Wexford farm behind coveted chocolate creations

Last Tree Farm in Ferns, Co. Wexford, is the idyllic setting for Bean and Goose chocolate, which has chocoholics salivating this Easter.

Its seasonal treats include a chocolate goose egg; a chocolate goose; and a chocolate hare.

Behind the coveted craft brand are sisters Karen and Natalie Keane who grew up in London but who moved back to their family roots in rural Co. Wexford. With chocolate sparking happy childhood memories, they saw it as the ideal basis of a rural enterprise.

“In 2014, we were looking for a business we could run from the countryside. I love animals and wanted to live on the land,” said Karen Keane who moved back to Wexford with her husband 12 years ago.”Natalie had already relocated to Wexford from London, and my husband and I bought Last Tree farm which comprises 9ac.”

What was a hobby of chocolate-making developed into a small self-financed business after the sisters trained with Lorge Chocolatier, Kenmare.

They buy in single-origin chocolate and combine it with Irish flavours such as Irish Atlantic sea salt; Wexford honey; and herbs from their own garden.

“We started off hand tempering the chocolate on a marble slab, which is the traditional way of making chocolate, but now we use specialised equipment to make it up.”

As they grew, the Keanes got funding from their local Enterprise Office, and now that they are exporting to the UK and US, they are receiving Enterprise Ireland support. They employ four people.

“We supply 70 independent shops in Ireland, including Avoca and Fallon and Byrne, making up to 2,000 chocolate bars a week in our HSE-certified kitchen,” said Karen Keane.

Living in a scenic rural setting is key to the success of the venture, she said. “Our product and packaging reflects the changing seasons and landscape,” said Karen Keane who keeps donkeys, one of which was a wedding present; chickens; and four Scottish deer hound dogs, on the farm.

It has been an organic growth for the business. We started small by choice – concentrating on the flavours and how we presented the product, and scaled as the market allowed.

“This year our focus is on exports. We have also just launched an on-line shop, which is really important to us, given our rural location.”