Any visit to Ampleforth Abbey, the magnificent Benedictine monastery and college in the heart of the Howardian Hills should include not only the extraordinary apple orchard, but also the elegant tea room which is bristling with Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson furniture, and the Abbey shop, where you’ll find fabulous handmade chocolates.
They’re made down the road in a bespoke chocolate factory which has been fashioned out of a group of derelict farm buildings belonging to Ampleforth. It was the brainchild of Henry and Mary Scope who have an autistic child, William; their idea was a shared vision of supporting disabled young people into work. The factory has a unique purpose, designed to provide training, work experience and job opportunities for young adults with autism and associated learning disabilities. They learn practical skills including chocolate tempering, dipping and rolling, and crafting bars and lollipops.
The enterprise manufactures its own range of artisan chocolates as well as producing bespoke ones to order. Chocolatier Kala King, who trained in Belgium at the iconic Callebaut organisation, approaches her role with relish. ‘We can literally make anything in chocolate, including hand sculptured and decorated table top masterpieces’ says Kala. ‘Making chocolates from scratch is an incredibly creative thing to do, and our young adults throw themselves into it with gusto! We use the finest Belgian chocolate, and the ganache centres are made with produce from the garden.’
At the rear of the factory is a five-acre plot, acquired by the Abbey Trust in 1939, and in 1934 was used as part of the WW11 ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. Today it provides much of the fruit and herbs that find their way into the chocolates and truffles, including rhubarb and strawberries. Cider, brandy and apples come from the nearby Abbey.
‘We can be as imaginative as we like with such a beautiful product’ says Kala. ‘We’re given pretty much free rein – and at the end of it, we’ve produced fabulous chocolates!