is it named after the town’s famous sand bar at the mouth of the estuary, it also has the boat logo, a nod to the town’s past when ships would bring fruit, sugar, rum – and even cacao – into the 19th century port.
Bean to Bar
Makers of bean to bar chocolate find cacao beans at source, so they can monitor the quality of the fermented and dried beans which are then shipped over for roasting.
The resulting nibs are then processed by the team at Salcombe Dairy, a process of melanging, conching, tempering and moulding into chocolate.
They then add local ingredients, or the best quality they can find elsewhere, to make a range of chocolate flavours which mirror their famous ice creams, so you’ll find gorgeous combinations like milk chocolate caramel with Devon sea salt, milk chocolate orange or dark chocolate ginger.