It’s fair to say that quitting your job in pursuit of a chocolate-inspired dream is a big risk to take. You wouldn’t be called a pessimist to assume it would be a doomed venture from the start.
Unless you are Mike Longman – a self-confessed food and chocolate nerd, who made the long move to Cornwall to complete his dream of owning his very own chocolate factory, lovingly named ‘Chocolarder.’
“I was a pastry chef before starting Chocolarder, of about six or seven years,” said Mike, speaking to Truthfal exclusively from inside his Ponsanooth headquarters, which is small enough to live up to the company name.
“I was completely engrossed in everything scientific in the pastry kitchen. As home cooks will know, sugar-craft is kind of the pinnacle of that.”
From the start, it’s clear to see that Mike is a food fanatic. “Going down the bakery is another way of getting really geeky over food,” he says, with a smile warm enough to melt chocolate itself.
Before I know it, he is going into the science of chocolate. “Chocolate was the one that got me; the fact that buying chocolate came from pellets of chocolate as opposed to beans,” he said.
“It then ended up as getting further and further about playing around with chocolate, and It became less about being a pastry chef until I was ready to leave the kitchen.”
Mike’s factory is very much a DIY construct. The machine used to roast their cocoa beans, for example, is a rotisserie chicken oven. Two other machines, used to finely melt chocolate into liquid, are originally used as Indian flatbread grinders.
It is things like this which is why Chocolarder want to expand.
Their current building only contains three rooms in which various stages of chocolate-making is undertaken, but plans are currently in place to extend their factory, based under Ponsanooth viaduct, and to open a community café hub up the coast in Porthleven.
Despite the makeshift equipment, Mike prides himself on the specialty and artisan-style of his chocolate. “This isn’t a chocolate factory that people are used to,” he said.
“There’s only a few of us that actually make chocolate, so we have a full chocolate factory from bean to bar. We source our cocoa beans directly from Falmouth, so they’re brought over raw.”
Mike’s practise is one of the most fascinating parts of his venture, a point he was keen to explain.
“From the full process takes about two months from going from the cocoa beans to the full bar ready to eat.”
Even the cocoa beans have an interesting backstory. For one of his bars, the beans are bought from the indigenous Asháninka communities in South America.
“We bring the entire harvest from the Asháninka people from the Ene River valley in Peru, all across to the viaduct valley in Ponsanooth!”
Ethical produce is at the forefront of Mike and Chocolarder’s produce, from 100% recyclable packaging to paying above fair-trade price for cocoa beans.
“All the money we pay for beans goes back into their [the Asháninka people] economy to improve their way of life,” he said.
“From buying Cacao beans directly from them, we’ve allowed them to bring in fresh water, fish farms, fresh water wells health stations and have started to build an education infrastructure that their children can go into.”
“Of course, we wanted to be completely avoid any sort of slave labour,” Mike said. “We also wanted to avoid any sort of bulking ingredients – be it emulsifiers, bulking fats and any other flavourings. The last one was getting rid of plastics.”
Mike’s venture comes at a time where ethical production is at the forefront of many environmental efforts made in Cornwall, with Falmouth in particular having been named ‘plastic free.’
His packaging consists of cardboard and a papery wrapping – even the glue used to stick it all together is ethical, having been made from plant sap.
Plastic straws have been eliminated from many Cornish restaurants and bars, with over 80 restaurants having joined the Final Straw campaign.
“There are a lot of issues with avoiding plastics,” Mike explains. “The biggest one is that it’s cheap. It’s a very good water and air barrier, and it’s cheap because it’s used on such a large scale.
“Beyond plastic, there aren’t many materials which air and water are perfectly tight, so we have a problem with the longevity of the chocolate and having it sat on shelves.”
Mike insists however that his products will continue to follow this ethical streak, and nothing is changing any time soon.
“All of these are really small costs in comparison to saving the environment. In making the decision to use plastics or not… it would take a lot to not fall on the ‘avoiding plastic’ side of the fence.”
To read more about Chocolarder’s campaign, click the link to Mike’s crowdfunding page: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/chocolarders-new-roaster-and-factory