Each newsletter we will be interviewing a independent producer who is smashing life. This week we talk to Nick Willson, the founder of Loctoa Chocolate.
How did you get into making chocolate?
I've been working in chocolate for 8 years now, beginning in 2011 when I worked for the Eden project and guided visitors around the cacao plantation in the rainforest biome! From there I worked in a number of positions, both retail and kitchens at Thornton's, Paul A Young Fine Chocolates and Rococo Chocolates. It was just before my position at Rococo that I decided to experiment with bean to bar production, at home!
Any meaning behind the name?
Well in the beginning stages I wanted to pack my chocolate bars into this beautiful paper that I found, made from a shrub in Nepal which is called a Locta bush. I sent for samples and also took a shine to the name Locta, which subsequently was altered to become Loctoa. Sadly, the paper arrived and was absolutely unusable and peeled when folded, oh dear!
How many people are in the Loctoa team?
Just little old me. With help and favours from friends and family that are still happy to receive choccy bars as payment.
Run me through what a typical day at Loctoa looks like?
Breakfast and coffee. I like to start the day early and pre-heat the roaster. I then need to weigh out the sugar, cocoa butter and the cacao beans that i'm using for the grind, which will then need to be hand sorted, roasted, cooled, winnowed and prepared ready for the grind—all of which is explained on my website "process" page and usually takes up to 7/8 hours from start to finish.
Where do you source your cacao beans from? How did you find the farmers that you work with?
I source my cacao in Guatemala, from two different regions called Chimelb and Lachua. I buy them through a trusted cooperative that work very closely with the farmers to insure they get the best price for the quality of their cacao beans. I've been in contact with many cooperatives who are able to be as transparent as possible with every step of their handling from farmer to my kitchen. I find that a trust in this and the relationship between grower/cooperative/maker is extremely important but can vary dramatically. Simply put: get as directly-traded as possible.
On your website (everyone check it out) you have a brilliant explanation of how chocolate is made. What is your favourite process?
I love sorting the beans. It's the only chance you get to really inspect all of your raw beans closely. I remove the beans from their sack onto a large workspace and sort through every single bean to pick out the defects and unwanted materials, such as twigs and fraying hessian. The process is quite therapeutic—stick on some tunes and sort through kilos of cacao beans.
How long, roughly, does each chocolate bar take to make?
It takes approximately 48-60 hours to make a block of chocolate from the cacao bean into a bar.
I was blown away by the flavour of your chocolate—intensely fruity, it tasted almost more fermented, if that doesn’t sound daft. What are the main factors that determine the flavour of the chocolate?
Not at all. I believe that the farmer has the most control on the taste quality of the cacao bean. I recently learned of the word Terroir, which refers to environmental factors and specific farming techniques that are essential in the successful growth of crops, in this instance cacao, and the very habitat it lives in. There are some elements that are out of the farmer's control, but overall it's their hand in planting, picking, fermenting, drying that allows the cacao to develop its flavour. Everything else beyond that is my little secret :-)
If you had to choose one Loctoa chocolate bar as your favourite, which one would it be?
I couldn't, I like all three equally! The three bars make up a 'Guatemala Collection' and taste very different from one another as they originate from different regions in Guatemala.
Do you think that the current chocolate market is sustainable?
It's not quite there, yet. What the market shows, especially in the last few years, is that more and more bean to bar chocolate makers are on the rise! This enables the cacao farmers to find direct trade for their cacao beans by accessing the smaller makers who will pay the right price, make and communicate their chocolate's origins, and reinforces traceability, trust and sustainability within cacao farming.
Also being proud of using just three ingredients instead of half dozen shows how the independent makers are transforming the market, opening up a sustainable future that has since looked saturated with commercial, unsustainable cooperations that exploit lots of farms and crops to benefit their mass consumerism and ultimately their back pockets. Bit ranty :-)
If you could give people one piece of advice when choosing chocolate what would it be?
Chocolate is made up of three things: cacao beans, cocoa butter and sugar- they're should be no more that that on your ingredients label for dark chocolate. It's important to establish its origin and expect a reassuring snap when broken. Chocolate also needs character, and much like a red wine—look out for that internal flavour profile, something like red fruits, raisin and caramel is what you're likely to find with a great dark chocolate.
Most importantly where can people buy your chocolate?
I've been lucky to have met some amazing food retailers/cafes that are aware of the bean to bar movement and want to help encourage the shift in our awareness for sustainable and quality chocolate. So far i'm selling my bars to Monmouth Coffee, Browns of Brockley, Jones of Brockley and sell chocolate callets to Borough22. I also have the Guatemala Collection online and currently offer free postage for them!
Now for the personal bit, what’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Dehydrated salted durian. I made my peace with durian, just, but the texture and heightened durian taste, with accompanying sea salt was just a step too far for me.
If you could only take 5 ingredients to a desert island what would they be?
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
I have a major sweet tooth, I've tried to convince myself that I haven't, but I have! The guiltiest food pleasure I'd say is the Ikea Kafferep oat biscuits, ha! Seriously good!
Whose your biggest food inspiration?
I don't have any specific food icons that i'm inspired by but I have worked alongside some great chocolatiers that seem to know almost all there is to know about chocolate. If you've ever seen table-tempering chocolate on a large scale you'll know what I mean, if you haven't then check it out. Anyone mad enough to take on bean to bar chocolate production is inspiring enough for me.
Words by Sophie Godwin