World-class chocolate - made in Gloucestershire
- Credit: Archant
From a converted Gloucestershire garage, Simon Doble and Margie Bignall are producing their world-class ‘bean to bar’ chocolate, as Mark Taylor found out
It may not be production on the scale of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, but from their converted garage near Bishop’s Cleeve, Simon Doble and Margie Bignall are producing world-class chocolate bars that even Willie Wonka would be proud of.
The couple launched their Doble and Bignall brand of artisan chocolate in April 2014 and they have already increased production from 10kg a week to 40kg, with the list of stockists growing all the time, including Whole Foods in Cheltenham.
Their business started as a hobby - Margie runs her own company as an ecological consultant and Simon was a business psychologist and agricultural and environment consultant - but it is already becoming a full-time occupation.
The couple got the idea for their ‘bean to bar’ chocolate after hearing a BBC Radio 4 food programme interview with Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company. Green was talking about the plight of small farmers growing cocoa who are often paid less than a living wage for their crop.
He had a vision of small cacaofeviers (chocolate-makers) around the world directly trading with producers and paying a good price for fine cocoa.
“I was captivated by this idea,” says Margie. “I love chocolate but I was aware of the poor conditions that many cocoa farmers live in and it gave me the idea for the business.
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“We visited a British chocolate-maker, came home with a small granite melanger (a grinder for the beans) and made our first bar of chocolate in September 2013.
“It was actually edible and quite nice, so we spent the autumn researching cocoa beans and a recipe, got an artist and designer on board for the packaging and sold our first bar of chocolate in Broadway Deli in April 2014.”
Doble and Bignall currently make two types of chocolate - a 50% milk chocolate called Tawny Owl and Raven, a 70% dark chocolate - with cocoa beans from Panama, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which they roast and temper themselves to create the purest chocolate.
The cocoa beans are directly-traded with the producers, so the farmers are getting a fair price for their product, which is usually two or three times more than the bulk cocoa price.
Doble & Bignall are part of a small but fast-growing new wave of artisan chocolate makers in the UK, each one trying to create ‘real’ chocolate without the addition of flavourings and emulsifiers.
Margie says, “We are not exactly unique, but we reckon there are less than 10 small batch producers of ‘bean to bar’ chocolate in the UK, so we are one of a very small band.
“But it’s a growing number, as people become more interested in good quality chocolate, its provenance and how it is made. We are very proud of the fact that we do not use any flavourings or emulsifiers in our chocolate – it is ‘real’ chocolate.”
At £1.50 for a taster bar and around £3.80 for the 80g boxes, the chocolate might be more expensive than your average bar of Cadbury’s, but the price reflects the artisanal quality of this handmade product.
After starting with local delis, a major breakthrough for Doble and Bignall was getting their products on the shelves of Whole Foods Markets in Cheltenham, and then suppling stockists in London. To keep up with demand, production has increased to 7,000 bars and there are now 25 stockists, as well as an online shop.
“We believe that chocolate is undergoing the same transformation as coffee did ten years ago. Coffee in cafes just used to be black or white but now you are offered several different types of coffee and in some places you can even choose the coffee bean origin.
“People are gradually learning that not all chocolate is the same and that it can be appreciated like a fine wine. Chocolates made from different cocoa beans taste very different, just like wines differ according to the grapes they are made from.
“It is a case of educating people to a new understanding of one of their favourite treats and introducing people to the gloriously different tastes of cocoa beans in real chocolate.”
This article by Mark Taylor is from the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life