Life is sweet at The Cotswold Chocolate Company in Stow-on-the-Wold
Life has never been sweeter for Heidi Coles and Tony Lane since they took the decision to devote their working lives to making great chocolates.
No two days are ever the same in their Cotswold Chocolate Company shop in Stow-on-the-Wold as, like modern day Willie Wonkas, they go about the task of creating delicious mouthfuls of perfection.
Raspberry Champagne, limoncello, hazelnut praline and Sorrento orange are just some of the mouth-watering delights found in their distinctive brown and lime green-coloured assortment boxes, each of which is accompanied by the exhortation 'Eat Me, Don't Keep Me!'.
Heidi and Tony also receive lots of requests for wedding favours and special creations, the latest of which is a large bell.
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So it comes as no surprise when Heidi stands in the kitchen attached to her shop, the smell of chocolate thick in the air, and declares: "I love my job.
"Making chocolates is such a lovely thing to do and the possibilities are endless. "We're asked to do something different every day.
"At the same time 99.9 per cent of people who come in are happy bunnies – nobody moans at the thought of chocolate and they love to chat about it.
"We get a lot of customers who are tourists, which means our chocolates end up all over the world.
"Christmas was an especially fun time as we would get people coming in to buy presents – and then coming back the next week for more because they had eaten the first lot."
Business is proving especially busy in the run up to Valentine's Day and production has been stepped up to meet the demand.
"I think chocolate is popular as a sign of love because of its texture when it's in the mouth – it's the way it melts and the way it makes you feel," says Heidi.
"You can be having the worst day but pop a nice chocolate in your mouth and it just makes you feel better – and, of course, it's said to be an aphrodisiac."
Heidi and Tony first turned their attention to chocolate seven years ago, while they were running a business that provided catering for an opera house in Hampshire.
Their search for suitable products to suit the discerning palates of their customers resulted in them spending time with master chocolatiers.
"Their kitchens were much more exciting than ours," says Heidi.
"That sparked an interest and we started experimenting at home."
A combination of factors eventually led Heidi and Tony to think seriously about their future direction and they decided to pursue chocolate, visiting chocolatiers in Belgium, France and the UK and attending courses to learn artisan skills such as tempering, which gives a pleasing shine, snap and texture to their products.
"Making chocolates is quite an art," Heidi explains. "We buy in calletes, or buttons, of couverture (raw chocolate) and temper it by bringing it to certain temperatures.
"Chocolate can be quite temperamental – environmental conditions such as humidity can affect it – so all this has to be borne in mind."
Along with building their skills, they also set about sourcing the finest Fair Trade couverture they could find, along with locally-produced ingredients such as cream from Holmleigh Dairy in Moreton-in-Marsh and lavender grown in the famous Snowshill lavender fields.
"We're very passionate about using Fair Trade ingredients and in supporting farmers and growers around us," says Heidi.
The couple initially went into production on their kitchen table in their home in Bourton-on-the-Water in October 2011, making chocolates for shows and festivals and a few farm shops and delicatessens, before chancing upon their shop in Digbeth Street and opening for business there in June last year.
The premises, which gives them much more space, means there is now no limit to the couple's creative imaginations and they have already started adding new flavours to their repertoire, for which they seek to use natural ingredients.
"We weren't looking for a shop but it found us," laughs Heidi. "Our feet haven't touched the ground since.
"Previously we were working on a much smaller scale; the kitchen in the shop gives us more room to try lots of other things. There is lots of fun to be had."
Heidi and Tony's children Toby and James have provided much of the inspiration for the novelty chocolate bars sold by The Cotswold Chocolate Company.
They are also proving willing guinea pigs, happy to help their parents with research and development.
As well as learning how to work with chocolate, Heidi has also spent time researching its health benefits and has good news for those who have made watching their weight one of their new year's resolutions.
"The health benefits of dark chocolate are amazing," says Heidi. "Research has shown that it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and increases brain power.
"I've also read that a cube is better than aspirin for reducing the possibility of strokes and that it is recommended for people looking to guard against deep vein thrombosis during flights.
"So there's absolutely no reason for people to deny themselves."