Meet Cavan's master chocolatier who makes Easter eggs for a living
When Ann Rudden tells people that she makes chocolate for a living the response is generally one word: "Wow."
"People say 'wow that's a great job – you're so lucky.' But they don't realise how hard it is. Owning a small business is tough, you have to be so driven and have the passion or you won't success. I absolutely love what I do. I've travelled the world working with chocolate. I've seen so many different types of chocolates, I've tased so many different products. It is a dream job – but you have make it commercial and a viable business."
Ann had an interest in baking and confectionary from a young age. She studied bakery production in DIT Kevin Street before going on to work in the chocolate industry. In 1999, she set up Áine Handmade Chocolate in Cavan. As well as being the MD of the company, Ann is the master chocolatier.
The company, which has 12 employees, produces chocolates under its own label, as well as for other brands. This Easter it's supplying hand-made eggs to Lidl – an astonishing 50,000 of them to stock the supermarket chain's 163 stores.
It takes half an hour to make an Easter egg Ann says, explaining the process:
"We start with a really, really good quality chocolate. It's a high cocoa chocolate, with real cocoa butter and no vegetable oil, artificial colours or preservatives. It's all gluten free. The couvertuure chocolate is tempered to 30C and it's then poured into an Easter egg mould. It's then put onto a spinner and spun for 20 minutes so it gives an even shell. After it's cooled in the fridge, we wrap each of them by hand."
Ann says that, like everything, there are trends in Easter eggs.
"The Easter egg has become about, I suppose, a more wow factor with colours and shimmers. For me as a true chocolatier, I think the traditional Easter eggs made from good quality, thick chocolate in milk, white and dark is still very very popular."
Áine Handmade Chocolate produces both traditional style eggs in milk and white chocolate for Lidl's Deluxe range, as well as the more decadent Milk Chocolate and Honeycomb and Deluxe White Chocolate with Raspberries. All of the eggs are priced at €7.99.
As a master chocolatier, what does Ann consider to be the signs of a good Easter egg?
"A tempered chocolate should be nice and shiny. It will have a good snap when you break into it. When you eat it, the texture melts in your mouth and you have a nice vanilla flavour from it."
Although most of us would say that there are only three types of chocolate – milk, white and dark – Ann says that there are endless flavour options.
"Chocolate is a bit like coffee, there's so many different beans you can get. Cocoa beans come from different regions all over the world and the different climates give the beans their flavour. The Ivory Coast is known for good beans."
Thank to their rural setting, small team and strict food hygiene standards, Áine Handmade Chocolate has been able to remain safely operating in the past few weeks. As well as fulfilling the orders for Lidl, the company has been inundated with online orders from customers in the past week – to the point that the order book reached capacity and had to be closed.
However, Ann is understandably worried about what's in store for her business after the Easter rush ends.
"We built our business through a recession. We innovated our products, restarted to launch bars, got new customers... But for this it's the whole world, so there's no new markets to find and it's going to be hard. Everywhere is going to be in the same boat and it's going to be tough on businesses, especially small businesses."
Check out the full range of Áine Handmade Chocolate on their website.