If you’re looking for unusual flavours inspired by the Scottish food scene which fare perfectly in chocolates, Braemar Chocolate Shop is the place to visit.
When husband and wife team Dave and Cathy Williams spotted a shop for sale on their travels last year, the seed of moving their well-established chocolate operation from Shetland and Orkney to the mainland was planted.
By the time they had made it back to Shetland on the ferry, plans to relocate their lives to Braemar were underway, and after successfully securing the premises, they packed up and headed to the Scottish Highlands.
A former military professional, Dave had spent 26 years working as a chef in the army and on leaving, decided to launch a chocolate business where he could enjoy being creative and uncover the science behind the much-loved cocoa product.
Their chocolatier journey started in May 2016 in Lerwick, and now, the new Braemar Chocolate Shop services the local community and UK-wide customers with their handmade and hand painted delights.
He said: “We opened our first chocolate shop in Shetland and then in 2017 we opened a shop in Orkney. There’s a lot of cross pollination of business across the islands and it seemed a logical step.
“When I was 16, I joined the army as a chef and 26 years later I left. I didn’t want to be doing management roles and I’ve always loved the science of chocolate as it is very technical and I loved the challenge and creativity. We knew there was a market on the islands with the cruise ships but it is very remote and we both have family on the mainland so we wanted to be closer to everyone.
Cathy added: “We got the shop in September and spent a frantic couple of months getting planning permission and getting it open. We had around nine days trading before Christmas. At one point we had to close because we had sold out of everything and had to make more chocolates. Lockdown happened on Boxing Day so we closed our doors on Christmas Eve.
“The local support was incredible around that time and it has been non-stop since opening last month.”
Watch Dave make some chocolates
Incorporating a variety of local and Scottish produce including gin, whisky, rum, honey, bread and cheese into their chocolates, the products at the Braemar Chocolate Shop are a flavour explosion, with some unusual ones proving a hit with locals.
“We’re not a bean-to-bar chocolatier – we source chocolate from all over the world. We love Scottish food and I think the food here is really underrated,” said Cathy.
“We’ve paired some of our favourite Scottish foods with chocolate and we use whisky and gin, local honey, rum from Caithness, sea salt from Shetland, vinegar from Orkney, blue murder cheese, coffee, sourdough for our toast and marmalade chocolate. It is really interesting pairing them all.
“We have an ancient juniper forest next to the village and we realised we weren’t using any juniper in our chocolate so we’ve now incorporated that into one of our pralines – it is a fresh mint white chocolate ganache with a dark chocolate juniper ganache underneath.
“I might have an idea sometimes and Dave will say ‘Oh God that isn’t going to work’. The port and blue murder cheese was our most controversial but it is a village favourite now. Our toast and marmalade one is massively popular, too. We’ve spent two months trying to get a cranachan recipe cracked and we’ve finally got it.”
Dave added: “We’ve made a Braemar bar with a local honey. We’ve caramelised the chocolate and added Braemar honey into it and we have a picture of a stag on it – it doesn’t get more Highlands than that!
“I’m the chocolatier as such but we both have a hand in the ingredients we use and the flavours we create. I’m more hands-on back of house and Cathy focuses on front of house, the website, marketing and our social media. We want to ensure we can meet demand and get all of the online orders out and make sure we’ve got enough chocolates in the shop for those in the village.”
Works of art
Hand painting every chocolate takes time and Dave says he and the other member of staff in the kitchen usually make hundreds of chocolates a week.
Dave said: “It takes days to make around 700 of them. Our fridge can hold 3,000 chocolates and we will fill it twice a week at least. That’s the capacity we can hit – although we’re not filling it all the way every time. The display fridge in the shop holds 250 chocolates in it and we’re refilling it at least once a day.
“There’s a viewing window in the shop so that you can watch the chocolates being made by hand. We thought it was really important for us if we are saying they are handmade in Braemar, that people can actually see the process.”
Kathy added: “When restrictions lessen and more people are allowed in the one space at any one time we’ll open in the evenings and have tasting events and teach people how to make truffles and that sort of thing.
“The chocolates are very attractive and any that come out of the moulds cracked, then it gets added to our sample tray which are the ones that didn’t pass the beauty parade. When customers are in the shop they can sample them this way. People like to choose their own boxes as you can really tailor it to their tastes.”
Chocolates bars are priced from £5.75 and create your own boxes start from £9.50 for six.