A chocoholic's dream
Local chocolate makers, by the late Brian Pearce
It is said that nine out of ten people like chocolate – and the tenth lies! – which is, I think, sufficient justification for us to feature once more two of Exmoor’s local chocolate makers: Nutcombe Chocolates of Minehead and Melchior Chocolates of South Molton.
Richard and Lorna Robbins’ Nutcombe Chocolates business is now well established. They have been producing hand made chocolates using only choice ingredients (including fine Belgian chocolate) since 2001 but this summer they decided to expand and ‘set up shop’ in Dunster High Street. Known as ‘The Chocolate House’, it is subtitled ‘Nutcombe Chocolates and Friends’, the ‘friends’ in this case being other chocolate makers, mostly local, some fellow members of The Exmoor Producers’ Association (EPA) and a small selection of food producers they have met at farmers’ markets and food festivals over the years.
Although not everything for sale in the shop is made of chocolate, most items follow a chocolate theme. What my eye was immediately drawn to when I entered was the chocolate fountain. Beside this were ‘kebabs’ of skewered strawberries, marshmallows and mini donuts waiting to be dipped in the flowing chocolate. Nearby was a mouth-
watering display of loose chocolates – always popular. There is a seating area at the back of the shop and you can relax with a hot or cold drink and some chocolates or a piece of cake or a pastry from the cabinet. Some cakes are made on the premises, others by some of the food producer ‘friends’ Richard and Lorna have met locally or through the farmers’ markets. Hot chocolate drinks feature prominently, not surprisingly, and those available range from the regular chocolate melted into hot milk to a thick shot of strong dark chocolate and cream. If you can’t decide which to have then you can always opt for the long version of the shot, mixed into hot milk to make a longer creamy treat. If you prefer you can have tea or coffee from D J Miles of Porlock or apple juices from Redhill Farm (Tiverton) and Charlton Orchards (Creech St Michael).
Nutcombe chocolates really do come in all shapes and sizes. For Christmas there are Santas, reindeer, trees, tree decorations and packs of chocolates shaped to Christmas themes. How about choosing a solid chocolate box and then selecting chocolates to fill it from the wide selection in the display cabinet? There are gifts for occasions such as Easter and Mothering Sunday. And when it comes to wedding favours, the sky’s the limit! These even include hand-written chocolate place markers for the reception. You can order by phone but a few of the chocolates are too fragile to post and are best collected from the shop. Many are made to order and you can phone the factory in
Minehead or the shop to discuss requirements
Nutcombe Chocolate’s factory continues to make chocolates to supply other select venues, including many of the National Trust shops in the Wessex area, as well as The Chocolate House. There is an area in the shop that is being prepared for chocolate-making so visitors will be able to see what ‘hand made’ really means and may even be able to contribute to the product development process by sampling and commenting on new ideas.
The shop has been open seven days a week for the summer but you will need to check opening times for the rest of the year. You can ring on 01643 821311. The factory number is 01643 706929.
Richard and Lorna plan to continue to be part of the Exmoor Producers’ Association shop in Minehead. A few EPA members are featured in The Chocolate House. There is jewellery by Barbara Dymmock of Minehead. Her ‘Nutcombe’ collection includes beautiful and elegant items made in chocolate-themed colours. Silk Orchard, based at Torre Cider Farm, has produced cards and present toppers, many having a chocolate theme. There is chocolate-scented Exmoor Soap and cushions and bags made with a chocolate print fabric by The Workbox (Linda Powles of Old Cleeve).
The ‘friends’ in chocolate include Kernow Chocolates from Cornwall. They are a small, family-run firm that, like Richard and Lorna, use high-quality chocolate from Belgium. The Chocolate House features their Fair Trade chocolate bars in milk and dark chocolate. Then there are the famous ‘Venezuelan Black’ 100% cocoa blocks from Willie’s Chocolate Factory of Channel 4 fame. Willie Harcourt-Cooze runs the factory near Tiverton and has his own South American cocoa plantation. He is intent on making the best quality chocolate affordable. Some may argue about the ‘affordable’ bit but he is now producing high quality 70%+ Venezuelan and Peruvian chocolate bars. These and his book are available from the shop. Other ‘friends’ complementing the chocolate offerings are Radfords Fine Fudge from Martock and Teoni’s Cookies from Tiverton, just down the Exe Valley in Devon. More information on www.nutcombe-chocs.co.uk
I next went to visit another of the ‘friends’ – Carlo Melchior at South Molton. He has been making exquisite, hand-crafted chocolates for the past 17 years. Carlo trained in the art of chocolate-making in his native Switzerland and brought his skills over to the UK where, following a successful career as a restaurateur in the West Country, he set up Melchior chocolates in 1995. Using only the finest ingredients from around the world, Carlo has created an extensive range of handmade mouth-watering truffles, pralines, liqueurs and glacé fruits.
I have long regarded his truffles as among the best chocolates I have tasted. They are made with fresh cream and must, therefore, be stored as fresh food. However, there has never been a problem worrying about their shelf-life in our household. They come coated with white, milk or dark chocolate. The strawberry ones are best known but they come in a wide variety of flavours with wines and spirits such as Calvados, crème de banane, Champagne, framboise, whisky, kirsch, amaretto, rum, cassis, or fruits such as orange, lemon, apricot and passion fruit. There are also ranges of liquid liqueurs and pralines.
Like Willie Harcourt-Cooze, Carlo is passionate about producing the best possible chocolates. They are all individually made on his premises at South Molton, giving Carlo control over quality. The key, as with most foods, is the quality of the ingredients. He is very careful in selecting the beans which come from ten different sources. Carlo knows what he needs for what product and chooses from small plantations in countries where he knows what to expect from the climate. He then tries a small quantity before deciding and his decision is based on smoothness as well as taste.
Carlo and his team cater for all occasions including birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day and there’s also a range for children. For Christmas presents there are assortments of truffles and pralines; a ‘Millennium’ collection of truffles, each made with a different single malt whisky; and novelty Santas and Christmas scenes. His ‘chestnuts’ have a milk ganache and gianduja filling flavoured with chestnut liqueur, coated with dark chocolate and a marzipan ‘husk’. His ‘Christmas puddings’ are similar but flavoured with brandy.
You can find Melchior chocolates in local shops and delicatessens across the country, including one of the most famous food halls in London. If you are in the area, his shop in Station Road is well worth a visit and you might even catch a glimpse of the Master chocolatier and his team at work. You may be interested enough to join with a small group in an interactive chocolate workshop and demonstration. Lasting from two hours to a full day, these represent good value and you can take home what you have made! Ring 01769 57442 for information or go to the website www.melchiorchocolates.co.uk