Tucked away in a beautiful old Cotswold stone building in Stow-on-the-Wold is one of the very best artisanal chocolate shops the greedy, shopaholic Foodie Bugle Reporters have found. Housed in what was once one of Stow’s oldest bakery shops, Katherine Abel originally brought a different kind of baking back to this old wool trading town, as she is a master patissier, having trained in Manchester. Over the five years that she has been trading here, however, she switched to just producing artisanal chocolates, fresh truffles, dipped fruits, fondants, caramels, pralines and, of course, Easter eggs.
In French the word “miette” means a sweet, little thing. From the pavement, through the leaded glass windows, you can see the twinkling lights inside and lots of bright, sweet little things in rows, beckoning you in, round a little corner door and through the threshold. Once in, you are caught, all resistance futile.
The shop is quite tiny, and divided into little alcove rooms. It is as pretty as a picture, and every little girl’s dream shop, filled with colourfully decorated treats, every shelf heaving with jewel coloured ribbonned boxes, chocolate ducks, hens, eggs and sweets all lined up in neat little rows. The sheer range and volume of the work here is really remarkable.
The aroma in the shop is testimony to Katherine’s skill as a chocolatier, and to the talents of her team, Sharon, Isabelle and Abi. She only uses ethically sourced superior Carenero cacao, which is made from the cacao beans that are grown by the Aprocao co-operative of El Rey, Venezuela and it is turned into couverture for the European export market in Venezuela, and not sent abroad for processing, as is the norm. The cacao bean farmers are paid above the market rates. For some of their fine chocolates they work with Myao 61% Carenero bean dark chocolate and Caoba 41% Carenero bean milk chocolate, as well as Icoa Carenero bean white chocolate.
Katherine uses organic eggs from the Barrington Estate, organic milk from The Cotswold Dairy and nuts from the Infinity Workers Co-operative.
The smell in the shop is quite nutty and earthy, with undertones of vanilla, caramel, almonds and wood. Real chocolate has so many different, lingering and layered aromas and taste notes, unlike confectionery chocolate. There the cacao butter and cacao solids are replaced mainly with sugars and vegetable fats. To walk into a proper, old fashioned artisanal chocolate shop at Easter time is a true delight for the senses.
Approximately 60% of what they sell in the shop is made by hand. Kathryn believes that Stow is a town that appreciates good, artisanal food and visitors are attracted to the small, independent shops that offer quality products with personal service and craftsmanlike skill. At the till everything is individually wrapped in cellophane, different ribbons are chosen, and there is a wooden box on the floor that is filled with every colour of the rainbow. Kathryn jokes that she needs to marry a haberdasher.
Armed with black paper bags filled to the brim with goodies you feel that you are part of something special. This is the best way to celebrate Easter, with the magical alchemy of flavour, beauty and skill in your arms, and the fragrance of bitter-sweet cacao still lingering as you walk down the street.
Gloucestershire GL54 1BN
Telephone: 01451 833543