It was a miserable day. I'd started it in Exeter where I sidled up to a guest house and caught their wi-fi. I felt a bit dodgy but there was nowhere to park in town and it was pissing with rain. I got on the M5 up to Tiverton and ran over roundabouts and through puddles to get to oor Willie's chocolate factory. It was great to finally be there after hearing about the place for over a year. There was Willie, doing hundreds of things at once but looking fighting fit - even if he did complain of exhaustion.
The place is a warren of rooms; little units of high activity all lorded over by the heavy mechanical clunk of moving paddles and vibrating metal. In one area workers with blue hairnets wrapped freshly molded chocolate cylinders in gold foil. They were wordless in their concentration. I didn't hang around with them for long. Willie finally got off the blower and gave me a proper tour of the place.
There was a room heaving with jute sacks, full of single estate beans just arrived from the Venezuelan Cloud forest. He slit open a sack and emptied it into a waiting container. From there buckets full were thrown in the top of the enormous Bilbao roasting machine. After 20 minutes they'd come out the bottom all toasty and smelling great. Into the winnower where the shells got sucked away ready for the beans to begin the grinding and conching process.
The concher had been going on one batch for a few days, slopping the dark liquid back and forth, refining the particles for the smoothest end result. Willie lifted the lid and we both got a scoop of warm, melted Rio Caribe prime for tempering and barring up. It feels like a meal; like the ultimate in nutrition - complex and deep with notes that sing of a far flung land.
It would have been good to stay and talk all day - so many questions! But the road to Cornwall called. I loaded up with fresh supplies and thanked Willie for the bags of beans and nibs he threw in for good measure and hit the highway.
Look out for more of Willie back on the box soon....