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Creative chocolate makers craft soda bread into a tasty treat

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Traditional Irish soda bread has been transformed into a novel sweet by two enterprising Newry chocolate makers who achieved success this month with the innovation at the big Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle.

Shane Neary and wife Dorothy of NearyNógs Stoneground Chocolate Makers in the Morne Mountains introduced the unique Irish Soda Bread chocolate bar at the huge festival that’s widely considered ‘the industry standard’ for artisan chocolate events.

“Our Irish Soda Bread chocolate bar was sold out in the first day of the festival,” says Shane, a graphic designer by profession, who subsequently created Northern Ireland’s first and only bean to bar premium chocolate business with Dorothy, originally a nurse from Seattle , and with help from their family and friends.

Both are now full time chocolate makers and dedicated to innovative ingredients and premium chocolate flavors. It’s a dedication with outstanding creativity that’s behind their achievements and widespread recognition as among the best chocolate makers in the UK, Republic of Ireland and further afield.

“We love experimenting with different chocolate styles and flavors in our chocolate bars and truffles,” continues Shane. “We decided to take one of Northern Ireland’s most traditional and historic foods and blend it with quality chocolate and shape them into a unique flavor.”

What the enterprising and highly creative chocolate makers did was to gently toast Irish buttermilk soda bread that’s a favorite for the traditional Ulster breakfast, and then crush with a rolling pin before swirling with a 60% single origin cacao, providing “a lovely, crunchy chocolate bar , melt in the mouth chocolate with pieces of Irish soda bread”.

Continues Shane: “It’s a small batch, limited edition bean to bar chocolate with an Irish tradition of soda bread that is so well loved from generation to generation on the island and abroad especially in North America. We hoped it might catch the imagination of chocolate lovers at the festival with Irish roots and others keen to try something quite different and with a distinctive flavour. We were really amazed by the response of visitors to our stand at this immensely important show.”

They source premium beans from specialist growers from across the world including Dominican Republic, Togo, Ecuador at various from 60-100% cacao and also provide vegan and gluten free options. Their extensive product range includes cacao nibs, bars, chocolate fudge, truffles and drinking chocolate. There’s also a popular monthly subscription service that encourages customers to try different flavors and styles of chocolate at a modest price. It’s proving to be a popular initiative in the dynamic world of chocolate.

The entrepreneurs have also linked up with neighboring artisans such as Killowen Distillery, also in the Mournes overlooking Rostrevor, to create whiskey, gin and poitin flavours.

“These bars are inspired out of a love of local traditions and timeless classics,” explains Shane.

The company’s focus on conservation and solar technology in particular to power the factory led to an approach from the iconic Fortnum and Mason food hall in London to create a remarkable ‘Sailboat Chocolate Bars’ that were produced, transported and subsequently shaped at their factory without any use of fossil fuels.

The talented duo could hardly have chosen a better event than the festival in Seattle to showcase their strategic focus on innovation in chocolates. It’s regarded as the show others worldwide try to emulate. It’s seen simply “the best show in the world for artisan chocolate”.

The weekend event attracted more than 200 exhibitors from around the world, NearyNógs Stoneground Chocolate being the only one from Northern Ireland, and featured a program of expert classes, workshops and seminars covering all aspects of the global artisan global chocolate industry.

​Attending the event, now in its 14th year, were 10,000 visitors including cacao farmers, ingredient suppliers, chefs and other artisan chocolate makers. It’s an occasion to showcase new products, discuss innovations, discover new business opportunities and more.

NearyNógs Stoneground Chocolate, which is based in a state-of-the-art factory that’s open to tours and individual visitors keen to see how they craft heir chocolates.

Duo: Shane and Dorothy Neary of NearyNógs Stoneground Chocolate in the Mournes, near Rostrevor

The small company is committed to ethically sourcing single origin, specialty cacao beans from farms in Central America, South America, the Caribbean islands and West Africa.

The team then hand sorts each cacao bean, gently roast, stone grind, age and then temper into beautiful chocolate bars. It is made without additives, emulsifiers or artificial flavoring. Everything is hand crafted and is shaped by the small company’s commitment to preserving the environment

“All of the packaging is made from recycled sources and is either recyclable or compostable after use. Postal boxes and paper tape are also made from recycled materials,” adds Shane.

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