The North Yorkshire district giving York a run for its money when it comes to chocolate making

York has been synonymous with chocolate for more than 300 years, but Ryedale is giving its neighbour a run for its money.Catherine Scott reports.

Steph has autism and started on a  kickstarter placement at Park House Barns as a trainee chocolatier and it has changed her life
Steph has autism and started on a kickstarter placement at Park House Barns as a trainee chocolatier and it has changed her life

While many villagers might feel lucky to find their favourite brand of chocolate bar locally these days, in the heart of rural Ryedale – one of the most sparsely populated parts of Yorkshire – chocolate-lovers can enjoy a 20-mile golden circle of chocolate micro-workshops, all independent, all highly individual, where hundreds of Easter delicacies are handcrafted each year.

What’s more, chocolate doesn’t just come ready-wrapped on the shelves: visitors to Ryedale’s chocolate shops can see the artisans in action, get hands-on during chocolate masterclasses with experts – or even request their own unique chocolate combinations.

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“Over the past 20 years, Ryedale has developed an extraordinary appetite for and mastery in chocolate,” says Phillip Spurr, programme director of place and resources for Ryedale Council. “It’s a mystery how it all began in our rural area, or why it inspires such enormous creativity, with every micro-factory having its own signature style or new twist on a classic, and chocolate even appearing in local beer and liquor.

Ian Peacock at Birdgate Chocolatiers, Pickering. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“Perhaps it’s the abundance of locally-sourced ingredients to experiment with, the bounty of the area’s uniquely balmy micro-climate. Perhaps the area has inherited the sweet tooth of neighbouring York, once home to confectionery giants like Terry’s and Nestlé.

“Perhaps it’s part of the wider ‘good food’ movement that’s been growing in the area, culminating in Malton being dubbed Yorkshire’s Food Capital and the North York Moors as ‘Britain’s Capital of Cake’, and attracting some of the UK’s top chefs and makers.”

Birdgate Chocolatiers, of Pickering, is one of Yorkshire’s premier artisan chocolate shops and owner Ian Peacock definitely takes his inspiration from his local surroundings.

The former chef decided to give up working in restaurants 20 years ago to run his own tiny shop in his home town, making chocolates from his kitchen. He has since moved to a bigger shop and business is going so well that he is expanding further into the unit next door to open an ice cream parlour.

Peter Guppy with one of his Easter creations

“When I opened my first shop there were very few dedicated artisan chocolate shops around and now lots seem to have sprung up, especially in Ryedale,” says Ian. He now employs five members of staff and will take on more when the ice cream parlour opens. The various lockdowns were tough but Ian had fortunately just created a website (www.birdgatechocolatiers.com)with an online shop which kept him extremely busy. Ian loves to experiment with flavours and textures which is what sets his chocolates and Easter eggs apart from many others, he says. “I think it might be because I have been a chef that I realise that the textures are as important as the flavours.” He has around 40-50 different varieties of chocolates, which can go up to 80.

Ian likes to use local ingredients like North York Moors heather honey and Yorkshire rhubarb – and specialises in original “secret” recipes for delicious flavours that you won’t taste anywhere else. Pear and jasmine has proved a surprise hit.

Like for all chocolatiers, Easter is his busiest time of year and Ian also likes to make a super big Easter egg which he raffles off for local charities.

Guppy’s Chocolates (www.guppyschocolates.co.uk) hare handmade in the village of Sheriff Hutton. The luxury bars, shards and at this time of year Easter eggs and themed shapes, are made from the finest ingredients, and in addition a portion of the proceeds goes towards the Cocoa Horizon Foundation charity.

Florian Poirot from Malton is one of the many chocolaltiers in the 20 male radius of Ryedale

Peter Guppy started making chocolates as a hobby from his Yorkshire home more than 20 years ago, selling them at local farmers’ markets. But what began as a pastime soon turned into a full-time business for Peter and his wife Fran who in 2010 gave up their jobs in financial services and set up Guppy’s Chocolates.

“We decided to convert the garage but by 2013 the garage and our house were bursting at the seams with chocolate and packaging and so we moved to the first of many units on the outskirts of York. At the time there weren’t many small chocolatiers and we felt there was a bit of a gap in the market,” says Peter.

For the last four years the firm has been based in its current premises in Sheriff Hutton, making truffles, chocolate batons, bags of shards, and of course Easter eggs. “We always wanted to use the best quality chocolate and we have experimented with flavours but people tend to always go back to the more traditional flavours we find. The best seller is still salted caramel,” says Fran.

Guppy’s doesn’t have its own shop but has around 250 stockists across the UK, many in Yorkshire including the York Chocolate Story. Other suppliers locally include Keelham Farm Shop, near Skipton, and Fodder and Crimple Garden Centre and Food Hall in Harrogate.

Chocolatier Andrew Twaite who makes chocolates for Ryeburn of Helmsley

“Easter is even busier than Christmas and,

while we employ five members of staff, Peter still makes all the chocolates,” adds Fran. The firm used to make its eggs in polycarbonate moulds but five years ago it invested in a spinning machine so that it could churn out whole eggs. “It means we can’t put anything inside them and so we flavour the chocolate the egg is made of instead.”

On a ramble down a quiet country bridleway near Ampleforth, stands state-of-the-art Park House Barns (parkhousebarns.co.uk), where chocolatiers are hard at work producing hand-made creations to unique recipes, using the freshest, local ingredients.

You can pop into the barn shop to explore the range and visit the studio by pre-booking, but the firm will also “make anything in chocolate” and loves people to get in touch about designing a personal or special occasion gift.

Most importantly, it’s an Autism Plus social enterprise supporting and raising funds for people with disabilities – including offering placements in the chocolate studio.

“We employ four people with autism and special needs and also we work with Ryedale Special Families and have a group of young people volunteering,” says Team Manager Michelle Lumb. “They do everything from helping to put the chocolates into bags up to filling the mounds and helping to make the chocolates, depending on their skill level. We make chocolates using the finest Belgian chocolate. Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they aren’t creative and can’t make amazing high quality chocolates.” Park House Barns isn’t just about making amazing chocolates and supplying high-profile clients such as Beamish Museum and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, it is about giving young people some self-esteem.

WHITE ROSE EGG MILK OR DARK CHOCOLATE £18.99 Birdgate chocolatiers

Michelle tells the story of Stephanie who was diagnosed with autism while at university. “She came to us as quiet as a mouse on a kickstarter scheme. She’d been on a placement before that hadn’t worked out. We soon realised how creative she is and now she is a full-time employee and the difference in her is unbelievable. She loves what she does and her self-confidence has grown.”

The young people are under to the creative guidance of chocolatier and cake maker Linda Jamison, who runs award-winning Lindy Lou Cakes and has been busy helping them to make Easter treats.

Florian Poirot may be best known for his macarons but he also makes stunning chocolates from his patisserie at Malton’s Talbot Yard. And he likes to pass on his knowledge by running chocolate masterclasses, where groups of up to eight people can learn how to make their own truffles, from tempering to garnish.

Hutton le Hole is a tiny chocolate-box village that is home to master chocolatiers Christopher and Gareth East, who have been hand-crafting award-winning chocolate in their Chocolate Factory for 20 years. You can see them at work, before buying their mouth-watering confections, made with fresh cream, real alcohol and pure Belgian chocolate. Their menu is a wish-list of favourite flavours, but their real speciality is their loaded bars, choc-full of slabs of quality chocolate. The brothers are also passionate about making sure nobody misses out, with a range of diabetic, gluten- free and dairy-free chocolate. The Easts also have a chocolate shop in Thornton-le-Dale.

The family behind medal-winning Ryeburn of Helmsley (www.ryeburn.com) make the country’s best ice-cream, and handmade Belgian chocolates. Dairy farmers for over 100 years, the Otterburn family started out by experimenting with ice cream in the kitchens behind the cafe. Now the tiny kitchens are a “lab” for the family’s champion confectioner, David who has created a menu of over 48 ice-cream flavours (and growing) and has recently recruited equally-imaginative master chocolatier and family friend Andrew Thwaite (owner of York Cookery School) to handcraft the very best-quality Belgian chocolates.

A stone’s throw from Scampston Hall, you’ll find 5*-rated Farmhouse Bakery and Chocolate Shop, home to Elli Rose – an artisan chocolatier and pastry chef. For 18 years, she has been hand making devilish delights from chocolate for her patisserie’s “naughty cabinet”, alongside Easter eggs, original novelty figures, bonbons that are so pretty you could frame them, her own secret-recipe hot chocolate, and bespoke chocolate heaven celebration cakes.

If you are looking for some chocolate treats this Easter you are spoilt for choice in this remote part of North Yorkshire.

Fran and Peter Guppy Picture James Hardisty
Belgian milk chocolate Easter bunny lolly with white chocolate carrot 35g £3 at park house barns