Cocoa Mountain is a gourmet chocolate business in a dramatic Scottish location

Sweet Dreams

North Highland chocolate exported from an abandoned RAF base

From their base in Balnakeil craft village, set in an abandoned RAF base left over from the Cold War, James Findlay and Paul Maden export their lavish chocolates all over the world. Keith Smith discovers how they are challenged – and inspired – by the set

The rugged, desolate beauty of the north-west tip of Scotland – often referred to as one of Europe’s last great wildernesses – means it is home to many wonderful and unusual sights, but Cocoa Mountain, a gourmet chocolate business, along with a ‘chocolate bar’ inspired by Viennese coffee houses, is possibly one of the most unexpected.

‘We fell in love with the area while visiting,’ explains James. ‘The dramatic mountains and stunning beaches have inspired many of our chocolate creations.’

‘Balnakeil is famed for its artistic community and we felt that we could tap into that spirit,’ adds Paul.

While the setting might endow them with an abundance of ideas, it also provides plenty of trials. As James admits, running a luxury food business from Sutherland, one of the UK’s remotest regions, isn’t without its difficulties. ‘Distance to market is a real challenge here,’ he says, ‘as is travelling to attend trade events and food fairs – it always means a very early start.’

In the same way this isolated location appealed to James and Paul, they also recognised it would attract a distinct kind of visitor: a discerning traveller, enticed by the area’s wild, undisturbed splendour and in turn appreciative of quality foodstuffs, and so they complement their mail-order enterprise with a café serving luxury drinks.

And as well as providing creative stimulus, and a stream of judicious tourists, the local area provides another crucial element in the Cocoa Mountain success story.

‘Although we use chocolate from all over the world, the majority of the other ingredients – things like raspberries, strawberries, cream, crème fraiche, butter and whisky – all come from the Highlands,’ says Paul.

But with demand outstripping their production capacity, they’ve outgrown their current space, and the hunt is on for a new site. It won’t be the end of their love affair with the area, though. Cocoa Mountain remains firmly rooted here, with plans to transform the existing premises into a training centre offering specialist chocolate-making courses. ‘We certainly won’t just be packing up and moving on,’ insists Paul. ‘Balnakeil will remain Cocoa Mountain’s creative home and our source of inspiration.’

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