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Going nuts for chocolate with unique local twist

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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Celebrations to forge new links

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Ester Kiely, Eilís Ní Dhonncha and Gráinne Ní Bhroin from Headford Lace Project at the launch of Corrib Beo’s programme of Heritage Week events, ‘Connecting Corrib Communities’ at Claregalway Castle. Photo: Brian Harding.

Lifestyle – An initiative involving community groups from around the Corrib has been launched for Heritage Week, with events taking place to showcase the area’s many riches, while also creating new connections among organisations. JUDY MURPHY hears from some of the groups involved.

”Ní neart go cur le chéile,” says Eilís Nic Dhonncha of the Headford Lace Project as she quotes the old Irish proverb about strength in togetherness to describe a new initiative which involves 13 communities around the Corrib, lake and river.

Linking Corrib Communities is running as part of Heritage Week and involves people from different communities showcasing their local heritage while also working to develop closer ties with each other.

The initiative, organised by the voluntary umbrella group Corrib Beo, was launched in Claregalway Castle on Tuesday at an event attended by people from all around Lough Corrib, including Fine Gael Senator, Seán Kyne (Moycullen), and Cllr Frank Fahy (Menlo).

But most of all, this was an occasion for people involved in the historic, cultural and leisure life of their local communities, and among the highlights was a demonstration of bobbin lacemaking from members of the Headford Lace Project, in the castle.

The Headford group came into being in 2016 to revive a craft that had been synonymous with the area from the mid-1700s to the early 1900s – census returns from 1911 show it was still alive in that year – but which died out as machines took over the highly-skilled work, practised for so long by local women.

It had almost been forgotten by 2016 when the Headford Lace Project was created as part of the Small Town Big Ideas for Galway 2020. Since then, the group has done extraordinary work to research and revive this unique heritage. So much so that Headford Lace was last year granted UNESCO status, being placed on Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, up there alongside hurling.

Eilís and fellow project member, Ger Henry Hassett explain that people don’t need to be skilled at bobbin-work to get involved in the Headford Lace Project. While it’s a particularly intricate style of lacemaking, many other initiatives have taken place in the town, including one that involved local blacksmiths,  Pat Monaghan and Simon Harte, working with artist Róisín de Butléar to create a sculpture representing the tradition, located in the town’s square. There’s also ongoing research – a huge part of the project.

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

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Connacht Tribune

Vitamin D and good postural balance may help as we age

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Health, Beauty and Lifestyle with Denise McNamara

Having just turned 50 aging is particularly on my mind this month. So two recent studies about aging peaked my interest which are worth sharing. The first is a study from the University of South Australia and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is based on data from 294,514 participants from the UK Biobank, a biomedical database with half a million British participants.

Scientists found that in some populations, up to 17 per cent of dementia cases could be prevented simply by raising people’s vitamin D in the blood to 50 nmol/L, which is considered to be the normal level.

Dementia affects over 55 million people worldwide and every year 10 million new cases are diagnosed so the implications could be huge.

It is the first time the impact of very low levels of vitamin D are examined on the risks of dementia and stroke by using genetic analyses among a large study population.

There is widespread vitamin D deficiency among people worldwide, even in sunny regions where sun awareness campaigns, indoor living and other factors contribute to the low vitamin D levels,

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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Galway in Days Gone By

Galway In Days Gone By

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Rev Fr Raymond Watters O.P recites a decade of the rosary as the rain begins to pour down during the Blessing of Galway Bay on August 15, 1882.

1922

Dawn surrender

National troops operating from Galway and Athenry at dawn on Wednesday morning surrounded an area about four miles between Liscananaun village and Aucloggeen, on the eastern side of the Corrib, and after a smart movement captured nineteen irregulars, with their officers, twenty-two service and Mauser rifles, a number of service revolvers and automatics, and considerable quantities of ammunition for bombs.

The National troops were under command of Co-Commandant Austin Brennan, O.C., Galway area, and the various battalion and company officers, and the plan to surround these villages, which lie in a marshy waste between the Curragh Line, or Galway-Headford road, and the main road from Galway to Tuam, was evolved after information had been received that a number of irregulars were quartered there, and were commandeering sheep and foodstuffs from people in surrounding districts.

Slowly and silently, accompanied by a Lancia armoured car on which machine guns were mounted, the National troops moved out from Galway shortly before two a.m. on Wednesday. One column took the Galway to Headford road, the other taking the Tuam road.

The column operating on the Headford road swung to the right beyond the Cregg river, taking the road to Drumgriffin. By dawn they had taken up extended formation in the woods around Cregg Castle, and this formed a trap into which the irregulars were subsequently driven.

Trade unions position

Mr. Cathal O’Shannon, T.D., in his presidential address at the Trade Union Congress on Monday, declare that organised Labour was separate from and independent of any political party, and would take no dictation from any quarter outside its own ranks.

He strongly protested against militarism, from whatever quarter it came, and condemned the political censorship of thought and opinion, the ignoring of laws relating to the custody of prisoners, the existence of a semi-military police force, and the propaganda on both sides.

The present conflict or strife, he declared, was unnecessary and counselled the Irish workers to keep aloof from it.

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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