Saturday, 3 September 2016

A trip to Anglesey with Green & Black's

One of the most fun things about having a blog is the opportunities it affords me - I feel so lucky to be invited to go to exciting places, meet interesting people and try fun things that I'd never get the chance to do otherwise.

And one such happening occurred last week when the lovely people from Green & Black's invited me on a trip up to Anglesey with them.

Now I know, I know - it isn't immediately obvious why Green & Black's, makers of some of the finest chocolate around, would even have anything to do with Anglesey, which in my mind is most famous for having been the little corner of Wales where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge lived for a few years.

Well, friends, I'm going to explain everything. In detail. With many pictures of chocolate. Get excited.

Green & Black's have just brought out their latest fabulous creation: the thin dark sea salt chocolate bar. So, they very generously invited a little group of bloggers and foodie types on a sojourn to Anglesey to find out all about where the salt comes from. And it turns out there's a lot more to it than just evaporating seawater. Who knew?


Our home for the night

We arrived at the Bull Inn in the charming town of Beaumaris late Thursday evening, just in time for dinner at the Bull's fantastic restaurant (three AA Rosettes, people!)

I'll be honest with you, I could devote a whole post to the Bull but this is not a hotel review so I shan't. Well, I'll try and keep it brief anyway. (Famous last words.)

The food was fantastic and we stayed up later than we probably should've done drinking wine and getting to know each other. However, had I already seen my beautiful room I may have been more inclined to retire to bed earlier...

I say room, but it was so much more than a room. I had massively lucked out and was in what was essentially the honeymoon suite. HOLLA!
There are two parts to the hotel - the old-fashioned, traditional part, The Bull, and the newly-renovated building just next-door, The Townhouse. And that's where my suite was.

Situated in the loft at the top of the building, it was ridiculously big, with a spacious bedroom as well as a lounge area and huge bathroom too. The decor was cosy but sleek and to be honest with you, once in my fluffy white robe, I never wanted to leave.
Breakfast the next morning was wonderful too so I really can't recommend a stay at the Bull more.

However we had a fun day ahead so I wasn't too sad about being dragged away. Let me at the chocolate.


Harvesting sea salt at Halen Môn

I don't know about you, but I'd presumed that when making a bar of salted chocolate, it's simply a case of grabbing any old salt and mixing it in. Not so, my friends.

It turns out there's rather a lot to it and we were shown the whole process at Halen Môn, makers of the world's finest sea salt. They're a family business run by Alison and David Lea-Wilson and we felt very privileged to have been given such special treatment.
It was a beautiful day and the views of the coastline from the car on our way over had left me desperate to get down to the sea, so I was thrilled that our first port of call was just down from Halen Môn at the water's edge.
The fresh, salty air was wonderful and we Londoners each took a sizeable lungful as David explained how the whole process starts and wowed us (well, me at least) with a few fun salt facts. Yup, fun salt facts. Did you know...

  • The reason the salt is so white is that the sea water is incredibly clean in Anglesey, it's not bleached.
  • Your average sea water is 3% salt, but in Anglesey, it varies between 3.5% and 3.75%.
  • David tests the saltiness of the sea every day, and it turns out there's a special gadget for this, it's not just a case of tasting it. Not that any of us thought that. Ahem.
See, FUN SALT FACTS! You're welcome.

So, the sea water is extracted from the sea in big pipes before being filtered, boiled under a vacuum, concentrated to 20% salinity (which - bonus fact - makes it as buoyant as the Dead Sea), and blended with different batches to create the right salinity.

After donning very fetching outfits, we joined the process and got stuck in.
Don't I look fabulous?

So, next up, salt crystals on the brine surface are scooped off.
I know I make it look easy (clearly a natural), but this was hard work. I have zero biceps.

OK the facts keep coming: did you know chalk is added to table salt to stop it sticking together? Kinda gross, right? Well Halen Môn ain't got no time for chalk, so the salt crystals are rinsed in brine to make sure what's left is pure salt.
The salt is then sieved by hand to make sure only the crystals that are the exact right size for Green & Black's chocolate make it through. I know, who knew so much went into salt?!

Having had a taster of the salt-harvesting process, it was time for a taster of the salt itself. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a lot more varieties of salt at Halen Môn than your standard supermarket shelf. Think garlic sea salt, smoked sea salt, and even a vanilla one - how good would that be in baking!? Yes please. I loved it.
I believe that was my "OMG that's salty!" face.

There's actually a really cute shop at Halen Môn which sells a whole array of salty, seasidey, Welsh presents. It was lovely.


Making chocolate with Green & Black's
When you walk into a room and see that, you know something good's about to go down.

This was the point where Brandt Maybury, Green & Black's Taste Specialist (yes, that is his actual job) took over.
Brandt is responsible for creating new Green & Black's flavours, and if you ask me, he's doing a splendid job.

OK, I have some more fun facts for you, because I know you enjoyed the last ones so much:
  • Green & Black's are celebrating their 25th birthday this year.
  • They launched the first organic chocolate in the UK.
  • Green and Black aren't people - the name was chosen because Green symbolised being ethical, and Black represented the darkest, richest chocolate. Plus Green & Black's sounds good.
  • In 1994, the Maya bar launched which was the first fair-trade product ever sold in the UK.
Fun, right?
We were talked through the whole process from bean to bar - all Green & Black's cocoa comes from the Dominican Republic.

The cocoa butter (the fat in cocoa) is extracted, leaving behind cocoa mass, then some cocoa butter is added back in, but not much, meaning Green & Black's use a higher percentage of cocoa mass than most companies.
With the chocolate at the right temperature, it was time to temper it.
*insert emoji with hearts for eyes here*

Now, between you and me, I never really understood the point of tempering chocolate. Until then. It turns out, melting chocolate destabilises all the molecules of the cocoa butter, and tempering then stabilises them which stops the chocolate blooming (when it goes kinda pale and weird).

Brandt was a total pro. I was less slick, but I gave it a go nonetheless.
 Then it was time to add in that wonderful sea salt.
Stir it in...
And pour into moulds...
Is there anything better in this world than melted chocolate? I was so tempted to grab a spoon and just dive in.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait for the chocolate to set to sample it.
You guys, it is so good. Like, so so good. I'm eating some right now as I type (it's a bit messy but so worth it) so the passion is real.

Some people raise their eyebrows at the prospect of salt and chocolate together but to me it totally makes sense. The tiny flakes of sea salt combined with the dark 60% chocolate make for the most moreish bar.

Apparently Green & Black's salted caramel chocolate is their best-selling bar by miles, but I 100% prefer the thin dark sea salt. 

Everyone was like, "It's so great because it really satiates you and all you need is one or two pieces." I nodded along, but really I was thinking, "Err, what you chattin' bout, I could almost definitely demolish the whole bar in one sitting." But sometimes these thoughts are best kept to oneself.


Lunch at Dylan's

The obvious thing to do after a morning of chocolate and salt was to go and eat lunch, amirite? And the restaurant of choice was Dylan's, which I loved.

Right by the Menai Bridge (yup, a direct copy of Clifton Suspension Bridge in my beloved Bristol), the view was sensational.
I shan't waffle on with a full review but the food was fantastic. We clinked our prosecco and tucked into fresh, local seafood, burgers, pizzas, pasta and some of the best chunky chips I've ever had, all dusted with the finest Anglesey sea salt, naturally.


A chocolate and wine pairing

There was no need for pudding, however, as the afternoon continued with a chocolate and wine pairing back in Beaumaris.

I know, could the day get any better!?

Green & Black's are doing a taste tour going round the UK giving out free chocolate this year, and conveniently, it just so happened to be in Beaumaris when we were there. What are the chances!?
Yummmmmmm.

It was time for Brandt to spring back into action and show us all just why he is indeed a Taste Specialist - chocolate and wine time!
I actually only tried dessert wine for the first time a few months ago, but oh my days, I am a fan. I suppose it's unsurprising given my sweet tooth.

With six different dessert wines and six expertly-matched chocolates, we gathered round in the sunshine and commenced an education.
Now I have to confess - I'd been making notes all day to aid me in my blog post write-up, but the only thing I'd noted down from the wine and chocolate pairing is this:

"Wine needs to be sweeter than choc but have acidity too."

So there you go. I may have been enjoying myself too much. Slash just concentrating really hard, as this photo would suggest...
I much preferred the lighter wines - the darker ones were too rich for me. It was genuinely really interesting though and I could totally see why Brandt had matched each wine with a particular chocolate, even though I'd have been hopeless at doing it myself. 

And just like that it was time to leave Anglesey and head back to London. Luckily we had plenty of chocolate to keep us going...

I feel so privileged to have been invited on the trip and it had been such a fun, interesting, delicious day. Aaaaand now I need to put away my thin dark sea salt bar before the whole thing is gone...

Certain snaps (OK, yes, the best ones) stolen from Samuel Davies.
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6 comments

  1. Sounds like such an interesting trip! I love me some salted chocolate. I need to try some Green + Blacks! I really love Anglesey too, such a nice place in the country.

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    1. It really was! And yes, I do recommend. It's so lovely! Thanks Jasmin x

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  2. Looks like such a fun trip! Love all the chocolate pics too x

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  3. Hi Rachel. Looks like you had loads of fun! Great blog lovely. My fiance works with Maddie you went to uni with and she said to check out your blog :) H xx
    www.lttlehelsb.com

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    Replies
    1. Oh that's so sweet, thank you Hels :) x

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