The novel that I’m writing (28,542 words of the first draft complete, not that I’m counting) has a character who starts a chocolate business. I know, I know, Willy Wonka has already been done but that’s not stopping me. I thought it would be useful, ahem, research to visit a chocolate factory. And if you’re going to visit a chocolate factory, and you haven’t won a golden ticket, where better to go than chocolate-central, a.k.a. Belgium? So last Tuesday I went to the Eden factory in Jabbeke, near Brugge. Until recently it was a cigar factory but that business was going up in smoke so they decided to switch to making chocolates. After a chat with CEO Wim Petermans I had a guided tour by Production Director Patrick Aubrion. Before stepping onto the factory floor we donned hats, white coats and overshoes and stuck our hands in a machine that squirted disinfectant on them.
I’ve spent a lot of time in plants that print newspapers or magazines. This was similar, with its conveyor belts and wrapping machines. The main differences were that this was spotlessly clean and had giant vats which can hold up to ten tons of liquid chocolate. Oh, and obviously there were lots of busy ooompa loompas, who aren’t ever sighted in print plants. Making chocolate is an expensive business – the mould needed for just one shape of chocolate costs €15,000. I asked Patrick how he comes up with new chocolate tastes and he said he’d set up a lab at home. Apparently his wife isn’t too keen on having a chocolate lab at home so I suggested he might like to have mine – she’d love it.
Only I could visit a chocolate factory and not taste a single chocolate. None were offered and it seemed rude to ask. So, like you, I’ll have to wait until Eden chocolates go on sale in shops in the UK; I believe John Lewis will be selling them soon. Now I can weave my new-found knowledge of the chocolate business into my novel. I may even include a handful of oompa loompas.