While England wasn’t the first country to bring chocolate to the masses, it does have a history with the confection that is hundreds of years old. Funny enough, the country could have gotten a leg up on some of the competing countries if it would have just recognized the treasure for what it was. English sailors found a Spanish treasure ship loaded with the beans, but instead of keeping them, they threw them over the side thinking they were sheep’s droppings!
Chocolate was first brought to England by the French in the mid-1600s. However, for over a century, the confection was reserved for only the richest of patrons as the importation of the beans was prohibitively expensive. By the late 1700s, Dr. Joseph Fry developed a steam engine cocoa bean grinder. This began a race to bring the delight to the mass public. Fry & Sons was the first recognizable English chocolatier, producing the world’s first chocolate bar in 1847. Cadbury followed closely behind, releasing its confection just two years later. John Cadbury was originally a grocery store owner and sold cocoa powder and a chocolate drink before creating a solidified chocolate bar for eating.
Of course, after the English jumped into the chocolate-making ring, other manufacturers cropped up at a fevered pace to fill in the demand. One English chocolatier, Thorntons, is celebrating a significant milestone in 2011. The company was founded in 1911 and is about to enter its 100th year of business. While other English companies, such as Cadbury, have merged with larger corporations, Thorntons remains an independent English chocolate maker.
Discerning English chocolates from other European competitors can be a bit confusing. When English chocolate companies, tastes and techniques were first being developed, there was a strong French influence. This may be why so many of the English chocolatiers have French names. Chocolate companies with distinctly French names, such as Artisan du Chocolat, Charbonnel et Walker and Demarquette are, in fact, English companies. Besides the early French influence, chocolatiers sometimes use French names to denote a more exotic and sophisticated palette.
Willie Harcourt-Cooze – Unlike many English chocolatiers with deep roots in the industry, Willie Harcourt-Cooze brings a distinctly modern and quirky feel to the field. Willie is first and foremost and entrepreneur. Chocolate making began as almost an experiment for this famous Englishmen. In fact, the ins and outs of his chocolate making process were revealed in an English documentary entitled Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory.
Paul A. Young – Paul Young is another British chocolatier who has appeared on television. However, he is definitely known for his quality and expertise in chocolate more than his unusual approach. Paul started as a career caterer, studying hotel catering as a young man. After being groomed as a pastry and desert chef in several fine English establishments, he collaborated with business partner James Cronin to open a distinctive English chocolate house in 2006. The two now sell boutique chocolates in the heart of London.
William Curley – This English chocolatier has shops in Belgravia and Richmond and co-owns and works closely with his wife Suzue. William is an award-winning pastry chef. Stores in this brand not only offer quality chocolate but teach patrons in its world-class demonstration facilities, including a kitchen and factory.
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