Sweet success for farmers in the chocolate trade
A FAMILY of sheep farmers turned chocolate makers are now winning awards for their quality sweets.
Jim and Mary Healy of The Chocolate Garden of Ireland have won a number of top taste awards for their sweet treats, which will feature on RTE television next month.
The couple make a range of premium chocolates, biscuits and ice cream and run a chocolate-themed cafe at their home in Rath on the Wicklow-Carlow border.
Mrs Healy said they decided to get into the sweets business in 2001 simply because some waffle-making equipment became available and they wanted to give the specialty food business a go, soon branching out into chocolate.
"I'd have been no great cook and Jim could barely boil an egg at that stage, but we did courses in Holland and France and the UK to learn all about it," she said.
They also started making artisan ice cream and that helped overcome the seasonality issue, with chocolate sales dipping in the summer and consumers turning away from ice cream in the winter.
The couple kept their farm going with cattle and sheep until a few years ago when it became too much to combine the two as the chocolate business had grown to employ 17 people at a new purpose-built premises.
They now run chocolate-making workshops that have hosted cocoa enthusiasts aged from three up to 95, who come to learn about the best beans and decorate their own moulded figures.
The family's products include salted caramel chocolates, which have just won the gold medal in the Blas na hEireann awards, as well as caramel waffles and butterscotch spread, all of which can be bought in specialty food shops, at their own cafe or online.
They were also selected from a host of other local business contenders to feature in RTE's home shopping show all next month, a prize worth €10,000 in free publicity.