I was a massive fan of Roald Dahl stories when I was little. I know, who isn’t? But I loved them. I had a tape of Fantastic Mr Fox that I listened to again and again and again, and my favourite books were probably The Witches, Danny Champion of the World and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (The latter was a particular favourite as it had a character in it called Josephine. Which is my name, in case you didn’t know.)
With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it was never really the idea of a lifetime’s supply of chocolate that did it for me, it was always the factory itself. I desperately wanted to try the chewing gum that was a three course meal. As I read it, I would try to imagine the warm tomato soup trickling down the back of my throat, morphing into roast beef and gravy. I’m doing it now as I type.
I wanted to be there, seeing how things were made, seeing inventions come to life.
A couple of weeks ago I got about as close as I am ever likely to get when I went to visit the Thorntons chocolate factory. (Although I don’t remember them wearing sexy hair nets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)
They didn’t have the tomato soup chewing gum or everlasting gobstoppers, but they did have… FUDGE CUBES! Huge tubs of the things, just sat there, waiting for me to jump in and wade about in a magical, sticky sea of fudge.
Fudge cubes are a thing of legend in our family. When I was younger we used to go on outings to Clarks Village in Street with my Gran. Clarks Village had a small Thorntons outlet shop, which was a bit of a beacon for me as a child amongst the shoe shops and old lady clothes. As I got older and had children of my own the outings to Clarks Village continued and no trip was complete without stopping at Thorntons for mini fudge cubes. I don’t know what it is about them that makes them so delicious, but if you’ve never tried them then you are missing out.
One thing that really surprised me about the Thorntons factory was just how many people there were, and how cheerful they all looked. There was a moment on the tour when a man walked past us, literally with a big bucket of melted chocolate, just smiling and humming to himself. I kid you not. Just strolling along, casual bucket of chocolate in hand. Tralalala.
I’ve been on factory tours before and often it’s pretty quiet inside the factory, with machines doing the majority of the work. At Thorntons though, although many of the processes are automated, there is an awful lot that is done by hand. A lot of the icing and decorations for example are done by hand, and if you order anything personalised online, that will all be piped by a proper human being.
(Top tip – do have a look at the personalised gifts section on the Thorntons website. I’ve only ever bought Thorntons goodies in shops and hadn’t even realised you could buy things online. You can personalise all kinds of things with hand-piped chocolate, photos, packaging – it’s very cool. You can even get personalised advent calendars.)
The toffee pouring is another great example. You’d imagine that the toffee would be poured out by machines, carefully programmed to make sure exactly the same amount of toffee goes into each tray. It isn’t. It’s done by a person, who walks up and down a huge long table with a three spouted sort of barrel, pouring out the toffee by eye. It’s a very impressive sight to behold. Plus you do have to resist the urge to just stick your whole face into the vat of warm toffee.
Although I loved that there were so many people doing things by hand, I did love the machines too. There is something hypnotic about watching hundreds and hundreds of little chocolates in neat rows, chugging along a belt, being coated in yumminess. It’s almost like they are alive and on a journey – tiny adventurers on a quest to get themselves through each machine and covered in just the right layers of chocolate. I imagined them all doing a little cheer when they make it into their boxes.
‘Guys!’ shouts an Alpine Truffle, gazing around at all the other Alpine Truffles, ‘We did it!’
Teeny tiny cheers all round.
(I may think about these things too much. Too be fair, this guy looks like he does too.)
Another favourite machine was the one that creates the hollow figures. You’d be forgiven for assuming that things like hollow snowmen and chocolate Easter eggs just get made in moulds in two halves and then stuck together, but you’d be wrong. The melted chocolate actually gets put into a complete mould, and then rotated slowly as it sets to make sure the chocolate gets evenly into all the corners. Very cool.
After the tour, we got to have a go at making chocolates ourselves. This bit was really fun as we got to experiment with different chocolate and flavour combinations and decorations. I’m a sucker for the classics like dark chocolate with an orange filling and milk chocolate strawberry creams.
I also ‘accidentally’ got a lot of melted chocolate and orange caramel on my hands, which meant obviously that I had to lick it all off. You know, just to be clean. And some of the toppings may have fallen accidentally into my mouth.
Thank you so much to Thorntons for showing us around the factory and letting us make a mess in the kitchens. Safe to say I think everyone there had a very lovely time indeed.
If this post has got you hankering for a fudge cube, go have a browse on the Thorntons website now.
Produced in association with Thorntons.