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Going nuts for chocolate with unique local twist

Judy Murphy

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Darragh Conboy and chocolatier Kasha Connolly.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets the team behind a cottage industry based on top cocoa beans

We Irish are a nation of chocoholics. Survey after survey has shown us to be among the top consumers in the world – 24.7 pounds per person a year, according to a 2013 report. And, increasingly, our tastes are moving away from mass-produced bars to high-quality, high-cocoa treats.

“Chocolate is like wine or coffee,” says Kilcolgan man Darragh Conboy, the manager and chief roaster at Hazel Mountain Chocolate, based in Oughtmama in the Burren, just south of Kinvara.

“A few years ago people didn’t know much about coffee – they thought it was all the same, but there’s a whole world of flavour to it,” explains Darragh, who trained as a coffee-roaster with the London School of Coffee Roasting.

Darragh then got involved in walking tours of the Burren, which were set up by John Connolly on his family farm at Oughtmama. John and his wife Kasha subsequently expanded this business, opening tea-rooms in his grandparents’ old home on the farm.

Polish-born Kasha is a talented baker, and some years ago, she decided to go one step further and train as a chocolatier. Darragh, with his experience in coffee, was an obvious choice for the business, as “the rules for roasting coffee beans are applicable to chocolate”, he says.

Like the Connollys, Darragh now lives in Galway city from where he travels to Oughtmama daily.

Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a cottage industry, albeit a unique one in an Irish context. This small producer imports fairly traded cocoa beans and roasts them onsite to produce small batches of what is known as bean-to-bar chocolate. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is one of only a couple of places in Ireland doing this, and its factory and shop in the shadow of the Burren have become a tourist attraction in their own right, according to Darragh. Certainly, on a Friday morning in early May, the tearooms are full of chatter and the clink of china, as tourists sample Kasha’s gluten-free home-baking.

Other visitors have come especially for the chocolate shop, located behind a small professionally equipped kitchen.

However everything begins in the roasting area once the beans arrive from countries including Madagascar, Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela, explains Darragh. And all told, it takes about a month to convert the beans into finished bars.

Darragh explains what’s involved on a tour of this small space – a timber structure with a grass roof – in keeping with their environmental ethos.

The simply designed room has several machines at one end and an exhibition from a local artist at the other. In between are hessian sacks, with a variety of cocoa beans. These have already fermented in their country of origin by being left to dry in the sun.

The fermented beans are sorted by hand to ensure that only those of sufficient quality go through to be roasted – sorting is the most labour-intensive part of the process, says Darragh.

Roasting helps to develop a rich flavour and caramelises the beans, helping to get rid of bitterness, he explains.

It’s done in a Giessen Roaster, a converted coffee-roasting machine with a drum rotator which “gives a nice, even roast”. As the moisture evaporates the beans give off a crackling sound, somewhat similar to corn when it’s being popped, The roasted beans then roll out onto a tray, where a fan underneath cools and dries them to stop the cooking process.

Another machine separates the cocoa shell from the nib, in what is a time-consuming process.  At the end of this, the redundant shells come out on one side and the nibs on the other. Nothing is wasted and the shells are dispatched to a woman in Kilfenora who feeds them to her pigs.

The cocoa nibs are then put into a mill, which looks like a large stainless steel churn. Here they are milled over the course of a couple of days to produce fine smooth particles. Sugar is added, and milk powder for milk chocolate. The milled chocolate is put into steel containers, wrapped up and left to age for three weeks. There are shelves full of containers, each marked to identify the origin of the chocolate and its cocoa percentage.

The chocolate needs to be aged, explains Darragh, as new chocolate is very astringent and mellows over time.

The whole process takes over a month from when Hazel Mountains import the beans to when the completed chocolate bars go on sale.

Read the ingredient list on a bar of mass-produced chocolate and you’ll find cocoa way down the list of ingredients, with sugar and bulking ingredients well ahead. Here it’s top. And there is very little else included, except for unrefined sugar or milk powder. Darragh stresses that they use no soya, no emulsifiers and no palm oil. When their bar says 72 per cent cocoa, it’s purely 72 per cent of the bean, he says.

Darragh, Kasha and her fellow chocolatier Anna Murphy use Trinitario beans for their bars and truffles. Trinitario is a low-yielding bean, which represents just three per cent of the cocoa produced worldwide, says Darragh.

This species and its subspecies provide chocolate that is a lot more flavoursome than high-yielding beans, he explains.

Concerns have been raised recently about potential cocoa shortages, because people’s demand for cocoa is increasing, while the world’s supply is declining. While Darragh agrees that a potential chocolate shortage looms, this should not affect Hazel Mountain as they use Trinitario beans, rather than high yield crops.

“The shortage applies more to chocolate growers in West Africa who are affected by bad trading conditions and are moving away from cocoa growing,” he says.

Hazel Mountain trade directly with growers, via trade fairs and co-operatives and events such as the World Chocolate Exhibition, which took place in London last year.

From the roasting area we move into the shop, which has a glass window allowing visitors to see into the small industrial kitchen where the chocolate is tempered – this means the sugar melts totally to give a smooth texture. Here too, ingredients such as rhubarb and pink pepper, seaweed, elderberries and roasted caramelised hazelnuts are added to the bars – these sit on top and in addition to looking pretty, they ensure that the tastes don’t get blurred. The fruit used in the chocolate is freeze-dried and that’s the only process it goes through, says Kasha.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

A time when we learned once more that no man is an island

Francis Farragher

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Country singer Dolly Parton getting the jab: she sang about it and part-funded research on the vaccine.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

One of the oft-repeated pub jokes whenever the price drink was increased, whether it by Finance Ministers or publicans who felt that their margins were being whittled away, was that: “As long as it doesn’t get scarce, we’ll be happy enough.”

Who could have believed though in the first month or two of 2020 that this scenario would unfold (at least in pubs), where the opportunity to meet friends – and the odd ‘auld enemy’ too – over a couple of pints in the local bar would be snatched away from us?

We probably have learned to adapt to the reality of the pandemic and most of us will remember the real sense of fear and constriction that pervaded our every word and action early last year.

2020 was the universal version of ‘annus horribilis’ – the term made famous by Queen Elizabeth in 1992 when royal marriages started to collapse like cards houses in the breeze.

Being of rural stock, I loved the little video earlier this from country music icon, Dolly Parton, who adapted a verse of her famous Jolene song to mark her first shot of the Moderna vaccine (she also donated $1 million to its research) in a very sincere effort to try and encourage the general public to get inoculated.

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,

I’m begging of you not to hesitate,

Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,

Cause when you’re dead that’s a bit too late.”

A year before that, times were indeed very strange across Ireland and indeed the world. I remember on the Sunday night before St. Patrick’s Day when a sense of incredulity greeted the news in my own local that ‘a lot of the pubs in Galway city were closing down’. Surely, this couldn’t happen in our own little watering hole in the sticks, but it did.

Michael Karmen’s soundtrack from the Band of Brothers series – a wonder piece of music even to my untrained ear – will always remind me of that early Spring period of lockdown in 2020.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Beat the leaks with reusable Nixx

Denise McNamara

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Ellie Loftus creator of Nixx.

Health, Beauty and Lifestyle with Denise McNamara

Ellie Loftus is one of those super high achievers who makes you feel totally inadequate.  A registered nurse with two postgraduates, one in paediatrics and the other in intensive care, she also has a Masters of Science in Health from UCD. She was Regional Child and Adolescent Health Development Officer for the HSE from 2003 to 2008.

The native of Crossmolina who lives in Barna then decided to go and get herself a law degree and was later called to the Bar. She is currently working as a barrister.

In her spare time, Ellie is a sprinter. She runs for Ireland as a master athlete and competed before lockdown at the European Athletics Championships.

And it wasn’t just running that she excelled at. She represented Ireland on the first female Irish Olympic bobsleigh team, taking part in four World Cups. She was sought out by Prince Albert of Monaco for a chat because she was from Mayo, the home of his beloved late mother Grace Kelly.

Now, at the age of 49, this dynamo has pivoted again, this time setting up her own business. She has drawn on her experience of working with adolescents in the HSE, being a mom of two girls and her years as an athlete.

Nixx.ie is a period and bladder leak range of underwear that could revolutionise sanitary care.

The underwear is reusable by throwing it in the washing machine and can be worn without a tampon or pad.

Each pair consists of four layers of specialised fabrics. Because they can be worn without sanitary products, they are a much more sustainable solution. The first sanitary pads invented are still in a landfill somewhere as they take between 500 and 800 years to decompose.

They also turn up everywhere you don’t want to see them. Sanitary products are the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches, more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery or straws.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

 

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Connacht Tribune

Stepping out of time in Burren Lands

Judy Murphy

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Lifestyle – Sacred sites and traditional crafts and placenames are among the wonders that unfold on a walking tour of the Burren led by Anna Casey Donohue. It all takes place on the lowlands and hills of the family farm south of Kinvara, where her husband John is the seventh generation of his family to work the land. JUDY MURPHY goes on a voyage of discovery, led by this retired teacher of Irish and Geography.

Driving towards the Burren from the village of Kinvara, its majestic limestone mountains are a source of wonder, no matter how many times you see them. From a distance, they’re amazing. But it’s only when you get up close, you realise how this seemingly inhospitable landscape teems with wildlife and history.

That wealth of nature, heritage and also spirituality is what Anna Casey Donohue wants people to experience when they take to the hills behind her house on the Clare-Galway border. And there’s no doubt, once you go off the road and start walking towards a field known locally as Páirc na Liadhas, the outside world seems to melt away.

Páirc na Liadhas translates into English as ‘the Field of the Grey Habits’, Anna explains. Located across the hill from Oughtmama, which was an important monastic site in the early Middle Ages, and close to the 13th Century Corcomroe Abbey, this place is steeped in folk history, much of which has long passed into the mists of time. But previous generations remembered Páirc na Liadhas as an area which was home to an order of grey-robed nuns. And as we make the gentle ascent towards the field – a green oasis on the mountain’s lower slopes with hawthorn and hazel copses all around – Anna informs the small group of walkers that it contains the ruins of a convent, which, it’s believed, was connected to the monastic community of Corcomroe.

Anna, a retired secondary school teacher who runs Burren Explore, is a mine of knowledge when it comes to the Burren’s geography, folklore and placenames – and the joy she gets from sharing that knowledge is palpable.

She’s originally from Kilbeacanty in the foothills of the Sliabh Aughty Mountains on the other side of Gort and this farm on which we are walking was inherited by her husband Johnny,  the seventh generation of his family to work this land – doing so in line with the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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