A couple of years ago I was invited to attend a fudge making experience from the team behind Fudge Kitchen. It was too difficult to resist, even with my ever increasing waist line which is supposed to be in a state of retreat. Conveniently, their Canterbury branch (one of 7 mostly located in historic cities) in only 30 minutes away which could prove to be dangerous in the future. I find easy accessibility to such hubs of deliciousness hard to resist.
Fudge Kitchen started life in Blackpool as Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen in 1983 using an ancient recipe dating back to the 1830s. It is all made by hand on large marble slabs. The shops cater to the larger tourist markets in the cities they serve alongside a loyal following of locals looking to get their fix. For those outside of reasonable travelling distance there is a mail order facility delivering throughout the UK.
It is always a pleasure to walk along the ancient streets of Canterbury, narrow lanes with independent shops intersect larger thoroughfares with the familiar high street names in abundance. You cannot escape that this is a tourist city. In the summer it is jostling with uncountable nationalities but in March, just before Spring, it is like most other historic university cities in the UK. Throngs of excitable young people mixing with an eclectic mix of locals working their way through the structure of the day they have set for themselves.
As I approached the Fudge Kitchen, I detected a faint whiff of this magical treat emanating from the store front where one of the staff was enticing potential customers in for a taste. This was the first thing that I noticed, how good the staff were. People can make or break a business and all too often we are faced with dull and gloomy staff who would prefer to be anywhere else on earth. How they retain their jobs I do not know. The polar opposite is found at the Fudge Kitchen. Super enthusiastic staff, happy, smiley, never despondent, genuinely passionate and welcoming. I am sure customers come back not only for the fudge but the banter as well. It is a good mix.
Following an introduction I embarked on my fudge making session. The Fudge Kitchen only use whipping cream and not butter in their fudge enabling them to create fudge of a intensely rich and creamy nature. By the time Mikey had finished the cream was almost at the correct temperature along with the sugar in a beautiful copper bowl heated by an intense gas burner. It was simply a case of turning the heat up a notch or two until it reached the desired temperature. The smell of the salted caramel fudge increased inline with the heat begging me to have a taste. Clearly this would be unhygienic not too mention burn me quite badly so I abstained opting to test my patience instead. Once the mixture had reached exactly 238F Mikey poured it onto a huge marble slab which also acts as a centre piece in the production area that is totally visible to the public. This process is completed multiple times per day to keep up with demand and ensuring freshness. It is wonderful to know that the piece of fudge you purchase was literally 2-3 metres from where it was made. I wondered if this was the shortest distance any product in the world has to travel from manufacture to sale? Impressive on every level.
Marble is a naturally cool material so the liquid fudge starts to set reasonably quickly. The fudge started out quite dark in colour which was a surprise given the finished colour. I discovered that it changes as it cools and is being worked. This is done by being turned over and over again with a metal like mini spade called a “creamer” before finally folding the fudge over on itself multiple times to form a D shape with a tool called a “loafer”. Once this stage is reached it is time for the cutting which was actually the hardest element of the whole process physically. Fudge is naturally sticky when made correctly so does stick to the utensil necessitating cleaning after every cut. The constant turning of the fudge is a crucial stage in it’s production. The working changes the composition of the fudge so when it sets it is soft and creamy and not flaky as you so often find with inferior examples, although some element of personal preference may come into force here.
Whilst waiting for the fudge to cool down prior to working and forming it, I was able to sample any of the flavours currently for sale. I was taken with the Hot Cross Bun flavour in particular. No pre-packed mixtures are used at all, instead everything is weighed by hand further establishing the Fudge Kitchen as real artisan producers even though on a large scale. Alongside blocks of fudge you are also able to purchase fudge in a liquid form and as a drinking fudge in a variety of flavours including chilli.
I had a throughly enjoyable time at the Fudge Kitchen and came away not only with some of the fudge I had made but 4 other flavours in addition. I had to leave for a trip to Italy the following day and on my return I discovered that my wife had demolished the lot! She commented “It was just delicious. I had meant to save you some but even though it was so rich I could not resist it!”