Vanilla Angel - handmade chocolate made in the village of Slaidburn
- Credit: Irene Amiet
A Ribble Valley mum is turning her back on a career in the civil service to make chocolates, writes Irene Amiet
Deep in the Forest of Bowland a sweet secret is slowly exposed, like the opening of a cellophane wrapper.
Angela Anderton, who creates exquisite handmade chocolate in the village of Slaidburn, says: 'I have always been a maker and a baker,' says the Longridge native, stirring the finest Belgian flakes into a large pot of various ingredients that will be melted into truffle filling. 'As a child I either made crafts or helped my mum with baking.'
Ten years ago, Angela's husband David bought her a day-long chocolate-making course at the prestigious and award-winning Slattery in Manchester. Angela was hooked. She saved up to book herself a spot on a week-long course and, this month, Angela will retire from a career as a civil servant and officially become a full time chocolatier.
As most cottage industry captains would say, Angela started out making gifts for friends and colleagues or for exchange groups. When a shop in the village came onto the market six years ago it was the opportunity to turn her hobby into a business, and the Bowland Chocolate Company was founded.
In the first years, Angela would make everything at home. Her living room and kitchen were cluttered with mixer bowls and spatulas, and infused with the ever-sweet smells of her trade. A few years ago, she found a unit at the edge of Slaidburn and fitted it to suit her purpose. She now has a sun-flooded kitchen to work in, selling her sweet treats at the Vanilla Angel shop. 'This unit was a game changer for me,' says Angela. 'I can make a big mess in here without interrupting home life.'
Messes do happen, especially when Angela is getting ready to have a stall filled for one of the area's various festivals like Clitheroe Food Festival, which takes place on August 10.
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The toughest jobs are last-minute, but Angela is always happy to oblige and added:
'I rope my son in to help with packaging. It does become a family effort.' Angela's husband David helps with the shop, too. His greatest challenge? 'When it's a quiet morning and the chocolates wave at you from their display. But you can never just eat one, can you?'
As a village shop in remote Bowland, footfall is often seasonal. As Bowland Chocolates become more well-known, many people make their way to Slaidburn, especially around Easter and Christmas, but also to find a special, homemade gift. 'I find it interesting how everyone chooses something else, and what tastes attract different personalities. Even long-standing couples will have completely different favourites.'
She loves experimenting with different flavours, and her offerings include chai tea mixes, for their nice texture, or Malibu rum with coconut, champagne truffles, and cherry Bourbon, created with only the finest ingredients. Think decadent concoctions like amaretto with marzipan hailing from Lubeck, Germany, and coffee from Ecuador or Colombia.
The end results all make your mouth water. 'I don't want to set myself up as being too crazy. I enjoy doing things people like, but with a twist,' says Angela - and as if to emphasize whips the concoction pouring from her confectioner's bag in a flourish as she fills the mould of one of her favourites, rum caramel truffles. When she tries out something new, she isn't short of guinea pigs.
'My husband and my work colleagues are my testers. They don't complain too much about the task.'
Angela does eye-up certain equipment that would make life easier, but she hesitates, not just because filling and cutting machines are pricey, but because she enjoys that hands-on touch. 'I'm happy to be a one-person business and not a factory.'
Local produce is enjoying a renaissance and Angela is proud to use her cream from the local dairy in the village. If she thinks about expanding, it's only to get some more space for packaging. 'My greatest satisfaction comes from return customers,' says Angela, carrying a fresh box of chocolates from her kitchen unit to the village shop across Slaidburn's stone bridge over the Hodder.
'How nice is it, when your life is rooted in a village as pretty as this one and you can walk out of your kitchen to open your shop doors and stock it with what you've made.'