In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to Kasha Connolly, Creative Director of Hazel Mountain Chocolate
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Hazel Mountain Chocolate?
Opened in 2014 Hazel Mountain Chocolate is an interactive boutique chocolate factory in the Burren Mountains with onsite cafe, a shop and factory combined in open floor plan that gives the visitors opportunity to see how chocolates are made direct from the bean. Because only 2% of the world’s chocolatiers process cacao beans ( as opposed using chocolate made industrially elsewhere ) working with cacao beans is an additional element to our production that is a lot of fun and interesting for everyone to see how this simple fermented fruit - cacao bean - gets transformed into beautiful rich velvet chocolate. We also have a shop in Galway for those who can’t make it to our Burren location.
Every customer gets immersed in the experience as we provide education, taste and explanation why we do what we do.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
It’s always been our priority to use ethical, small scale produced ingredients. Starting from cacao beans, we source them directly ( which is better than fair trade ), same with dairy, we use milk produced in Cork. Also as we make various chocolate creations, we use local ingredients from honey from our neighbour bee keeper Jim Simmons, to seasonal fruit like elderberries and lavender. The way we produce chocolate aims to preserve cacao beans from disappearing due to homogenisation of the industry and land degradation in the process of mass production so we choose to work with local producers as for us this is the only way sustainability really works as a multilayer support for environment and community.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
Availability of fresh and unprocessed ingredients is amazing but as we’ve been pioneering in the idea of producing chocolate directly from cacao bean on site, we had to put a lot of work into broadening people’s perspective on chocolate as it’s the one food we all love and eat regularly and the one that’s always been mass produced. We had too close that gap. Once our customers learn and see how chocolate is made they are wowed by the process and start to appreciate the quality and have better understanding of the process.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
Bean to bar has become a synonym for quality and ethically produced chocolate. It became hugely important to support chocolate where child labour is taken out of equation, small cacao farms are supported and land preserved in the process. There are more bean to bar producers now than 6 years ago when we started which is a great direction the chocolate industry could be heading to. We see a lot of trendy branding in chocolate that suggest chocolate is made from the bean but that is not the case. But for the most part, bean to bar chocolate producers are fantastically in tune with the principles of producing chocolate from bean to bar.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
As above! :)
What has running your own business taught you?
It has taught me a new way of thinking, and that it’s never a straight road - the quicker you learn to expect bumps the better you drive :)
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
I like Donal Skehan’s style, perhaps it’s his scandinavian wife’s influence but his recipes have a very tasty edge. Suzanne Brady of Cove Cake design has a rare refreshing approach to baking and also uses Irish ingredients.
What’s next for the company?
Next for the company - to weather the economic storm of the pandemic first! :)
Find out more about Hazel Mountain Chocolate here!