Tuesday, 9 February 2010

bringing chocolate to St Jean de Luz

Over the last year I have had a few heated debates in St Jean de Luz. Often they are about chocolate. Parisians and Belgians insist that all British chocolate is rubbish and that only Continental European chocolate is real chocolate. Other than remind them that the European variety uses powdered milk (rather than real milk) and other chemicals (rather than natural products) I don't rise to the bait. Comparing chocolate from different countries is like comparing girlfriends and boyfriends. Beauty and taste are in the eye of the beholder.

I visited Cadbury's flagship centre of excellence in Bournville yesterday. Here chocolate is not about quick fixes and profit, it genuinely is a way of life. You only need to walk around the vast village to realise that John Cadbury tried and succeeded in creating a workplace that was ethical, effective, happy and still largely unparalleled: lovely houses for workers, village greens, football pitches, swimming pools (one for boys, one for girls), schools, colleges, etc etc. Head chocolate boffin Tony told us about the company's quaker roots, the chocolate making process and his passion for Cadbury. I have never met a more loyal and dedicated staff. Everything is beautifully manicured and everything has a hint of purple (including Bournville train station). It really is a marvel and makes the acquisition by the plastic cheese eaters even more depressing. I don't think the Cadbury culture will sit easily with American efficiency drives, I see a lot of 'streamlining' and 'synergising'.

Factories are wonderful magical places at the best of times. A factory that makes chocolate is simply amazing. The Cadbury factory at Bournville forbids photography which is why they made the documentary film 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' starring Gene Wilder (and later Johnny Depp) - fact; the film is based on this factory. Bournville is named after the little river Bourn that runs through it and a desire to be fashionably French. Man and robot dance forever in enormous rooms that smell of the finest chocolate. Conveyor belts carry millions and millions of chocolates miles and miles around innumerable bulidings. It is an awesome place (in the true sense, not as in 'this is an awesome hotdog').
Victorian architecture houses cutting edge technology and the staff, very few of whom were three feet tall and yellow, are all happy. Who couldn't be happy working in a wonderful place like this. They also have the staff shop (I bought 30 Creme Eggs, 4 Easter Eggs, 20 Buttons, 2kg Dairy Milk, 20 Fingers (for 2 regular readers!) all for under a tenner - marvellous!). As we were leaving I noted a particular favourite, the Cadbury Club complete with its own beer festival. Words can't do Bournville justice, it is unique. It won't disappear because of the sale but I fear some of the magic will be lost forever.
Basque of the day:- badger :: azkonar