Chocolate heaven in devon
With the Exeter Chocolate Festival fast approaching - hosted at Exeter Phoenix this Sunday (25th November), we speak to Nicola Knight, the mastermind behind the delicious event. We ask Nicola what led her to become a qualified chocolatier, what her go-to cocoa based treat is and, importantly, what we can expect from the one-day festival.
Q1: Nicola, we think you quite possibly have one of the best skills, and jobs, in the world….tell us how you got into being a chocolate aficionado.
I travelled around the Caribbean a fair bit in my 20s, teaching in the Bahamas and exploring. While I was there, I tasted some incredible chocolate, unlike anything I’d ever tasted back home. I visited the Grenada Chocolate Company’s plantation and saw how the chocolate was made first-hand. I had always dreamt of importing this kind of amazing chocolate to the UK, and when I left the teaching profession and started seriously looking into it, I found that bean-to-bar chocolate making amongst UK makers is beginning to really take off. I became obsessed with tasting everything I could get my hands on! Then I discovered that you can train to become a certified chocolate taster, and the rest is history!
I love sharing my passion and knowledge for how to taste chocolate with others, hence setting up my chocolate tasting workshops. It’s very satisfying when people come in with no idea how to taste chocolate, and leave being able to pick out key flavour notes and having discovered a new passion.
Also in the pipeline are a series of chocolate history sessions with kids next year.
Q2: How long did it take you to hone your craft? And tell us more about what was involved in becoming a certified chocolate taster through the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting..it sounds very impressive!
It’s been years in the making, in terms of exploring my own interest in fine chocolate. But last year, after coming out of teaching, I decided to take the plunge and become certified with the institute. I have achieved Level 2 in chocolate and cacao tasting, and have learnt how to taste and profile chocolate, and have since started to create my own system for recording tasting notes and profiling flavours. I am looking forward to taking the Level 3 element of the course next year, which involves a visit to a cacao plantation and learning about the cacao production techniques and their effect on flavour in much more detail.
Q3: You’re the mastermind behind the chocolate festival, what inspired you to create this event and why should people attend?
I felt compelled to share my passion for bean-to-bar, ethically sourced chocolate with the world! It struck me that many people have no idea how their chocolate is actually made, or that fine chocolate is comparable to a fine coffee or wine. I also saw that other artisan chocolate festivals were popping up across the country, showcasing the amazing products being created by some very talented producers, and wanted to be a part of this. The chocolate makers I have come across on this journey are similar in their dedication to sourcing the finest quality cacao, direct from the farmer, and paying above the national average for the beans, often above the Fairtrade price. It’s great to be buying into something that’s both ethical and delicious.
The festival has something for everyone. We have plenty of bean-to-bar chocolate makers coming from across the UK, so you will be able to pick up some incredible chocolate and talk to the producers. We have local chocolatiers represented, cakes and other treats, chocolate lolly decorating workshops for the kids, as well as a programme of talks and demonstrations and more! Go to www.exeterchocolatefestival.co.uk for more details.
Q4: When you tell people about your job, what’s the reaction?
Usually disbelief ‘you can actually get a qualification in that?’, followed by envy! And I often get asked if I still eat rubbish chocolate, which of course I do as I’m only human!
Q5: What is your go-to bar of chocolate if you're needing that sweet fix and what is it that makes it your favourite?
My favourite bar is currently a 60% dark milk from a Haitian maker called Askanya. It has an addictive dark treacley flavour from the raw Haitian cane sugar they use.
On other days, I might reach for the bold fruity acidity you get with a Madagascan chocolate. I spend way too much time (any money) trying new bars! The Cocoa Runners subscription box has been a godsend. And my pregnancy craving this time has been Dairy Milk, but don’t tell anyone.
Don’t forget to come and see us at the event – our very own self-confessed chocolate addict, Jim Fisher, will be doing a chocolate making demonstration between 2pm-3pm.
Among the skills that Jim will be demonstrating are making a confectioner quality filled chocolate with gorgeous salted caramel filling. If you’ve always wanted to know how this is done, or want to fine-tune your own skills, then you will not want to miss this demonstration! We also teach a chocolate making and tempering course at Exeter Cookery School, so if you love chocolate, this is the course for you.