“The inspiration for most of what we do comes from the Wexford countryside. It has definitely inspired our flavours. We look outside and see first hand what is in season and available to work with. The colours of Wexford and Ireland can be seen in the Bean and Goose packaging, from the blues and greens of the landscape to the pink of an evening sky. The topography of Last Tree Farm has been the foundation of our unique bar mould.”
These are the words of Natalie Keane, one half of Irish craft chocolate brand Bean and Goose, who describes the inspiration her home has played in the creation of their artisan chocolate.
Founded in 2014 by two Wexford sisters, Natalie and Karen, Bean and Goose came about after the pair decided they wanted to try setting up a business together:
“We were both at a point in our lives where we were ready to take an a new challenge and were looking for a business opportunity where we could work together. I had grown interested in premium chocolate and enrolled both of us on a course with Benoit Lorge in Kerry where we learnt the art of hand tempering chocolate on marble slabs. We loved this process and began exploring the possibility of working together in this area.”
She added: “We learnt about the world of premium chocolate finding the wonderful, varied tastes of single origin chocolate. We knew this was the chocolate that we would work with and we would pair it with seasonal Irish flavours to give everything we do a flavour of Ireland.”
“Beyond that, we wanted to create a relevant and beautiful chocolate brand that connected with today’s consumers, both in flavour profile and branding.”
Speaking about those ingredients, Natalie added: “Growing up, we were surrounded by great cooks using good local ingredients to create beautiful meals.
We also became proficient home cooks, although our palates are definitely more savoury in nature, which is why I think we gravitate towards using salt and herbs such as rosemary and thyme in our chocolate making.
“Some of our earliest childhood memories involve chocolate. We both have vivid memories of spending summers in Wexford with our granddad, collecting our Saturday pocket money and running to the local sweet shop to pick our chocolate for the week ahead.”
While the pair don’t have a background in the food industry, it hasn’t hindered their passion and success, with Natalie commenting:
“Karen and I don’t actually have a background in the food industry… I’m not sure that this has been a hindrance to us, I feel it may actually allow us to create a food brand that isn’t constrained by preconceived notions of the right or the wrong way to grow a food company.”
She added: “It’s important to us that Bean and Goose is not a static brand, that it is always evolving and improving. We are incredibly proud of our business. It is a business that we firmly believe in and are 100% committed to. Being sisters, the commitment to the business is a commitment to each other.”
For the first two years of their business, the chocolate was produced on traditional marble slabs: “We used the Dublin food markets to test our products, meet our early customers and gather our first stockists along the way. We knew quite early on that our gut feeling had been correct and that the time was right for a new Irish chocolate brand.”
Their creative process still begins with “an interesting single origin chocolate that has a beautiful flavour profile”. She adds: “When we have established the tasting notes of the chocolate we begin to pair it with seasonal Irish flavours and ingredients all inspired by our own gardens. We do all of this work together. When we are happy with a concept we taste test our recipes.”
Some of the flavours they use from their gardens include elderflower, lovage, gorse, blackberries , rosemary, mint, lavender, fennel and thyme, as well as a number of marigolds, scented roses and more.
“We have the pleasure of using edible flowers such as violas, marigolds, borage and scented roses. Our surroundings are our inspiration.”
When it comes to chocolate, there are certain flavour combinations we all lean towards, and Natalie and Karen are no different. Luckily, they have the skills to produce their perfect flavours:
“For me, it would be our dark chocolate bars. I particularly love the combination of fine dark chocolate and salt. Karen prefers milk chocolate and her favourite topping would usually involve Wexford lavender. Between us, we have both sides of the chocolate palette covered.”
As well as getting the taste right, Natalie believes that the story of Bean and Goose is what makes it so special: “Everything is carefully thought through and done for a reason.”
“For instance, our unique molds were designed by the team at Designgoat. Ahmad and Cian wanted to visually tell the story of our location in Last Tree Farm, Wexford and used the topography of our surrounding countryside to create the bar form.”
Bean and Goose is a collaborative brand, with the sisters enjoying “the process of creating products with other Irish producers. We work closely in collaboration with Ireland’s best food producers, designers and other makers to bring different elements to our products. This allows us to create stories, moments and memories with our chocolate.”
Some of the people they work with include Designgoat, and creative Irish illustrators like Mica Warren, Steve McCarthy, Tom Godfrey, Conor Nolan, Fatti Burke and Denise Nestor.
“We want our chocolate to be a whole food experience and we strive to create both a visually beautiful and wonderfully tasting product. That is why we work with so many talented people. For us, a great experience is always more than the sum of its parts.”
With Easter just around the corner, I couldn’t resist hearing about what Bean and Goose has planned for the chocolate lovers of Ireland. Their product is a unique experience, something that’s more evident at Easter, with the pair shying away from the Easter bunny in favour of a hare, something that plays a special part in their lives and the Bean and Goose story:
“We love Easter at Bean and Goose. We have two unique Easter products that we are very proud of. We do not have an Easter Bunny, we have an Irish Hare. Our Hare symbolises spring, folklore and stories from our childhood. Made from the finest single origin chocolate for the purist chocolate person. We also have a Single Origin Chocolate Goose Egg filled with Irish Sea Salt Caramel, a chocolate goose egg the same size as a real goose egg.”
Giving me a strong desire to head to Wexford and raid their pantry, she added: “Our name itself is a link to Wexford, which is known for its wintering bird population. One of the birds that arrive occasionally is the Bean Goose. We always aim to link back to Wexford, where we are from and the stories of our past.”
Like all siblings, working together can be an interesting experience: “It can be intense. We have to take turns leading the way. We both have different skill sets so we can let each other be boss over certain areas. Karen and I have a strong bond and our relationship as sisters is the most important one to us so we make sure that we look after it.”
Starting a business has its challenges, with the biggest being “scaling the business” and “being able to produce enough chocolate to meet demand”. But at the end of the day, Karen and Natalie have had a wonderful adventure together:
“Bean and Goose has been an amazing journey. We have had so many moments where we turn to each other and say ‘wow’ It is probably at these times that we appreciate sharing this journey together the most.”
With so many wonderful experiences and achievements, something that stands out for the pair is their Tasting Club, which Natalie describes as “something we wanted to offer for some time now and at the end of last year, it became a reality”.
Describing the Tasting Club, she adds: “With a Tasting Club subscription customers get to discover the world of single origin chocolate and see how we use our Irish location and ingredients as inspiration for our flavours. Each month our subscribers receive two limited edition bars unique to them. Tasting club Subscriptions can be used to treat yourself or to gift to somebody else. Our Tasting Club allows us to continue being creative and play with flavour.”
With so many wonderful experiences with chocolate and her sister, I couldn’t help but wonder if they would prefer to do anything else with their life:
“Not anymore. Bean and Goose is our life now. We love working together and with our team creating something that we are all truly proud of.”
So what does the future hold for Bean and Goose? Natalie says, “The future is very exciting for Bean and Goose. We want to grow the business we have with our wonderful retailers making sure that Bean and Goose is available to our customers as and when they need it.”
She added: “We will increase capacity for our Tasting Club. This has been a really enjoyable project that allows us to always keep playing with flavour and form. We began our Tasting Club by limiting the number of subscribers at a level that was manageable for us to work through logistics but now we are ready to open this up to a much wider audience in Ireland and abroad. We want to keep improving what we do, making better chocolate and products with meaning that our customers really want.”
For more information about Bean and Goose and their products, visit beanandgoose.ie.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.