Everything we learned from an afternoon at Preston’s own chocolate factory as city named in top four for chocoholics

Beech’s Fine Chocolates are a family-run business and have produced traditional British chocolates from their Preston factory since 1920

Preston has been listed as one of the top UK capitals of chocolate. This could be no surprise for somewhere well known for being an industrial hub, but I’m sure I am not the only person who imagined a Chocolate Capital to be filled with chocolate rivers and golden tickets.

Birds Bakery, a sweet and savoury treat specialist, created a league table of chocoholic areas in the UK by analysing thousands of Google searches relating to chocolate this year, including Easter eggs, chocolate recipes, and chocolate bars. Of all the chocoholic regions in the UK, Preston came out in fourth according to new figures. Above it are Watford, Lincoln and Cambridge.

I understand chocolate to be something you’re gifted for a number of days throughout December or a hollow egg in April. When it’s not one of those chocolate-orientated months, I might sneakily add a bar of Dairy Milk to my shop when a Netflix night is calling or if I am feeling sad.

Over on Fletcher Road is Preston’s own chocolate factory. Beech’s Fine Chocolates are a family-run business and have produced traditional British chocolates from their Preston factory since 1920.

When I heard Preston was in the top five of chocolate capitals, I decided I’d give them a ring to see if there was any chance at all I could come and learn about what happens beyond the golden gates. Obviously I expected my chances to be slim, I expected entry to be as exclusive as Willy Wonka’s Factory, but after speaking to Michael Whiting who runs the factory with his brother, I was set to go. I was Charlie Bucket.

On the way I felt apprehensive. Surely the best part of chocolate is that you’ll never understand how it is made so flawlessly well. What if I was rotten? What if I got shot up the pipe straight to the Fudge Room?

Michael got me kitted up with a protective white coat and a blue hair net that I felt really brought out the colour of my eyes and we began our tour.

To begin, we went into the order room which was packed with ready-to-go boxes of anything you could possibly want. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, truffles, fondants, chocolate brazils, ginger chocolate, and finally, mint chocolate.

If you have ever been in a room that smells obviously of mint chocolate, you will know how much of a novelty it is. I imagine that’s how a dog feels when it knows your cooking sausages.

We then headed into the factory and there was so much to take in at once. While you walk through stacks of stock, you might turn your head and see a group of employees working on something else just through the curtain.

What was quickly apparent was that at Beech’s, old machinery is still very much the way forward – it’s almost like its own museum. To pan out the chocolate, they use these copper bowls which are so big the only size comparison I can think of is a tractor wheel.

Sure, there were no chocolate rivers or rooms full or trees made of caramel chips, but Michael showed us the teamwork behind picking and packing the boxes that we are so used to seeing on our shelves and it is a really humbling moment.

The boxes quickly jet down a conveyer where staff take their (quick) turn to place and pack them until they reach the end and are added to the stockpile. There is so many people behind each box of chocolate. I’m not quite over it even now.

As we continued through the factory, Michael wanted to show us the process of making a brand new type of truffle. There we met a gentleman who had worked for Beech’s since the 1960s. He was working alone and had his own copper bowl to pan the chocolate out.

By time we had reached here, Michael showed us the huge bowl of chocolate where flavoured syrups are added and mixed into the smoothest chocolate I have ever seen in my life. It literally looked like water.

A giant spoon is used to mix the huge chocolate spread and it was so satisfying to stir. Imagine a soft chocolate mix whirling in front of you like some incredible oil painting. It should be framed in the National Gallery.

We eventually left as to not interrupt the new truffle making and continued through to see the cooling room where the chocolate is laid, pressed and cut into their respective shapes. From there we saw the packaging room which had some exceptional machinery.

Throughout Beech’s Chocolate Factory, there is a stunning display of old meets new. There’s even a safe where bosses had once handed out wages. There’s also one thing really apparent. A lot of love and effort goes into your fine chocolate, whether it be a little Easter egg or a box of chocolate brazils. There is so much purpose in every step, and its pretty remarkable.

 

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