‘I got a golden ticket!’ sang Charlie Bucket once upon a time and to be honest I felt as if I had found such a prize in a bar of chocolate after finding out I was going on a tour of the Thorntons Factory.
You know Thorntons, providing us with chocolate heaven since way back in 1911. They opened their first store in Sheffield that year and haven’t looked back since. Their shops and cafes are now a familiar sight on our high streets.
A few of we food bloggers actually got ‘golden tickets’ and the gathering consisted of myself, my friend Jac from ‘Tinned Tomatoes’ (who invited me along on the trip), Janice from ‘Farmersgirl Kitchen’, Rachel Cotterill from her self-titled blog and Becca from 'Amuse Your Bouche'. Thankfully there was no Verruca Salt or Augustus Gloop joining us!
Jac and I embarked on our travels the night before and headed to Edinburgh to stay near the airport as we had an early flight first thing. We got to the airport just on time (that long-stay car park seemed so elusive)! We arrived at East Midlands Airport after a very short trip in the air and had a bit of time to spare, so headed into Nottingham for a look around. We only saw the centre but it seemed lovely. There was a very festive Christmas market on where Jac picked up a couple of presents. We also had breakfast in a lovely deli called Delilah (we both had the Portobello mushroom on sourdough toast, topped with a fried egg and truffle oil – delish).
We were then on the next leg of our journey – off to meet the others at Alfreton train station where we were picked up by taxi and taken to the wonderful world of chocolate (and toffee!).
We were met by the company’s Digital Search Manager who had arranged a top notch lunch for us in the Thorntons boardroom. He showed us the current range of products made by Thorntons including favourites such as their continental chocolates, their new Dreamy Winter Desserts collection, their classic range and of course the current favourite Christmas addition to the Thorntons family The Snowman and the Snowdog. He also talked about the history of the company and it’s current set up.
I loved their new Smiles advent calendar, full of chocolates of course, which featured a dial system on the front. You had to rotate the wheel to find the number on that day’s door. Sort of a Crystal Maze of calendars.
We were then taken over to the factory. The company are, understandably, very strict about hygiene and we had to get suited up in overalls and white Thorntons issue shoes. My beard snood was very fetching I’m sure you’ll agree. No aftershaves or perfumes were permitted or any jewellery (apart from a wedding band). We also had to scrub up like surgeons before going into the main factory part itself. You can be rest assured that your Thorntons products are very sterile before they get to you! In fact, we couldn’t take any cameras in with us, so Thorntons kindly sent us some photographs to share. However, we did sneak one picture in before going into the factory - we look fetching don't we?
We walked down to the factory floor and saw Easter eggs being made. Yep, Christmas productions finished a while ago and they are a few months ahead of the game in Thorntons (although Easter eggs will probably be on your shelves quite soon). Large arms swirled chocolate around the plastic moulds ready to be popped out and packaged into festive Easter boxes.
There were pipes all around us, overhead, travelling down, full of chocolate which they have brought in each day already tempered, ready to use. We were let loose on a nougat casket – called a Continental Nougat Delight. We were each kindly allowed to pipe chocolate on top of a casket, before filling it with chocolates. It was harder than it looked and mine was a bit skeewhiff, but you’ll be glad to know I got to take this away with me so it won’t be hitting your shelves anytime soon.
We were then walked through to a different area, where the smell changed completely – from chocolate to toffee. We saw the Special Toffee mixture getting blended in huge mixers ready to pour into trays waiting underneath each bowl. A clever contraption is then rolled over the tops of trays pouring the right amount of molten toffee into each one, ready to cool with big fans.
We then went into another room where the slabs of set toffee were placed on an upward conveyer belt where they were then broken into pieces. They travelled into a spinning tunnel which sorted out sizes of toffee. If they were too big or too small they were no good and they got melted down to be used again. The pieces that did fit the bill then get whisked off ready to be boxed and shipped off to Thorntons stores.
We saw other processes too, like fondant fillings for the chocolates being made and bars being enrobed in chocolate, in several steps. It was really interesting. To finish with we had a little tasting session at the Visitor Tasting Station on our way out of the factory. I was quite reserved believe it or not.
We then went back over to the other building for a little session on icing. We were each given a plaque and some bags of icing to decorate them with. As you can see, I need way more practice.
To finish with John, the digital search manager, then told us how Thorntons pride themselves on still having that personal touch. Although the scale on which they operate now means a lot of things have to be automated, they still have certain tasks which can only be done by hand. And everything is done in house from graphic design, through to flavour development and packaging.
We left with the waft of chocolate still lingering up our noses and bags full of chocolate! Aside from the plaque and the nougat casket, we each received a box of personalised Continental chocolates with our blog names on top (the box of chocolates are well gone now, but the others are going to be Christmas gifts!).
We were then put up for the night in a very swish hotel The Derbyshire in South Normanton, quite close by. We all had a slap up meal before I headed to my bed first, wuss that I am!
We flew back home the following day after a great experience. The people at Thorntons were very friendly and generous and I want to say a huge thanks to them. I will never go into my local Thorntons shop now without thinking of the hard work that goes into making their tempting goodies.
Here are the other write-ups about the trip – so you can see what I have forgotten!
Rachel Cotterill - Rachel and the Chocolate Factory
Farmersgirl Kitchen - Five Go To Chocolate Heaven
Amuse Your Bouche - Cranberry and White Chocolate Skillet Cookie
Tinned Tomatoes - Inside Thorntons Chocolate Factory
Disclosure Statement. I have not been paid to write this post. I attended the factory tour and received travel, accommodation and sustenance gratis. I also received free goods from Thorntons. Any opinions expressed are my own and are not endorsed in anyway by Thorntons. Factory photographs are provided courtesy of Thorntons and used with their permission.