Manitoulin Island is known for many local delicacies; hawberries, dairy, whitefish, and soon one more unlikely treat, chocolate.
Lisabeth Flanagan has been passionately working to create a unique bean-to-bar and confectionery business, Ultimately Chocolate, from her home in Gore Bay and it has gained a loyal following.
“My Toffles have been growing in popularity, I give them out at Halloween, kids look for them at Loco Beanz, they end up in home packages for people when they leave home to go to college or move away,” She said. “It's becoming a bit of an island treat.”
Her journey started when she was 27, spending a year in France for school. She noticed two things, the local people were slender compared to the Canadians and there was practically a chocolate shop on every corner in the towns.
“There was chocolate everywhere, as well as pastries, but everywhere we looked, there was this amazing population of slender people,” she said. “I was fascinated over how they could have so much chocolate and stay slim, where in North America we worry about eating chocolate will immediately put something on our thighs.”
The big difference of French chocolate, she said, was the richness compared to North American chocolate. As soon as she returned to Canada she started to experiment with it, making cakes for friends. When she moved to Manitoulin in 2008, she was heavily into researching bean-to-bar businesses, which had just started to appear in the country. She sampled different kinds for a blog she was writing, as well as compiling for a database she kept for herself.
She started ordering what is called couveture chocolate, a type from Toronto often used in professional kitchens, from Camino out of Ottawa. Eventually she was receiving so many cocoa beans for review from other countries she had to by her own refiner. From there, she started her own bean-to-bar operation, admitting that was always her dream.
She has been experimenting with dark and milk chocolate concoctions for a year and a half, and selling them for about eight months.
Making her own bars means she has more control over what goes into them, or not go into them in her case., a common stabilizer found in chocolate.
“I fell in love with bean-to-bar chocolate,” she said. “People with food allergies can leave things out. I tend to not use soy lecithin, which is found in a lot of mass-produced chocolate (as a stabilizer). They can grind their own and make pastes in a coffee grinder or blender. You really need two or three ingredients, add any flavour, spice. It's always exciting to make your first batch of chocolate, no matter if it is good or bad, you end up loving it anyway.”
Among her products is an ever-changing variety of bars, including single-origin bean bars and limited edition flavours, pastries and truffles, as well as trademarked items like her Cacao Cookies.
She still receives beans for review. She currently has samples from Mexico, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, four types from Venezuela, three from Columbia, explaining factors like soil acidity and climate can effect the flavour of a bean, determining how long to roast and much sugar can be added to enhance it.
Among her most popular is the Toffle, a truffle concoction she invented that includes a sheet of dark chocolate taffy wrapped around a flavoured milk chocolate centre, which comes in hazelnut, mint and peanut butter.
The creation came out of a need to create a chocolate that would please both milk chocolate and dark chocolate lovers.
“My husband only liked sweet milk chocolate. He liked it right away,” she said. “He really like the milk chocolate elements inside the dark. I'd never seen anyone do that with chocolate taffy, twisted and shaped to make it look like a bonbon wrapper. Some people like the tails the most, others the creamy centre. It appeals to everyone.”
Her creations have made it to other parts of the province. The Toffles are often available for sale at both Salute Coffee Co. locations in Sudbury. Manager Tania Renelli said she initially became aware of Lisabeth and her Toffles at an event at Science North about four years ago.
“I sampled her product and was SO impressed,” she said. “Then, more than a year later when I opened Salute, I reached out to her to see if she would be interested in selling to me. It’s a great relationship and Lisabeth is dedicated to her craft. Quality and consistency – and great customer service as well. Customers love her products and they also make great gifts to spread a little love around.”
Ultimately Chocolate's website is undergoing changes, as well as new products and changing the packaging on her bars. She is planning to expand her business over the next year, which runs out of a commercial kitchen in the front of her home. Part of the plan includes purchasing a larger refiner and making more room, as well as introducing her products to other markets.