Artisan chocolatiers Shane and Dorothy Neary, of NearyNogs in Rostrevor, recently took part in a major international chocolate congress in Madrid. They were the only chocolatiers from Ireland invited by the organisers of ChocoMad 2019 – Salon Internacionale del Chocolate – in the Spanish capital.
The Northern Ireland chocolatiers had an opportunity to talk about their artisan business and sample their unique bean-to-bar chocolates at one of the world’s most important events in the international chocolate calendar attended by chocolatiers, chefs and retailers from across Europe.
Shane, originally a graphic artist, says: “We were thrilled to be invited as the only representatives from the island of Ireland to speak at such an important event.
“It was a tremendous business occasion in that it gave us an unprecedented opportunity to increase awareness of our products among a very knowledgeable audience of chocolate devotees.
“There’s a great passion in Spain for premium chocolate, the type of chocolate we’ve been producing for some considerable time in Northern Ireland.
“We had the opportunity to sample some excellent chocolate and talk to other producers and suppliers of beans and other ingredients. They also enjoyed our quality chocolates,” adds Shane.
The husband and wife team has just opened Northern Ireland’s first artisan chocolate factory and visitor centre in the Mournes, near Rostrevor. Visitors are able to view the bean-to-bar production process and then enjoy the freshly produced chocolate.
They’ve already hosted a series of tours, including one led by Tourism NI. The new chocolate factory tour is being included alongside a visit to the Killowen Distillery nearby, a producer of gin, poitin and eventually whiskey, the first to be distilled over flame. Killowen distillery is also nestled in the Mournes overlooking Carlingford Lough.
“Taking part in ChocoMad was a marvellous experience and a great opportunity to meet key influencers in our industry,” added Shane.
“We made a lot of great contacts and spotted many business opportunities. It was great to hear that the organisers had heard of us and thought it worthwhile to ask us to participate. It’s a tremendous endorsement of our chocolate.”
NearyNogs is Northern Ireland’s only producer of stoneground chocolate made from high quality beans from single estates, especially in the Dominican Republic and Sâo Tomé
The County Down chocolatiers were among international chocolate brands such Guylian, Valor and Simón Coll taking part in the two-day congress. “We were able to taste chocolate from producers of more than 50 brands from 20 countries,” continues Shane.
The event focused on the bean to bar trend that NearyNogs has pioneered in Ireland and also sampled artisan chocolates from Venezuela, Norway, Italy, Mexico, Ecuador and, of course, Spain.
The small family business ethically sources cacao beans from Sâo Tomé, Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Shane and his team hand sort the beans, roast, crack and winnow, stone grind and temper them into chocolate.
NearyNogs began making chocolate in 2011 using a unique recipe from Dorothy’s family in Seattle, Washington state, on the Pacific coast. She met Shane when they were engaged in community development work in Belfast and married shortly afterwards.
Since then the small artisan business has won major awards, sold chocolate to Belgium, as well as in the UK, other parts of Europe and to New Zealand, Australia and the US.
It is currently following up potentially very exciting business leads in Europe for its unique chocolate products.
The new visitor centre, which is located in a picturesque setting nestled in the rugged Mournes, is helping the company to increase awareness of its novel chocolate stoneground in its new factory.
“We’ve got lots of space for visitors to see how we make our premium products with distinctive and rich flavours. We are keen to welcome more visitors wishing to experience the chocolate process at first hand. I believe we are just one of two bean to bar chocolate producers in Ireland and certainly the only one in Northern Ireland,” Shane continues.
The centre showcases how cocoa beans are sourced and imported in small batches from individual growers in South America; growers which they have visited and developed strong relationships. Cocoa pods in the small estates, mostly family owned, take 4-6 months to mature.
“We import the beans for roasting which boosts the aroma and flavours. The beans are then peeled and ground by hand to produce a cocoa liquor and pressed into a paste and chocolate bars and other shapes,” he adds.
The result of grinding the beans, he says, is the so-called cocoa liquor, from which, when pressed, the cocoa butter is extracted leaving a solid mass for chilling in a controlled way. The chocolate is then moulded into bars and other shapes.
NearyNogs has developed a portfolio of delicious chocolates, mostly 70 per cent and more of cacao, including bars, slates, drinking chocolate, cacao nibs, truffles, chocolate cups, traditional chocolate fudge and its novel American-style Rebel Fudge.