Mike Longman, founder of Chocolarder, originally began his cooking career as a part-time chef to pay his way through a degree in economics. However, he quickly realised his passions were stronger for food than math, and consequently ditched his calculator for an apron – crafting himself a successful career for several years as a respected pastry chef.
Mike became fascinated with the process of producing chocolate from scratch. He perfected the art of roasting, conching and alchemizing cocoa firstly in his kitchen at home – an office space that was quickly outgrown with the snowballing demand for his chocolate.
Thus, began Chocolarder.
Mike’s unwavering ethical values are evident in every aspect of production. Chocolarder source their cocoa beans directly from farmers – so they can be sure that payment is truly going to those doing the hard work. This means that not only do farmers receive higher than market value for their produce, but also that Chocolarder can be pickier about the quality of the beans they receive – resulting in more diligent control over the quality of their chocolate.
The cocoa beans are then shipped via sailboat directly to Mike’s workshop in Cornwall. His innovative nature has extended right through to the machinery creating his chocolate – as he adapts whatever he can get his hands on into tailor made instruments that are absolutely perfect for their role.
To celebrate Chocolarder joining the Cocoa Runners library, we were fortunate enough to ask the man himself a few questions…
1. Why and how did you get into chocolate?
My road to chocolate making was a long and winding one. I initially started as a part time chef, in order to pay my way through an Economics degree, but when I finally graduated, I realised my passions had been for the food rather than the math. So I followed my instincts and applied for the nicest restaurant in the area and started the following day. I quickly got to grips with the basics, and found myself running the hotels brasserie within the first 6 months. I progressed through the kitchen and eventually found myself in the pastry kitchen, having had a pretty one sided conversation with my very good friend and head chef, who let me know that one of us would have to be head pastry chef, and it wasn’t going to be him.
I loved everything about running a pastry kitchen, especially as I had free reign over any dish, any element, any strange fabrication, and so set to work making everything we could from scratch. Our attention eventually fell upon chocolate. And so I became transfixed, breaking numerous pieces of equipment until I had my first batch of chocolate. I had little idea what was the best approach, and so felted my way there until I had something truly special. But the more I did, the more I discovered to the world of chocolate, the flavour of different regions, different varieties, different roasts, different sugars, limitless possibilities, and all a million miles from the chocolate I knew from the high street shops. It was soon after my first batch of chocolate I knew where it was all going, and I’m glad I took the leap.
2. What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
I don’t have a mission, just a strict level of ethics in making chocolate that seem to have been forgotten over the years, and its these ethics that are bringing back a revival in small bakeries, coffee roasters, breweries, this new artisan world.
Sourcing is very important, not only for flavour, but because the production of the raw beans is so labour intensive. The producers of cacao have been exploited to the level where they have no idea what cocoa beans make; they do not know the value of their crop. Taking care of the growers takes care of the flavour, and everyone benefits.
The ingredients in the chocolate are of course of major importance, and our aim is to use as few as possible, as a lot of the additional ingredients are often unnecessary. In our dark chocolates we only use the beans and raw sugar, and whole milk powder in addition makes our milk chocolate, all organic, all as pure as possible.
The packaging is the last of the big ethical problems we had, and that was the environmental impact of being a producer. Our packaging is now 100% recyclable, and made using recycled material.
3. When did you start Chocolarder — and with whom? How many of you are there?
I started Chocolarder on my own, in my kitchen, making a few bars to sell on local farmers markets and in my local delis. From the get go, it was a struggle to keep up with demand, partly as the equipment I was using was what I had found to work. A tiny coffee roaster I slowed the drum speed on, and a grinder I had taken apart, decided what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to change and rebuilt. Scaling up over the years has continued along this theme, everything is adapted and cobbled together, no duct tape but pretty close.
4. Where do you want to go next?
I have some amazing projects on the horizon this year, one of which is bringing my cocoa beans across the Atlantic via sail ship. The logistics of this are tricky, as the trip is a 2 month round trip. The crew of the ship use the voyage to educate about the environmental differences of zero carbon transport as well as bringing across freight. This is the absolute ideal way to transport cacao, and the way we hope to expand in the future.
We also have a cupboard full of sample bars of small batches of flavours, beans, and different sugars. My favourite of which is the 100% bar. It has been my aim from day 1 to make a 100% bar that I really enjoy eating. I’m very excited to let this one out and see what happens.
5. How do you source your beans?
Sourcing is the most difficult part of chocolate making, and is an absolute minefield. The only way to source effectively is to form solid relationships with the growers themselves. Other chocolate makers, and friends who have travelled to South America have helped me massively along the way. I’m yet to set off on my first trip, but hope to be out in Ecuador later this year to go shopping and friend making.
6. Tell us a little about some of the great innovations in tech you’ve made in creating your machinery
The equipment used to make the chocolate is built to our needs from what we can get, and based on good old-fashioned science. Stripping machines down and building them back up to our needs has become commonplace – for us as well as a lot of other small scale chocolate makers. Our roaster is very interesting as it was born to roast chickens, but has since been fitted with a drum to roast cocoa beans. The melange had to be completely stripped down to have new granite pillar stones and a new motor fitted and the butter press was once a car jack. All of these pieces of art work perfectly to do the job they are needed to do, and makes working with them so much more personal.
7. What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
I couldn’t possibly pick out a favourite chocolate maker, but there are many that I admire. Favourite food for me would have to be the crispy pork belly dish at The Langford in 5 heads, and to drink; any Merlot from Chile hits the spot.
We can’t wait to see what’s to come from this passionate chocolate maker and incredible bean to bar company!