Chocalatiers Paul Maden and James Findlay, of gourmet chocolate house Cocoa Mountain
Balnakeil village, just outside Durness, is a community of artists and artisans housed in a Cold-War era RAF early warning base. In 2006, Paul Maden (40) and James Findlay (35) made it the base for their gourmet chocolate making operation, Cocoa Mountain. Barry Shelby spoke to Findlay about the business.
Could you give us a bit more about your backgrounds?
I was raised in Rutherglen, attended Stirling University, lived for two years in Austria, one year in Sweden and then moved back to Glasgow, where I worked in IT at IBM and as an academic researcher. Paul is from Blackburn, Lancashire, and studied marketing at Strathclyde Uni and had a varied career before Cocoa Mountain. He was working as a lecturer in entrepreneurship and studying for a PhD. We both lived in Glasgow before moving to Sutherland.
Chocolate making was a hobby turned into an enjoyable business. We both have a passion for good quality real chocolate and experimentation with different flavour combinations.
You use local produce when possible: raspberries, cream, and what else?
We source local raspberries, strawberries, cream and crème-fraiche. We also purchase a lot of our ingredients from [Inverness-based] Highland Wholefoods. We use chocolate from all over the world: Cuban, Venezuelan … different ones for different products: for example, organic chocolate for our range of chocolate bars that you can see on our website.
A white chocolate, coconut and chilli is one of your innovative chocolates: what are some others?
We have an orange and geranium truffle, a blood orange and mandarin and a fresh strawberry and black pepper. We are inventing new flavours all the time. Our most popular truffle is the chilli and lemongrass, the fresh raspberry and the classic French, which is made with a 70 per cent Cuban chocolate. We use fresh cream in our truffles – and no preservatives, which means they are always consumed fresh and thus taste the best.
Aside from the mail order business, what else is part of your operation?
We sell our range online and via mail order. We sell direct to the public at food fairs and farmers’ markets. We also supply wholesale to select shops in the Highlands. We also do favours for weddings.
The Chocolate Bar is our refreshment bar at Balnakeil village where customers can enjoy the best hot chocolate, organic tea and coffee and a range of organic soft drinks, pastries and of course our truffles. Customers can visit and watch from the chocolate bar through to the production area as we make the chocolates.
Balnakeil is a bit of a surprising place. What makes it work for your business?
Balnakeil has a lot of visitors throughout the year. The craft village is close to Balnakeil beach and is a busy place especially during the summer months.
You got some start-up support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has sung your praises. What’s next?
We are in talks with partners to open a Cocoa Mountain in Bridge of Allan in 2009. We also plan to increase the wholesale business.
● For more information go to www.cocoamountain.co.uk