York's Chocolate Story: Home of Terry's Chocolate Orange spearheads a chocolate revival

Inside York's Chocolate Story is a series of old photographs. One features hair-netted women wrapping and packing the bars, now a process done almost entirely by machine. Another has three men testing jelly for levels of wobbliness. Another features the production line in the last days of the Terry's factory, which closed in 2005.

Terry's, the company behind the Chocolate Orange and All Gold, is one of the big two that made York the titan of the British chocolate industry. Rowntree's, creator of the Aero, Kit Kat and Smarties, was the other – and that was taken over by Nestlé in 1988.

The chocolate industry never fully died in York – the city's Nestlé factory still produces more than six million Kit Kats a day – but York's Chocolate Story is part of a major resurgence.

Part museum, part hands-on attraction, York's Chocolate Story takes visitors through the history of chocolate both globally and locally. It is spread over three zones: Story Zone, Factory Zone and Indulgence Zone. 

Among touchscreen opportunities to design your own chocolate bar and live demos on how to make ganache fillings, there are some surprising insights. Rowntree's invented the Yorkie as a way of using excess chocolate it had mistakenly ordered. The Chocolate Orange was a spin-off of the long-dead Chocolate Apple.

The hand-making of the truffles quickly gets deliciously messy.

But the most interesting part of the tour is arguably the shop at the end. On sale are bars, hot chocolate powders and speciality chocs from all over the country. And a surprising number of them are from local manufacturers, such as Guppy's and Choc Affair.

There are now so many small chocolatiers that the local tourist board has put together self-guided walking tour maps, which take in both the new artisans and the sites from the city's confectionary-making past.

The new kid on the block, however, is the York Cocoa House. It offers a very different take on the traditional tea room, with everything in the afternoon tea menu containing chocolate of some description. That ranges from goat's cheese and cocoa-nib scones to a rarebit made with "chocolate stout" from a local brewery.

There's fanatical research behind the place – as demonstrated by the mini-library of chocolate books and advertising posters at the back. And care has been taken to dig out recipes so classic they border on the ancient. The hot chocolate, for example, is made to a recipe first written down in 1640.

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But what truly makes the Cocoa House special is the production area. In the mornings, in-house chocolatiers make their own products. In the afternoons, members of the public get to have a go.

The hand-making of the truffles quickly gets deliciously messy. Chocolate buttons are melted down with hairdryers. Delicious butter, choc and double-cream goo is piped into little balls via plastic bags. Dunking and rolling the balls in the bowl of melted chocolate to put on the outer layer leads to coated but highly lickable hands.

It's tremendous fun, but it's also a blast from the past – the likes of Terry's and Rowntree's started with small-scale experimentation, too.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visityork.org

GETTING THERE

Etihad has daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Manchester via Abu Dhabi. See etihad.com. Direct trains from the airport to York take about two hours.

STAYING THERE

The centrally located Best Western Plus Dean Court has doubles from £99 (A$182). See deancourt-york.co.uk.

TASTING THERE

Entry to York's Chocolate Story costs £9.95 ($18.50). See yorkschocolatestory.com.

Truffle-making sessions at York Cocoa House cost £17.50 (A$33). See yorkcocoahouse.co.uk.

The writer was a guest of Visit York.

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