Posted 15th Oct 2014
A worldwide favourite, Lily O'Brien's chocolates are a delicious treat for anyone with a sweet tooth and, in celebration of Chocolate Week (13th to 19th October), we decided to find out how it all began to inspire the inner-chocolatier in you
As chocolate bubbled away on three saucepans, Mary-Ann O'Brien glanced over at her daughter Lily, a giggling two-year-old causing her sleepless nights but endless amounts of joy, when suddenly it hit her. Her growing chocolate business should be named Lily's, which later turned into the now world-renowned Lily O'Brien's brand.
A brand synonymous with outstanding Irish chocolate, Mary-Ann has gone from making chocolate in the comfort of her own kitchen and selling her delicious treats at fairs, to being stocked in department stores, airlines and supermarkets.
It all started on a fateful trip to South Africa where Mary-Ann developed a taste for chocolate-making, and in a lovely boutique hotel in a little town called Hermanus, she began to make beautifully hand-crafted chocolates. Instructed by the hotel owner's daughter, Mandy, Mary-Ann spent her holiday moulding, melting, creating, whisking, mixing, dipping and tasting to her hearts content.
With her new found love of making chocolate, Mary-Ann returned home and began experimenting with every type of chocolate you can imagine, honing her skills and creating her signature chocolates. A restless Lily put to bed, the devoted chocolatier would stay up until the early hours creating her masterpieces, using her friends as guinea pigs when her chocolate delights were made.
When the day came that her friends were filled to burst with chocolate, Mary-Ann turned to the next logical step in her surprise venture, selling her chocolates – little did she know the success she would have. From food fairs to farmers' markets all over Northern Ireland, she found herself listed in Irish retailers in no time, before her big break came. Mary-Ann was approached by Selfridges in London to fill a large space within their store with her mouth-watering, indulgent chocolates. Seizing the opportunity, Lily O'Brien's was to become a well-known brand, not just in Northern Ireland but all over the world as orders from Australia and America flooded in.
Each country required a certain take on the delectable nibble, which to this day the Lily O'Brien's team work tirelessly to achieve. Americans enjoy the bitter, richer taste of dark chocolate, while the Irish, British and Australians lean towards the creamy milk varieties. Different flavours are also received differently by certain countries, such as adventurous Americans enjoying the mix of sweet and savoury with bacon and chocolate and the soon to be released spiced pumpkin. While the company has just developed a batch of of green tea chocolates that they believe would be perfect for the Japanese market.
Working to increase their UK presence, Mary-Ann and her now established team are dedicated to offering the latest trends and tastes, constantly innovating and developing new creations. With her own personal favourites including honeycomb crisp, ginger and dark chocolate, key lime pie, caramelised pear, fig and honey and salted caramels, she has come a long way from juggling her three saucepans and her two-year-old.
Visit www.lilyobriens.ie to find out more and to buy some of these decadent chocolates
By Lauren Morton
Images courtesy of Lily O'Brien's