This week I’m jumping across the pond once more so to speak, to interview Isobel Carse of Dormouse Chocolates; the first bean-to-bar maker in Manchester, England. Dormouse makes micro-batches of craft chocolate that skip the machines for a rarely done hand-tempering of the chocolate on marble.
Dormouse was the very first monthly chocolate subscription I ever signed up for, and did I mention they just picked up three more Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2017-including a gold for their Guatemala 51.5% milk chocolate bar? Congrats!
Pic of Karen and Isobel of Dormouse chocolate
Victoria Cooksey: Describe your initial experience with craft chocolate and what got you interested in making your own.
Isobel Carse: It all started with a Christmas temp job while I was studying! I worked in the retail side of Hotel Chocolat and ended up staying with them for quite a long time. Eventually I moved in to the chocolate making side of the business, making bean to bar chocolate in their restaurants and cafes. As my passion for chocolate making grew I decided to start up on my own and soon after Dormouse Chocolates was born. At first I was just working from my kitchen at home, moving to a bigger production kitchen last year and roping my partner Karen in to help in her spare time.
V.C.: Did you set out to be the first bean-to-bar maker in Manchester, or was that a bonus?
I.C.: It wasn’t intentional, but it was nice to realize we were the only people making bean-to-bar chocolate in Manchester. It keeps us different and people love to hear about what we do. The craft chocolate scene in the UK is really starting to take off, its great to see so many new makers starting up and I think that can only help raise awareness of bean-to-bar chocolate and what makes it so special.
V.C.: I love your 45% Colombian Milk bar with Peppermint Fizz. Is it difficult to keep the pop in the popping candy once it’s in chocolate? What are a few things you have to take into consideration when working with other ingredients? What was the most difficult ingredient you’ve run across to include in chocolate?
I.C.: Thanks! To keep everything as fresh as possible we make bars with inclusions in small batches so they aren’t hanging around on the shelf for too long, this means they reach our customers in the best possible condition.
We try to add flavours that compliment the flavour notes of each chocolate, and to play around with unusual combinations.
I think the most difficult ingredient combination we’ve used so far was in our Stollen bar, which was a limited edition we brought out last Christmas. It had roasted almonds ground in to the chocolate which made it rather hard to temper. Despite that it got so many rave reviews we will be bringing it back this year!
V.C.: You often list conch times on your bars. How do you decide on how long to conch chocolate for each bar?
I.C.: It’s all down to tasting! When we are working with a new bean we taste it constantly to find the “sweet spot”. It’s amazing how much the flavour develops over time, and how it continues to develop even once the process has finished – we age our chocolate for around a month before moulding it.
V.C.: What would you want consumers to know about how you source the beans for your bars? Do you have a particular bean that is a favorite to work with, and why?
I.C.: As we have grown as a company we have become really lucky to be able to pick and choose beans based on three main criteria.
Firstly we want our beans to be sourced ethically, and for us that means either trading directly with growers, or sourcing through a company with a transparent supply chain. As a small producer we are obviously limited in our buying power, so we make sure we spend our money wisely.
Secondly we look for flavour. We want to make sure each bar in our lineup tastes different, and showcases the flavour of the bean. For a new origin to make the range it has to give us a distinctive flavour that is different to everything else in the range
Finally, we look for uniqueness. An unusual origin or story to the beans will always grab our attention. For example, when we started making chocolate with beans from the Laguna Lachua region of Guatemala we were the first in the UK to work with those beans.
V.C.: What inspires your limited edition bars for the subscription boxes?
I.C.: Often it will be a new origin that we want to try out, or we will have gotten a small amount of beans that wouldn’t be practical to bring in to the main range. Other times it will be a way to try out a new technique or flavour combination . Its a great opportunity to play around and see what works, and we have some great things lined up for the next few months!
V.C.: There is a great deal of debate over the term “craft” in the chocolate world. How would you define craft chocolate?
I.C.: I think its such a hard thing to define, especially as the industry grows and develops. At its core I feel that craft chocolate makers should be involved in every step of making their chocolate from bean-to-bar, and to have an ethical approach to what they do.
Isobel Carse of Dormouse Chocolates
V.C.: What chocolate other than Dormouse is in your current stash?
I.C.: Oh, so much! We subscribe to Cocoa Runners so have a backlog of bars to work through from that! Because chocolate makers are such a lovely bunch we have loads of bars from various chocolate swaps we have done too. We both have quite different tastes in chocolate so luckily we don’t often end up fighting over who gets to finish a bar. Recent favourites of mine have included the Maverick Prohibition bar, and the Damson Vietnam 74% Tien Gang. Karen’s current favourites are an 80% dark made by Risa in the Philippines and Bullion’s Guatemala, but she also loves anything from Honduras.
Thank you Isobel and Karen! I’m looking forward to all your future creations!