We’re in the middle of a revolution. A revolution that celebrates one of York’s most famous exports and brings the city’s past into its most pleasurable present. I am, of course, talking about its association with everyone’s favourite confectionary: chocolate.
Have you ever been wandering around the city and smelt that smell? It’s not the manure that the countryside may bring, or the industrial smell that you may have to endure in other cities, it is strangely pleasant and initially, I struggled to understand what it was. I soon realised that it was the smell of the Nestle factory pumping out the charming fumes produced by the world famous KitKats or the bubbly brilliance of the Aero. The people of York literally breathe chocolate – we’re all passive chocoholics whether we like it or not.
Chocolate is entrenched in York’s history and the ‘Chocolate City’- as it was affectionately (or confectionately) known – continues to sustain its heritage. Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago, Henry Isaac Rowntree founded the nation’s favourite confectioners and began to produce well-loved chocolate (and sweets, let’s not forget about Fruit Pastilles).
The factory, now owned by Nestle, remains just outside the city walls and continues to produce much loved chocolate so that the world’s taste buds may continue to benefit from, what we can call, local produce. It doesn’t bare thinking about how Uzbekistan would cope without ‘the purple one’ in a box of Quality Street.
Predating Rowntree, more of York’s very own entrepreneurs, Joseph Terry and Robert Berry, founded the well-known Terry’s brand. Initially producing a chocolate apple, the founders realized their mistake and began producing the Chocolate Oranges that are consumed in bulk over the festive months. Unfortunately for York’s heritage, Kraft Foods bought the Terry’s brand in 2005, but it is still a huge part of the city’s chocolate history and one that it continues to celebrate.
Like me, you may not have been aware of York’s impressive confectionary history when joining the university, and you may have little interest in where your vending-machine purchases come from, but, if you’re a lover of chocolate, the city continues to offer plenty of exciting things to enjoy. As with most major British areas, the chocolate chains can be enjoyed here in York and shops like Thorntons (known for its classy gift boxes) and Hotel Chocolat (known for its free samples) should not be overlooked. But, before you graduate, why not look at what the ‘Chocolate City’ has to offer.
Little Pretty Things is a local business set up by an ex-student chocoholic. It celebrates the history of York’s confectionary and offers workshops that allow people to taste how the city’s chocolate has evolved; following its journey to the modern day. The workshops (scheduled throughout the first quarter of the year) offer a rare insight into how the city’s trademark food export was (and still is) made so that people can literally taste its history.
The company has also recently opened the York Cocoa House on Blake Street (opposite Bettys) for people to visit to enjoy hand-made, exotic chocolates. It is still relatively new to York (it was only opened by the Lord Mayor at the end of November) and is open every day for people to enjoy a chocolate-themed lunch in their novel café or to purchase all things chocolate to enjoy at home.
York’s chocolate heritage is soon to to be celebrated further when the new £2million tourist attraction, York’s Sweet Story, opens in the city center in spring. It will encapsulate York’s past association with confectionary and will encourage a continued association with it in the future. A local heritage company has worked with the aforementioned companies to offer an enjoyable experience for all ages that will help us all learn a bit about our city’s past.
As I said, we’re in the middle of a revolution. It is one that will restore York to its rightful place as the ‘Chocolate City’. So, if you were planning an anti-chocolate new years resolution, you really have come to the wrong place.