“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy”, said Charlie Bucket in the 2005 film version of the classic children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, brilliant writer who would be turning 100 years in 2016.
And we agree: candy is often avoided by grown-ups who can’t find a reason to include its illogical sweetness in their shopping carts. When did we become so pragmatic? Wouldn’t you want to experience again the excitement of going through a bag of confectionery earned after a night of serious trick or treating with your friends?
But we get it. Your palate has evolved. And let’s admit it, the taste of many industrialised sweets is simply not worth the calories. But then, not all chocolate factories are void of magic, and in Ireland, we have plenty of artisan producers that create wonderful sugary treats the traditional way, with top quality ingredients and innovative flavours.
Far from pointless, these confections will do the trick, whether you’re craving a nostalgic taste or a flavourful indulgence. In the words of Willy Wonka, unforgettably played by the late actor Gene Wilder “a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”
Trick: After working for years in the farming sector, Thomás saw the industry decline and decided he wanted to go in a different direction. He was moved by the thoughts of handmade fudge like the one his grandmother used to make, and he got inspired to share these childhood memories with everyone.
Treat: Thomás uses a family recipe and has developed 23 flavours of high end butter and cream fudge. Besides the classic flavours such as chocolate, tiger butter and vanilla, he has creative and irresistible creations such as coconut, vanilla rum raisin, zesty lemon and chocolate mint.
Trick: John and Elora opened a cookery school in beautiful place called Tinnahinch, in Kilkenny. John’s background in cooking and sales matched with Elora’s expertise in business and marketing. In November 2014 they made their first marshmallows and since then have differentiated themselves by offering truly luxurious, handcrafted and natural renditions of the famous confection.
Treat: Flavours include Raspberry & Wild Elderberry, Champagne and Strawberries, O’Hara’s Irish Stout and Chocolate, Bailey’s, Malibu and Coconut, and Frangelico with Madagascan Bourbon Vanilla Bean.
Trick: Ferdinand Vandaele and Helena Hemeryck established their chocolate business in 1996 and are based in the countryside of Co. Dublin. Ferdinand learned the secrets of chocolate with Belgian masters and it was also in that country where he met Helena, wife and business partner. Nowadays, besides making chocolates, the couple runs their own shop and café in Ashbourne.
Treat: Chocolate confections made with Callebaut, a fine Belgian chocolate brand, from classic Belgian-style bonbons to orangettes (orange peel covered in dark chocolate), mendiants, chocolate lollies, and more.
Trick: Founded by Nicole Dumphy, the brand theme revolves about the journeys of the glamorous character Pandora Bell, a girl from Limerick in the 30’s, dreamt by Nicole, and who traveled through Ireland and Europe discovering the best chocolate houses, patisseries and sweet shops in the continent.
Treat: High end versions of many different classic candy and confectionery, made with only natural colours and styled in a beautiful, nostalgic way. From colourful handmade lollipops, to real liquorice, honey nougat, fruit jellies with 70% fruit, butter caramels with salt of Guérande and fudge.
Trick: Food Academy alumni and award winning Irish confectionery brand, Th Be Sweet Company is said to have been invented by a fairy called “Be” who loved all things sweet and beautiful. Open since 2012, they have presence in selected retailers and also offer catering solutions and online shop.
Treat: Truly indulgent and upscale renditions of sweet classics including Truffles infused with Marc de Champagne, Lemon Meringue Bonbons, “Fairy Food” boxes filled with sweet surprises and natural vanilla bean fudge.
Trick: A family run business based in South West Ireland, at St. Finians’s Bay. They welcome visitors to their factory and tourists can see the process and taste the results. The fact that they are overlooking the Skelligs Rocks, recently featured in the latest Star Wars movie is also another reason to pay them a visit!
Treat: Their chocolate bar range includes flavours such as sea salt, Gin and Tonic, Irish honey and chilli & pink peppercorn, they also offer chocolate brittles, truffles and drops as well as stylish chocolate shoes. Their range of hot chocolate includes the classic dark and milk as well as cinnamon and chilli.
Trick: Derval Mellet started her marshmallow making adventure in North London while she was working as an actress. Now based in Dublin, she has her sweet handmade products on selected gourmet stores as well as farmer markets and festivals. She also works with weddings and event as well as corporate orders.
Treat: She specialises in marshmallows and meringues. New flavours are introduced frequently and seasonally. Some lovely and grown-up tastes include Teelings Marshmallows, Raspberry & Gin, Chocolate & Orange. Occasionally she also sets up a s’mores bar, offering a posh version of the marshmallow and biscuit sandwich which is a staple camping food.
Trick: Miena creates her confections in the remote Glen of Imaal, in the Western Wicklow Mountains. Surrounded and inspired by nature, she only uses natural ingredients. Her recipes are a fusion of South African, Irish and continental influences, with uncompromising, passionate attention to detail.
Treat: Her award-winning nougat is made with fresh almonds, pistachios and berries. The sweets are individually wrapped and for a sweet confection, they have a relatively low sugar. Flavours include roasted almond, hazelnut & chocolate and cashew.
Trick: Mella started to make fudge at her local sweet shop in Bantry, West Cork. After fifteen years of experience working in areas as diverse as video, interior design and cheesemongering, she came back to the sweet side and started her artisan confectionery business, now based in Clonakilty.
Treat: Her premium fudge (3 Stars at the 2011 Great Taste Awards) is made in the traditional way. It’s luxurious and indulgent, and it comes in four classic flavours: vanilla, rum & raisin, walnut and chocolate (70% cocoa Belgian chocolate, to be precise).
More info mellasfudge.com
Trick: Based in Co. Clare, WildeIrish Chocolates has been producing artisan treats since 1997. Their factory is open to visitors and tourists and they always have plenty of sweets to taste (they don’t charge visitors, but a call is appreciated as it is a working factory and they want to make sure someone can look properly after you). Besides the factory, they have two chocolate shops and presence in artisan retailers. You can also buy online.
Treat: They make chocolate bars, including an 80% Super Dark and a 99% Xtra Super Dark. They also offer chocolate spreads, fudge and drops. For those looking for a sugar free alternative, they offer a 56% cocoa solids dark chocolate bar sweetened with maltitol.
More info wildeirishchocolates.com
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.