International Chocolate Day is a day to celebrate one of Britain’s favourite sugary treats. Held on 7 July each year (the anniversary of the first time chocolate was brought over to Europe in the 16th century by Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador), it’s still an incredibly important (and delicious) aspect of people’s lives across the world.
But chocolate today has come a long way from its roots. Originally a bitter drink held as a gift from the gods by the Maya and Aztec civilisations, it was used as a medicine when it first arrived at the Spanish court. Fortunately, the sweet tooth of Spanish courtiers meant that vanilla, sugar and honey were added to the drink, which boosted its popularity no end.
It was more than 200 years later that the first chocolate “bar” was developed by Fry’s, who found a way to mass-produce bars of chocolate quickly and cheaply – making it available to everyone for the first time.
Of course, today, there’s a wealth of chocolate varieties on offer – from your everyday milk chocolate to artisan varieties incorporating exotic agreements and luxury flavours. Below we’ll take you through some of the best chocolateries - and the chocolatiers that run them - you’ll find in our region!
Winchester Cocoa Company
First on our list is the Winchester Cocoa Company. An award-winning chocolaterie, they’re regular names on the Academy of Chocolate and the British round of the International Chocolate Awards for their unique flavour combinations and commitment to quality.
You’ll find fresh fruit purées and natural flavours in these bars – which are said to taste more like the chocolate of old than modern mass-produced chocolates. All this while ensuring a sustainable and ethical supply chain, working with farmers and farmers co-operatives to make sure that everyone from start to finish is treated and paid fairly for the work that goes in to creating exceptional chocolate.
We recommend sampling the Rhubarb and Ginger for something different, or try one flavoured with local Twisted Nose craft gin (made in Winchester with locally-grown watercress) and infused with pink grapefruit zest.
Another award-winning chocolaterie, and a truly local one having originally been established in a cottage kitchen in Walton-on-Thames! Now based on Bookham High Street, Ildiko’s is the culmination of nearly a decade of hard work and the realisation of a childhood dream – and the love is seen in every single chocolate made.
Our recommendation – the Miora: made with Madagascan wild voatsiperifery pepper and raspberry confit, it tastes as exclusive as it sounds, and is made fresh when you order.
Swiss-trained Ernst Bachmann is widely considered to be one of the UK’s leading chocolatiers, and renowned for pioneering the skills and professionalism of continental patisserie in the UK. Reminiscent of traditional konditori you might find In Germany or Switzerland, customers are known to travel some distance to enjoy the legendary recipes on offer here – not to mention the incredible cakes.
Particularly known for their exquisite easter eggs, we suggest making a visit next time you’re in Esher or Thames Ditton. Our recommendation: Bachmann’s Rocks – dusted with edible copper powder, these pearlescent treats are filled with hazelnut praline surrounded by the finest swiss milk chocolate.
Chococo – the Purbeck Chocolate Company
Nearly 20 years of experience in producing handmade chocolates means that husband & wife team Andy & Claire Burnet know their stuff when it comes to chocolate. With their focus on minimising food miles and sustainable packing, Chococo chocolate is remarkable in just how it’s made. Fresh cream from Purbeck farms and locally sourced flavours mean that you’ll get a perfect taste of Dorset in every bite.
Making a summer trip to Swanage should always be topped off with an ice cream before the journey home – delicious locally made gelato is one of the biggest draws on a hot day! Alternatively, pop in to their Winchester, Exeter or Horsham shops to browse the collection. Our recommendation? Marigold, Gina and George the milk chocolate ducks make for a great gift.
House of Dorchester
Starting in “The Dorset Maid” chocolate shop in 1963, House of Dorchester are now an internationally renowned brand creating chocolates for leading hotels, restaurants and more. Now based in picturesque Poundbury near Dorchester, they’ve come a long way from the humble beginnings of a local expert sat in the shop dipping chocolates by hand.
These days you’ll find House of Dorchester chocolates across the world – including the exclusive Charbonnel et Walker on Bond Street – but if you’re in Dorchester, a quick visit to Poundbury will lead you to the factory shop to pick up some favourite treats.
So, if we’ve tempted you to indulge your sweet tooth, then make sure to support one of these local businesses this World Chocolate Day! Or add a visit to your next day out – check out our blog for inspiration!