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willy wonka

Sugar hangovers and recipe brainstorms: What's it really like to work in a chocolate factory?

Hazel Mountain’s staff spend their days making and tasting the good stuff.

hazel Instagram / therealmvfee Instagram / therealmvfee / therealmvfee

IN JUST A matter of days, people all over Ireland will be devouring chocolate like there’s no tomorrow and saying things like, ‘It’s okay to have half a chocolate egg for breakfast, right?’

Yes, Easter is fast approaching, meaning chocolate factories are working at a frantic pace to satisfy the appetites of chocoholics everywhere.

One such factory is Hazel Mountain Chocolate, a remote bean-to-bar chocolate factory situated in the picturesque surrounds of the Burren.

Founded in 2014, it has won innumerable awards and established itself as a tourist destination in its own right. In fact, it regularly hosts chocolate lock-ins whereby visitors can sample chocolate and take a peek behind the curtain.

With that in mind, we decided to ask Kasha Connolly, Hazel Mountain’s creative director, to give a little insight into what it’s really like to work in a chocolate factory. Spoiler: one eats a lot of chocolate.

While you’re still sleeping, the beans are roasting

“Our chocolate makers arrive early and start the day by roasting cacao beans which we source from small farms across the world,” explains Connolly.

Hazel Mountain Chocolate prides itself on being a bean-to-bar factory, which means that they do everything from scratch.

First, the beans are lightly roasted. The shell is then separated from the bean and crushed into smaller particles, a process called ‘winnowing’. Then, the real fun starts:

From there, the beans are ready to be stoneground, which literally involves a machine with two big granite wheels spinning and crushing the beans into paste.

“At this stage we add raw cane sugar and let the stonegrinder mill the beans and sugar for about 24 hours until liquid chocolate forms. It goes liquid from releasing cacao butter during the process of stone grounding.”

Making chocolate – and serving it too

Once Hazel Mountain Chocolate is full of tantalising aromas and chocolate, it’s time to open the doors to the public. Their café opens at around 10am.

There, customers can sample all sorts of healthy food as well as cakes and pastries inspired by the brand’s Burren Wild Baker cookbook. (Shout out to head baker Joyce, who arrives to the factory at the crack of dawn every day to get baking.)

Not every recipe makes it to the shelf

“To make chocolate from the bean all the way through to a bar of chocolate on the shelf takes one month,” says Connolly.

As creative director, she spends her time brainstorming recipes and concepts while the chocolatiers endeavor to bring them to life. “This process involves a lot of trial and error,” she says.

All in all, they make approximately 50kg of untempered chocolate per week.

Yes, ‘chocolate taster’ is a real job

Many dream of working in a chocolate factory if only for the unfettered access to chocolate all day long. Connolly confirms that staff do in fact eat chocolate everyday, particularly when sampling new recipes.

“When we do sample testing for new products our tasting panel of chocolatiers would consume about 400g of chocolate a day,” she explains.

But it’s not necessarily as fun as it sounds.

“We usually find that after the first week our staff have chocolate hangovers and they learn to enjoy chocolate in moderation,” says Connolly.

Usually, but not always, we bet…

Hazel Mountain Chocolate Factory and Café, Co Clare, is open from 10am, seven days a week. 

More: The larger-than-life honey bee on a Co Kerry street

More: 10 little-known Irish parks you should visit this spring

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