Sally Hawkes has been running White Rabbit Chocolatiers for ten years and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon, chocolate-lovers will be pleased to hear.
After studying a food course at Bishop Burton College, she was looking for a suitable business to run. She wanted a tearoom, but recognised that you need staff with the same high standards in order to be successful. Choosing to venture out on her own instead, she decided she needed a specialism and turned to chocolate.
At that time, it was very difficult to get high-quality chocolate in Beverley, so she found her niche and has been selling it ever since.
Within two years, people were asking her questions about how chocolate is made, so she arranged tasting for groups - including women’s groups, scouts and doctors. She did some training at Fortnum and Mason, which allowed her an opportunity to learn how to make chocolate and she got a taste for it.
“I can’t stop,” Sally admitted. “I have trained in London, Banbury, Canada, France. The Canadian style is based on the French style. And the Belgian style is different again. I have begged, borrowed and stolen methods from all over.
“You get to a point when you want to know how good your chocolate is. I am a member of the Guild of Fine Food, so I can enter my chocolates to be judged and commented upon. It is all done on an anonymous basis and purely judged on taste.
“We have done exceptionally well year on year. Last year, there were 10,000 entries and our blackcurrant and juniper truffle was in the top 50. It was even nominated for a Golden Fork Award in the North, alongside some dry cured bacon from West Yorkshire and some cheese from North Yorkshire.
“We didn’t win, but part of our prize was a video of food and drink critic Nigel Barden about why it was in the top 50. He really liked it!”
In the video, Nigel said: “This little taste bomb could be a supreme champion, in my opinion. This is a fantastic, fantastic truffle and when I tasted it with Sheila Dillon of The Food Programme, we both let out audible squeals because this could be one of the best, and I really do think it is.
“It’s got a lovely tempered dark chocolate shell with that lovely zing of blackcurrant, which does fill the hamster pouches quite nicely. It is quite tart, but inside you get that lovely dark chocolate with juniper. If you are going to die by truffle, that’s not a bad way to go.”
White Rabbit Chocolatiers continues to go from strength to strength, with people starting to become surprisingly adventurous with flavours.
“Ten years ago, it was very hard to get ingredients,” Sally said. “But there has been a boost in knowledge and education with all the food programmes on TV. Suppliers of couverture - a very high-quality chocolate that contains extra cocoa butter - started at the same time, so their business has grown at the same rate. We use it in truffles to add to the flavour.
“Chocolate varies a lot in flavour and percentage of cocoa solid, so you have to find the right kind to go with coffee or mint, or whatever.
“The time of year helps to give me inspiration as I like to keep things within season. It is good to be on trend, but you don’t want to neglect the classics. They have been tested and tested over and over for years and are classics for a reason. They are never going to go out of fashion.
“Blackcurrant is a very strong flavour, so I nearly didn’t enter it for the competition. But the uniqueness with the juniper gave it a base note of perfume that was a really good marriage. It is important to get the right balance. I tried a rhubarb one once, but I didn’t think that worked at all, although my son Ed really liked it.
“Fashions have changed - it was once all about chilli and chocolate, and now everyone wants salted chocolate. It starts with the artisans, and then the big companies come along and copy it and it goes big. But then, it is done to death, so we have to go for something different. It keeps us on our toes. Life is all about being creative, making the most of it and learning more, to get better.”
“Our best-selling products are our truffles and our flavoured bars - the award-winning Yorkshire honeycomb is very popular,” Ed added. “People tell us they aren’t just good, they are superb, best I have ever tasted - be it our truffles or our hot chocolate. You can’t beat the freshness we can offer. Most people won’t have tasted it that fresh. Big companies have a lot of infrastructure and lorries and deliveries, before it even makes it to the shelves. We just have to bring it downstairs. There are no preservatives, and most items are gluten free.”
Looking to the future, Ed has big plans. He joined the business six months ago, after finishing university and is already getting stuck in with his ideas.
“We are going to upgrade the coffee shop part of the business and I am going to get some proper barista training,” he said. “All good chocolatiers offer hot chocolate. I wanted to see what other people were doing.”
Sally added: “I did a tasting for the Georgian Festival and did lots of research into what chocolate was like during that time. The Aztecs made spicy aromatic chocolate with lots of water. But the Georgians started using cream.
“We offer a classic French style cooked chocolate and a thick and creamy Belgian style using melted chocolate. It is a niche we are able to offer, as opposed to the powdered sweet variety you get in a lot of coffee shops. And we can expand on it with white chocolate, or orange or strawberry flavours.”
In the summer, if space in their small shop on Dyer Lane allows, they would like to have ice cream available too, and maybe some chocolate fondues with items to dip. Now, that sounds like a plan.