Approximately 10,800 kilometers or 6,700 miles.
This is how long Madagascan cacao has to travel to reach Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. It’s a long journey from the African island (the 4th biggest island in the world) and the European island that only counts 330,000 inhabitants. Two places with opposite climates, lifestyles and stories, and yet brought together by a special food: chocolate.
Because this is the power of chocolate: breaking down every barrier between races, religions and nationalities. As one of the most appreciated foods all over the world, it connects people that would have never looked at each other otherwise.
So it happens that in 2013 the craft chocolate fever decided to reach Kjartan Gíslason in Iceland. The story of Omnom Chocolate began.
It didn’t take long for Omonom Chocolate to grab the attention of craft chocolate lovers. With a catchy packaging and flavorful chocolate, Kjartan’s bean-to-bar creations surpassed national boundaries quickly. Omnom Chocolate is now sold in specialty stores all over the world and its factory has been visited by many fellow chocolate makers curious to see what was going on in such an interesting location.
Michael Ryan, chocolate maker and project manager, gives us some inspiring insights on the story, the mission and the future goals for Omnom Chocolate.
Omnom Chocolate is now one of the most appreciated craft chocolate brands on the market. How did you guys even start making chocolate?
“Omnom started making chocolate when founder Kjartan Gíslason began testing batches in his home kitchen. It wasn’t until after the first few beans that he realised how inventive chocolate making could be. From there, the company moved into the petrol station and ordered beans bag by bag.”
What were the first Single Origin bars that Omnom Chocolate sold on the market? And how did you find trustworthy suppliers when you were just beginners?
“The first single origin bars Omnom sold were Madagascar 66% and Papa New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is no longer in our line up, but Madagascar still remains as one of our favourites. It’s also one of our most awarded bars.
Trustworthy suppliers came from the expansion of our test batches. Once we could start buying more than a single bag at a time, it gave us more leverage. But for the most part, it’s now much easier to find fine flavour cacao and get it even all the way up to Reykjavík.”
What do you think are the biggest strengths and the biggest weaknesses of making chocolate in the northernmost capital of the world?
“The biggest strengths of making chocolate here are: the clean renewable energy and the allure of Icelandic culture. The biggest weakness in making craft chocolate here is the sheer distance we have to get everything to travel. Often times we’ll be sitting around polishing moulds until a shipment arrives, then we go crazy making chocolate!”
You seem to always have visitors in your factory, especially craft chocolate makers that travel the world just to come visit you. What makes Omnom Chocolate one of the most innovative companies that other brands look up to?
“We do always have visitors! It’s the best part of our factory and location. New flight stopovers from North America to Europe and vice versa are making it easier and cheaper than ever for new people to discover what Iceland has to offer.
I suppose we’re innovative and alluring just because of how playful we are. Our brand and design definitely translates that message, and you can tell that we’ve made a playful company when you visit the factory. At the end of the day we’re serious and get the work done. We just schedule and plan experimentation and team building into that schedule daily.”
Now we are curious to know. What are the preferences and traditional flavors of Icelandic consumers when it comes to chocolate?
“Icelandic consumers weren’t too picky about their chocolate until we came on to the scene. Of course Lakkrís (liquorice) is very popular here. That’s why we wanted to create a chocolate bar with strong black liquorice flavour. Chocolate is very important when it comes to the holidays of course. For Easter it is very traditional to have a few chocolate eggs filled with candies and a small message inside. We’re currently cooking up some ideas for next year.”
What’s next for Omnom Chocolate? Are you planning to expand production or to keep focusing on the quality of your chocolates? Should we expect new exciting origins?
“Omnom has a lot coming up. Now that we’re in a full factory space, we’ve stabilised our production. Expanding to our current space hasn’t meant any loss of quality though, if anything it has improved many of our bars. We’ve just introduced a new origin, Nicaragua, and we’re very excited about it.
It’s the first chocolate Omnom has made where we visited the cacao farms in person. That was an incredible learning experience for us. Beyond new origins, we’ll have new projects coming up this summer for Reykjavík Pride, and then later in the fall for the upcoming holiday season. Many big, exciting things.”
What pieces of advice would you give to aspiring craft chocolate makers?
“The biggest advice we could have for an aspiring craft chocolate maker is taste and learn. Find as many bars from other companies as you can. Get sample beans from every cacao farmer that will give them to you. Tasting all these different things will give you a better discern of flavours for your own creations. And along the way you’ll end up contacting other makers of bars that you liked the most. We’ve always found that everyone in this industry is friendly and willing to help, because in a lot of ways we are all still figuring it out.”
A big THANK YOU to Michael for this sneak peek into the world of Omnom Chocolate!
Have YOU tried Omnom Chocolate bars from Iceland?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.