Regular readers might remember that last year I had my first taster of Caithness Chocolates, and I wrote a little post about the flavours I tried! Now that we have settled into Caithness life for a little while, I felt the time was right to find out some more about these delicious treats! Ruth actually got in touch with me first, as we are both Labrador owners we regularly meet along the river when we are walking Bartie and her pooch Jess.
She’s been a mine of information about the local area, and does a ton of work with others in improving the paths around Wick to make them more pleasant to walk along. But, Ruth’s day job is being a Caithness chocolatier, and so I met up with her to find out what it’s like to run a micro business in the north of Scotland.
Ruth had a variety of jobs before forming Caithness Chocolates, including teaching English overseas for a years, and promoting STEM within the highlands of Scotland as a consultant. But, as time went on, she considered other career paths and recognising the quick continual growth of the food and drink industry within Scotland, settled on a life of chocolate making!
Ruth obviously had to undergo a lot of skill development in order to make high-quality chocolate confectionery, and went straight to the top for her training – undertaking classes with the UK heat winner of the World Chocolate Masters – Ruth Hinks from Cocoa Black in Peebles (I had forgotten that I too had visited Cocoa Black for a hot chocolate once and it was amazing!). The classes taught key decorating techniques and essential processes such as tempering chocolate.
There was also the business side of things that Ruth had to get to grips with, and government agency Business Gateway provided assistance in the form of accounting courses which were helpful for Ruth to get to grips with business basics. Ruth freely admits that this side of things are not her favourite, in fact she describes admin as something which “eats away at my soul!” (which was particularly funny for me, as I am an administrator and quite enjoy admin 😊) and also self-promotion as something that she finds difficult. There’s also the age-old issue of additional delivery charges on some essential ingredients which incur costs for small businesses, which add substantially to running costs.
But, there’s lots that she loves about being her own boss and working with chocolate – the creative process of working out the best flavours and designs, keeping aware of food trends on platforms like Instagram, as well as working with other business on collaboration projects. A local collaboration is with the Caithness Broch Project where Ruth makes a chocolate broch (well named as a Brochlate!) for new members who support this project.
Ruth enjoys collaborating with many other food and drink businesses in Caithness, incorporating their flavours into her chocolates. Her Rock Rose Gin chocolate was a Great Taste award winner in 2015 and she also uses Caithness Honey, Old Pulteney, and Wolfburn whiskies in Caithness Chocolates.
When it comes to celebration days and festivals, like other makers and crafters, Ruth has to plan ahead when it comes to thinking of original ideas to sell.
There’s always an element of risk, as Ruth doesn’t know what will sell well until she tries, and it could take 20 different ideas before you get the one idea that is really popular. At Christmas she made advent calendars containing chocolates flavoured with 6 different Scottish gins, and for upcoming Easter this year, she is selling a new large Easter egg with a beautiful, almost space-age speckled design cascading down the sides, alongside a selection box of speckled mini eggs (trust me, a lot better than your Cadbury’s mini eggs!).
As you can see from my photos, the eggs and chocolates are stunning – works of art which almost look too good to eat! Ruth also loves using fruit, and a current favourite of hers is to stuff juicy Medjool dates with nuts and dipping in chocolate – which I can vouch are just delicious!
You can order Caithness Chocolates online, or if you are local to Caithness in the following stockists year round: JA Mackay in Thurso, Bord L’eau restaurant in Wick, Forse of Nature, The Gallery at John O’Groats, Dunnet Bay Distillers, Natural Retreats at John O’ Groats, The Pier in Lairg, and The River Bothy in Berriedale)
Thanks to Ruth for her time in assisting me prepare this post, and for the delicious chocolates!