Did you know, there are fewer than 15 full-time, bean-to-bar chocolatemakers in the UK and hundreds of chocolatiers. Whereas chocolatemakers work from the cacao bean to create chocolate, chocolatiers purchase ready-made bulk chocolate and focus on remelting and moulding it. The chocolate world is dominated by 4 enormous businesses making anonymous chocolate for over 6 billion people and - until recently - chefs and chocolatiers were limited to using essentially the same industrial chocolate in 4 different wrappings. The big 4 all use the same type of cacao tree, selected on criteria of price, reliability, price, robustness and price. Flavour (surprisingly?) wasn’t ever a concern.
There are around 6000 types of cacao tree and this is where the micro-batch, bean-to-bar, named and traceable chocolatemaker find their passion and inspiration. Chocolatemakers like Iris and Bob refuse to support the industrial model and assess a lot of cacao each year and obsess about flavour. Reliability and robustness, yield and price… these things are not as interesting as the flavour, consistency and direct trade of ultra-premium fine-flavour cacao. At a time where flavour cacao is an endangered species, Iris and Bob are protecting vulnerable species and people at the edge of the world.
Launched in 2016 after 8 years incubation, Iris and Bob of Solkiki create single-estate bars of chocolate from the rarest and officially most flavoursome beans on the planet from the darkest dark to the lightest white chocolate and everything is dairy-free. This is actually a plus when it comes to fine chocolate: milk powder is a flavour inhibitor. For 2 centuries in Europe the elite enjoyed their chocolate softened with almonds, coconut.. all manners of fruits and nuts. Nestle in 1856 added dairy milk because it was a very cheap option for him, and because he found that the milk powder hid the flaws of the industrial cacao he used. At that point in time, the world market was approximately 50-50 split between fine and industrial cacao. Today the genetics are somewhere between 90-95% industrial. Solkiki are helping to reverse that by making fine cacao a viable crop for farmers and by making fine chocolate an irrefusable luxury for first worlders. If you’re still unconvinced that dairy doesn’t belong in fine chocolate (for the same reasons it doesn’t belong in fine wine) then check this out: for three years running, with three unique recipes, Iris and Bob of Solkiki earned first place in the UK’s dairy chocolate competition in the World’s largest and most objective chocolate competition. We can discuss flavour all day, happy to in fact, but on a technical level, milk objectively diminishes chocolate. Maybe heresy to some but dairy milk is nothing but a historical blip. For millenia before it was pumpkin
seed, achiote, star anise, vanilla, coconut, almond, banana, pili nut, orange blossom... hundreds of other inclusions… and so shall it be in the future!
Solkiki offer unroasted and roasted dark, milk and white chocolate – all dairy free, made in microbatches to much higher standards than organic or fair trade can guarantee.
Their fermented, unroasted cacao beans come from Peru, Belize, The Philippines, India and Ecuador. Whole pod vanillas from Madagascar and Tahiti. Undeodorised natural organic cacao butter from Madagascar. Nuts come from their farms, salts from the coast. Everything is as directly-traded as is possible. Usually it’s possible… albeit with a few months of governmental paperwork!
So, although we all have a relationship with chocolate, it may not always be what you think it is. Solkiki (Iris & Bob) love to sample their chocolate at events in and around Dorset. If you ever see the Solkiki banners, pop over, enjoy a tasting of 10-15 different chocolates and have a chat with Iris or Bob about all things chocolate. With over 85 major awards in 4 years, for 30 of their 50 bars, they’re undeniably leading the revival at the melting edge of the future of British chocolate.