For my latest interview I caught up with Simon Godsiff from New Zealand's newest bean-to-bar chocolate maker Shirl + Moss. Simon and his sister Aimee decided to start making chocolate from scratch back in 2016, and after a couple of years honing their craft they launched their first range of bars in June of this year. Simon and Aimee (pictured above) have been customers of mine for a while but I had no idea they were making chocolate, so it was a great surprise when they emailed to let me know! I've been so impressed with the delicious, high quality chocolate they're producing, not to mention the absolutely stunning presentation. A fantastic and welcome addition to New Zealand's craft chocolate scene.
What inspired you to become a bean-to-bar chocolate maker?
There is actually a single moment that kicked it all off. It was a few years ago when I was flying down to Christchurch to visit family. I was reading an article in the KiaOra magazine about Wellington Chocolate Factory, the door was opened for me that day, and I don’t mean the plane door! Before that moment I knew very little about craft chocolate. I don’t think I even knew chocolate starts on a tree. It all kind of snowballed from that point. The next day my sister and I were in the car driving to Ballantynes. After purchasing nearly every bean-to-bar chocolate they had we spent the afternoon eating it all. We were certainly looking for something to sink our teeth into. My sister and I had always wanted to create something meaningful together, chocolate just kind of presented itself to us.
What was it like learning how to make chocolate from scratch, and how long did it take you to become good at it?
It was a huge learning curve! I don't think we fully understood what we were getting into. It’s much more complex than we thought it would be. It’s one of those crafts that is built on failure, which we’ve had our fair share of. I’d say after about 6 months we were making chocolate that we were proud to share, anything before that we would hide inside our pantry, some is possibly still there! So many steps of the process are reliant on the success of the previous step. You can do everything perfect, and one small anomaly can change the entire outcome. This is why small 2-3kg test batches are really important for us. It’s a massive part of our process which does take a long time, but it guarantees an accurate blueprint that we know will get the best out of the cacao bean. I’m a pretty determined kind of guy. If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll research the hell out of it until I do. Someone once said “those who control the process, control the outcome” - that quote has stuck with me. I will dive into the mechanics of a process to really understand how and why. The downside is some painfully late nights!
You’ve named your business after your grandparents - how did they influence what you’re doing now?
We wanted to build a business based on our values and the people who we look up to. Our grandparents were a huge part of our life growing up, and still are to this day! They have the biggest hearts and possess the most encouraging, supportive, and fun attitude to life. They visited us often on the farm as kids. They would make the lengthy drive up from Christchurch and spend a good couple of months with us at a time. Shirley and Maurice, known by friends and family as Shirl & Moss, the name was a no-brainer. It’s a sweet little daily reminder of them too. There has been a few times Aimee has been mistaken for Shirl. I’ve yet to be mistaken for Moss, but I’m sure it won’t be long!
How did growing up on a farm affect your approach to making chocolate?
Growing up on a farm certainly gives you an appreciation as to where food comes from and what recourses are needed to produce it. We would help Dad with the animals, like feeding the cattle and attempting to be useful in the sheering shed. Our farm was a good 2-3 hours drive from a local grocery store so growing your own produce just made sense. Mum was exceptionally gifted in the garden. She effortlessly managed to supply a family of four vegetables for my entire childhood. Aimee and I would help in the large vegetable garden. It’s what most likely fostered our appreciation for sustainable foods. Knowing how it is grown and where it comes from. That connection to the land from an early age really stays with you.
For your first three releases you’ve used beans from just one farm - Fazenda Camboa in Brazil. How did you decide which farm to work with?
We found Fazenda Camboa pretty early on, actually before we even set up our business. They made our shortlist of cacao farms we were sampling based on bean quality. We then studied the farm’s practices in more detail, particularly workers remuneration to ensure all is fair and above board. We were really impressed with the support Fazenda Camboa offer to the local school and bus network. Finding a farm that shares similar sustainable values to us is really important. Our approach is a little different from most bean-to-bar chocolate makers. We’re more interested in exploring the full flavour potential a single farm’s bean can offer. This results in less variety of single origin bars, but a greater range of flavoured chocolate from the same farm’s bean.
What inspired your design and branding process and who did you work with on the design?
Fortunately I have a good friend who is an extremely talented graphic designer. Lucky us! Emily Macrae worked with us early on to design a brand that flowed through the packaging and bar moulds. It was Emily who presented the idea of topographic lines from aerial maps. Drawing inspiration from the area where we grew up in the Marlborough Sounds, she painstakingly traced along individual topographic lines. She then incorporated the lines into the embossed pattern on our cartons. We used a scaled up section of the same line work on our bar mould to connect the two. We always wanted packaging with a touchy-feely vibe, something tactile. Local Wellington printer Valley Print did an amazing job on our packaging; Shelly and her team were fantastic to work with. We are really happy with the result. I like to think the experience of eating bean-to-bar is not just about the chocolate inside the wrapper, it’s about that connection to the bean’s origin, the makers who craft the chocolate, and the packaging that holds it.
What are some of the benefits of making chocolate on a small scale?
The ability to be hands-on throughout the entire process is great. Once those cacao beans arrive at the door we can control every single step. It’s extremely satisfying witnessing the transformation. Also working with small quantities of ingredients allows us to be more selective when it comes to sourcing. We can have a more direct and casual relationship with farmers and suppliers.
What are some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve recently tasted? (Other than your own!)
We have our favs…those ones that stick with you. My all time favourite would be Dick Taylor’s 72% Black Fig. It’s great! I love the citrus fruits coming through, paired with that sweet fig. Delicious! Hogarth have consistently made amazing chocolate. Their Milk Hazelnut Chocolate Log is fantastic, it is literally fit for the Queen. Foundry 70% Kilombero Valley is a beautiful dark, love that one. Wellington Chocolate Factory’s 70% Peru Norandino will always hold a place in my heart. I’m also a big fan of bars from Chocolate Tree. I could keep going…
What are your hopes for the next few years at Shirl + Moss?
We’d like to expand our farm range to another continent and fully explore as many flavour matchings as we can. We’ll see where the wind takes us, another benefit of being small I guess. We are starting to dip our toes into hot chocolate which has been fun. Aimee and I have a lot of laughs while making chocolate. That loving yet brutal sibling honesty plays a big part of our method. Two years down the track and we think we’re finding our chocolate making groove. We’ve been overwhelmed at the support from the New Zealand bean-to-bar scene, it’s such a great bunch of people. We feel honoured to be part of it.
What’s your favourite thing about being a chocolate maker?
Number one test roast of a new bean, without a doubt. It’s that first reveal of what flavour has been hiding inside. Very satisfying!
Thanks so much to Simon for taking the time for this interview, as well as providing us with the beautiful photos. If you haven't tried Shirl + Moss chocolate yet then you're in for a treat. We have all three of their current range of bars available from our online store.