The Golden Ticket
I won a golden ticket to spend the day with owner, founder and Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson at the Naramata Chocolate Factory, enveloped in the aromas of warm tempering dark chocolate and raspberry brownies and toffee macadamia nut cookies baking in the oven.
Within five minutes of my arrival, disaster, a tray of truffles awaiting filling slipped off the counter and onto her commercial kitchen’s beautifully clean floor. Always helpful, I gathered chocolate for disposal and it took every ounce of self-discipline I possessed not to take a page out of Lucy’s most famous scene and stuff the broken bits into my mouth. Heather, seeing my pained look, laughed and offered me a just-made truffle from a box. There is nothing better than a new friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
At a crossroad in her life in Australia last year while on a wine touring holiday, a friend suggested, “You should open a nougat factory.” She replied, “What is that… nouga? He didn’t pronounce the “t” in his Aussie accent. Oh you mean that stuff that goes in Toblerone? Maybe Australians like to eat nougat but nobody wants that. If I were to open a factory it would be a chocolate factory. My life is already devoted to chocolate. I may as well learn how to make it.” Heather was working in the wine industry at the time and was ready to take her business degree and sales acumen and start her own project. When lightening strikes, Heather doesn’t hesitate. She threw herself into studying chocolate making in Melbourne under a prestigious chocolatier and came home and launched her ethical, local, artisan chocolate business and we are all the happier for it.
What the heck is it with people and chocolate?
It’s a thing alright. Here is a crazy fact. Every 10 years or so a typical adult eats their own body weight in chocolate. My husband is not typical. He is on a five-year cycle and it looks like I will be soon catching up to him with my Naramata Chocolate Factory discovery.
There is actually a boat load of chocolate science that has to do with Dr. Feel-Good chemicals the cacao bean contains such as anandamide (similar to anandamide THC). There is also lots of anecdotal evidence that chocoholics live longer. I believe it. Take Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and ate two pounds of chocolate a week. Scientists and Heather are also saying that chocolate is good for you. It comes from a plant for starters. A British Medical Journal published review found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke.
Why artisan chocolate?
If you are going to eat chocolate, eat great chocolate. Mass-produced chocolate in all those chocolate bars at the store like many convenience foods today are full of preservatives, high in sugar and a lot of mystery ingredients such as wax. Heather’s creations are made with the highest quality Belgian chocolate that is certified as ethically sourced and filled with wonderful local ingredients like our raspberries. She avoids plastic packaging and sells her chocolate in cute recycled paper containers and paper bags.
Heather is also making vegan and gluten-free products to cater to these growing markets.
Heather hit the ground running and is now working at 100 per cent capacity with the help of her new assistant manager and cookie baker Deb Staples and several part-time helpers. Her delicious treats can now be found at the Naramata, Penticton and Summerland farmer’s markets, through partnerships with wineries such as Origin which sell her Cherry Noir confection that is a cherry and red wine chocolate made with Origins’ Pinot Noir and at Mile Zero Wine Bar. More winery and restaurant partnerships are in the works as are online sales through her website naramatachocolate.com as well as a subscription box.
“I am a product of a long tradition of makers in my family,” says Heather. My grandparents grew and canned much of what they ate. I love this tradition and feel strongly about shopping local, making things ourselves and I place a lot of value on the art of making something by hand.”
She combines her life-long love affair with chocolate with a pragmatic side that includes her Ontario business degree (where she spent all her free time experimenting with vegan baking, protein-packed baking and just plain old-fashioned tasty baking) and career experience in books and wine sales.
“I am having the most fun,” she says. “I really like seeing results and I love talking to people. How rewarding is it to hear, ‘That is the best brownie I’ve ever had in my entire life,’ which I’ve heard more than once from market customers?”