It’s not every chocolatier who chooses to run a business halfway up an imposing 517m (1,696ft) peak, particularly one that is nicknamed Shivering Mountain on account of its shifting shale, and one that in winter can be cut off by snow for days at a time.
But Nottingham-born David Golubows and his partner Bridget Joyce are not your usual confectioners. Having dabbled in a number of city-based jobs around the world, they decamped to a National Trust-owned farm on the slopes of Mam Tor in the Peak District eight years ago to dedicate themselves to that sweetest of arts – handcrafting luxury chocolates.
Armed with a stove, a thermometer and a 1940s manual borrowed from the library, the pair converted a barn and initiated themselves into the arcane mysteries of chocolate. They learned the particular tastes and qualities of different cocoa beans, and mastered tricky processes such as tempering (the gentle melting of chocolate before working it, which stabilises the crystals within, giving it a smooth texture and glossy look). David and Bridget called their company Cocoadance after the rooftop dance they saw cocoa workers in Trinidad doing to dry their beans.
Unhampered by tradition, the couple were free to invent their own. Received wisdom such as ‘Belgian chocolate is always best’ was turned on its head. “Some of the finest chocolate is from France, and Italy produces some very good stuff too,” says David. Conventional chocolate moulds were also jettisoned in favour of moulds the pair created themselves out of silicone set into a base cobbled together from their son’s Lego.
David and Bridget are unusual in another important respect too: their chocolates – and at this time of year, Easter eggs – are firmly rooted in the Derbyshire peaks around them. Milk and cream used in fillings come from the Peak District Dairy; they craft chocolates using Buxton spa water; and they’ve recently created a belt-busting Bakewell Tart truffle. “When you live in a rural area, you have to put back into the community,” says David, pouring melted chocolate into some Easter Bunny moulds before using a spatula to skim it with a bricklayer’s dexterity. “We draw inspiration from where we are. We want our chocolate to be as local as possible.”
And for local, they mean on their doorstep. In spring, the couple scour the farm’s hedgerows for nettles and elderflowers, and they buy rhubarb from households in the Castleton Valley below (see page 85). “People give their excess rhubarb to the postman to bring up to us in his van,” says David. In autumn they are out again, gleaning sloes, rowans and blackberries. Within hours, the foraged plants are transformed into original chocolate fillings, the latest favourite being a rhubarb and nettle jelly that’s lovingly enveloped with finest Madagascan dark chocolate.
Foraged petals are also used for decoration, especially elderflower, jasmine and rose, supplanting the more traditional crystallised fruits such as angelica and violet petals. At Easter, Bridget’s creative energies go wild as she designs eggs in a riotous range of coloured chocolates or takes a leaf from French tradition by crafting fish. Bridget once worked as an interior designer and she says many skills are similar.
Although Cocoadance’s chocolates are sold in big stores such as Harvey Nichols and Liberty, the company has cultivated its local clientele too. The highlight of their month is the farmers’ market in Bakewell, where queues for their chocolates are impressive, especially in the run up to Christmas and Easter. “People love the idea that many ingredients of the chocolates are local and fresh. Because of the fresh cream and milk in them, our chocolates have a short shelf-life. People sometimes have to get their heads around the concept of fresh chocolate, but we believe it’s a small price to pay for great flavour,” says David.
He’s excited by the fact that Cocoadance is part of a renaissance of artisan chocolate makers nationwide, which is enabling consumers to rediscover chocolate.
“A decade ago, pretty much the only chocolate people had heard of was Cadbury’s, and if you wanted the posh stuff, the choice was between Rococo or The Chocolate Society,” says David. “Today, if you want to buy raw chocolate there are about 10 types to choose from, and there are dozens of small-scale chocolate makers around the country.”