Interview with Dom Ramsey Founder & Chocolate Maker of Damson Chocolate
Dom Ramsey is both the founder and bean-to-bar craft chocolate maker at Damson Chocolate in London, England. Dom is an Academy of Chocolate Awards judge of the filled chocolates category and author of the book Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic. Dom was also a co-founder of Cocoa Runners and World Chocolate Guide. He is also a founder and editor of Chocablog (https://www.chocablog.com/).
I’ve had a chance to try several Damson Chocolate bars and I highly recommend them! Lately requests for recommendations on bars made from beans from the Philippines have been popping up on Instagram, so I suggest trying Damson’s 70% Philippines Kablon Farms bar if you can find it.
Dom Ramsey Founder & Chocolate Maker of Damson Chocolate
Victoria Cooksey: How would you describe your first memory of tasting craft chocolate?
Dom Ramsey: I don’t recall a particular moment when I first tasted craft chocolate, it was more of a slow journey from mass produced chocolate to something better. I had been reviewing every chocolate bar I could get my hands on, starting out with my local newsagents and supermarkets. Once I’d exhausted all the confectionery options, I naturally had to start visiting more specialist chocolate shops. My tastes evolved over time, but I still love a well-made milk chocolate as much as single origin bean-to-bar.
V.C.: Are you still participating as a chocolate judge? How has your judging experience changed your views on craft chocolate?
D.R.: I do still judge the Academy of Chocolate Awards, but only the filled chocolates, rather than bars. I find judging truffles and bonbons a lot of fun as I get to experience the true art of the chocolatier and keep up-to-date with the latest trends in flavour combinations and styles.
Judging unflavoured bars can be more challenging. It’s a more scientific process, picking out flavour notes and subtle flaws becomes increasingly difficult when you’ve tasted 20 or 30 bars in a day! I love informal tastings and regularly get together with friends in my shop to sample bars from around the world. It’s a whole lot easier when you don’t have to score everything you taste!
V.C.: Where do you find the creative inspiration for all the bars you make at Damson Chocolate?
D.R.: Certainly from other chocolate makers, but a large part of it is simply experimenting with what I have in the kitchen. When working with bean-to-bar, there are constraints on the kinds of flavours you can use. Liquid flavours would cause chocolate to seize, so for the most part you’re restricted to dry flavours, which I either add into the grinders or infuse the chocolate with.
The cacao itself plays a big part in recipe development though. Some origins work better as single origin dark chocolates, others have flavour notes that work better in milk chocolate. I’ll often create small batches of several different recipes before settling on one I really like.
V.C.: You start Damson Chocolate, win multiple Academy of Chocolate awards, and then a fire breaks out. How did that experience change you? How did it affect your relationships with those in the chocolate community?
D.R.:The fire and everything that went with it was absolutely crushing. Although it was, thankfully, contained and nobody was hurt, it destroyed almost everything we had worked to build. It set the business right back to the beginning and I’m still feeling the effects of it now.
I had a lot of support from friends in the industry, both practical and financial. In particular, I was hugely grateful to my friends at Marou in Vietnam who sent 100kg of beans to help get production up and running again. So many friends have helped and offered support though. I would not have been able to carry on without that.
V.C.: What inspired you to start making your own bean-to-bar chocolate?
D.R.:I had been working with Cocoa Runners for a couple of years, helping them launch and build the business in the early days and I’d really become hooked on the bean-to-bar side of the chocolate industry. It was my friend Hazel Lee who told me she’d been making chocolate at home and gave me a link to buy the table top grinder she had.
I discovered that the grinder was really the only piece of special equipment I needed to make chocolate in my kitchen at home and with Hazel’s help and some beans she found on eBay (yes, really!) I was hooked. By the time I’d made three batches, I knew it was what I wanted to do, so entered some bars in the Academy of Chocolate Awards. My eBay beans managed to win a Bronze award and I received a very unexpected “One To Watch” award from the Academy!
D.R.:The book came completely out of the blue. The publishers, Dorling Kindersley (part of Penguin Random House), simply emailed me and asked if I’d write a book for them. I said yes, and after around four months of very hard work (several hours writing in the evenings after getting home from a day’s work in the shop), it was done. The sheer workload was quite stressful, but I’m very proud of it.
I’d love to write another book – I’m just waiting for a call from a publisher!
V.C.: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when tempering chocolate at home?
D.R.:Tempering is tough, so don’t let it get you down if it doesn’t work! There
are numerous ways that you can temper at home, so experiment and find the method that works best for you. I’ve never been very good at table tempering, but had much more success with a simple Bain Marie and a good thermometer.
The most important thing to remember is that tempering WILL fail sometimes, so don’t let it get you down. Just remelt the chocolate and try again!
V.C.: The definition of craft chocolate seems to vary differently from person to person. What is your definition of craft chocolate?
D.R.: I’m not sure there is an easy definition! From experience, there is no clear-cut line between mass produced chocolate and fine chocolate – it’s a sliding scale. I tend to consider it to be small scale production and minimal, ethically sourced ingredients.
That said, some of the early industry pioneers have grown to become quite large, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We need the craft chocolate industry to grow significantly in order to be sustainable and to ensure all cocoa farmers are paid a fair price.
V.C.: What are the top three things consumers should consider, or look for, when deciding to purchase a craft chocolate bar?
D.R.:That’s a difficult one. In fact, it can be quite difficult figuring out which bars are craft chocolate just by looking at them. That’s where a service like Cocoa Runners can be really helpful – they do the research for you, picking only the best makers, so you just have to decide what kind of chocolate you like (milk, dark, intense, flavoured, etc) and you know you’re going to get something good.
In an increasingly crowded market, it’s really quite difficult to judge quality based on the packaging, so a little bit of expert guidance can go a long way.
V.C.: Other than Damson Chocolate, what craft chocolate makers do you have in your current chocolate stash?
D.R.: I don’t have much of a chocolate stash these days, but I do have a few favourite makers. Probably my favourite maker is Fruition in upstate New York. I’ve never been disappointed with a Fruition bar. Other favourites include Marou in Vietnam and the Grenada Chocolate Company, both making amazing chocolate at origin.
In the UK, Duffy Sheardown (Duffy’s) has been a big influence and has helped out with advice and tips on many occasions and I’ve always been a big fan of his chocolate.
Dormouse Chocolates in Manchester is another firm favourite – Isobel and Karen launched their bean-to-bar range around the same time as I launched Damson, so we’ve been through some similar challenges. Their Guatemala bar is one of my all time favourites.
Finally, there’s Beau Cacao are another London maker who, despite being a relative newcomer to the scene, have been planning and developing their brand for several years. Their attention to detail and visual design is stunning and – like so many in the industry – they’re genuinely lovely people.
Thank you so much to Dom Ramsey for this Interview!