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What are Radol'ca's boutique chocolatiers preparing for this year's Radovljica Chocolate Festival?

20.03.2023 10:34

Radol'ca's chocolatiers are already getting ready for the 10th Radovljica Chocolate Festival.

Radol'ca truly is a 'sweet' destination, not just due to its rich tradition of beekeeping and excellent honey, but also because of its exceptional chocolate. The Gorenjka chocolate factory has been present in the municipality of Radovljica for over a century, and soon – 15th and 16th April to be precise – the town will be hosting the 10th Radovljica Chocolate Festival. Among the Slovenian and foreign chocolatiers, this year two chocolatiers from Radol'ca will be taking part in the festival: Hiša čokolade Molinet and Radolška čokolada. Are you interested in what they are preparing for this year's festival?
Let's first head to the hamlet of Lipnica near Kropa, where, in close proximity to the local primary school, the Hiša čokolade Molinet chocolatier has stood for many years. In recent times, young Maks Pogačnik, who took over the reigns of the chocolate workshop from his father Uroš, has been creating sweet treats with a generous measure of precision.
Molinet – a history dating back 20 years
Maks Pogačnik trained to be a chef at the Radovljica College of Hospitality and Tourism and is now studying for a degree at the Bled College of Hospitality and Tourism. Ever since he was young Maks has been involved in working with chocolate, and as a teenager he took part in the first-ever Radovljica Chocolate Festival. At that time, Maks and his father demonstrated how a chocolate tempering machine works – this is a piece of equipment that heats chocolate up to a certain temperature. “Everyone was enthusiastic,” recalls the young head of Hiša čokolade Molinet, when referring to his recollection of the first festival.

Chocolate has been a part of the Pogačnik family's life for many years, as Maks's parents, Melita and Uroš, worked at the Gorenjka chocolate factory. “Approximately twenty years ago, Melita, then a food technologist, asked my father if he would start making chocolates. He attended a training course and soon thereafter set up a chocolate workshop in the extension of the family house,” recalls Maks Pogačnik, when talking about the beginning of Hiše čokolade Molinet a distant twenty years ago.


Maks Pogačnik took over the running of the Molinet chocolatier last year, which was set up in the family house in Lipnica near Kropa by his father Uroš.


Rum in a chocolate 'glass'
So, what does the word 'molinet' mean? “It's a special curved rod that the Aztecs and other ancient cultures used to whip chocolate with water. This produced a mixture that could be used in cooking,” explains Maks, who at the beginning of April last year took over the running of the chocolate workshop in Lipnica, and just a few weeks later he was among the stallholders offering their sweet treats to visitors of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival. 
Last year, when his takeover of running the chocolate workshop played out very quickly, Maks only had one small stall at the festival, on which he offered eight types of chocolates. For those over the age of 18, he made something extra: the finest rum served in a small chocolate 'glass'. What is he planning for this year's festival? “This time I'm making even more types of handmade chocolates, i.e. ten,” says a smiling Maks Pogačnik, adding that rum filled chocolate 'glasses' will be available this year too.


At the festival, you will recognise the Hiša čokolade Molinet chocolatier by its colourful handmade chocolates.


A medal, roulette and third place
You will be able to recognise the Hiša čokolade Molinet stall at the festival by the colour of its chocolates, as, thanks to his arstic flair, Maks Pogačnik pipes coloured patterns on his chocolates. He makes them by hand, with precision and in such a way that he imbues carefully selected flavours into the chocolates.

There's something else that he enjoys: making chocolate statues and other figures, which has opened doors for him to also work with neighbouring tourist destinations, for example, Bled. In cooperation with the Bled Institute of Tourism the young master chocolatier has made a chocolate medal with the image of Arnold Rikli to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the famous healing pioneer.

Some other chocolate masterpieces have come out of the chocolate workship in Lipnica near Kropa, as in the past, for the Radovljica Chocolate Festival, Maks also came up with a chocolate roulette and made the most delicious skis – from chocolate, of course!

And not forgetting that the chocolate that Maks Pogačnik made for last year's 'Best Chocolate' competition at the Radovljica Chocolate Festival took third place. It consisted of a dynamic mixture of caramel with the flavour of zaseka (minced bacon lard). “I'm also working on a mixture of two flavours for this year's festival,” says Maks, proudly adding a few more details – when making chocolates, he uses some of his father's recipes as well as some he has come up with himself, of course, with the help of his sister Katja, his friend the chef Davor Druzinec, and the staunch support of his mother Melita, who to this day still works at the Gorenjka Chocolate Factory.


Radolška čokolada and the love of the Mikelj family
At last year's competition, which took place as part of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival, first place was awarded to the crispy organic buckwheat chocolate made by the Mikelj family in its Radolška čokolada boutique chocolatier, which in October 2021 the family opened at the entrance to Radovljica's old town centre. 


The Mikelj family opened Radolška cokolada, which is located at the entrance to the old town of Radovljica, the year before last.


We asked Nataša Mikelj, who formerly worked in tourism, how the family came to begin its chocolate story in the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nataša explained that the idea had been maturing for quite some time. “We had been emphasising for some time that Radovljica is the 'sweetest' town in Slovenia and had also been trying to persuade various chocolatiers to open a chocolate shop in Radovljica. But no one had opted to take up our invite,” says Nataša, who previously worked as the director of the Radovljica Institute for Tourism and Culture and who was one of the initiators of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival.


The year 2021 was decisive
She continues: “Then along came the pandemic. The world came to a standstill and we all started to think somewhat differently. Together with my husband Gregor, who at the time worked in the casino industry, we decided that we had done all we could in our jobs and we came to the conclusion it was time for a new step.” 

The pair initially began making their first chocolates in their garage at home, and also sought help from Samo Osmanchevich, the founder of the Ljubljana Rajska ptica (Bird of Paradise) chocolatier. “After a few months of sharing our chocolates among neighbours, they had had enough of us. An opportunity arose to set up a workshop in this building, which was a former dye works, and with the help of an investor that's what we did,” continues Nataša, who during our chat underlines several times that the decision to open Radolska cokolada was the right one and it is because of that decision that the couple can now honestly say: “We’re happy.”


Choosing ingredients carefully is key
While Nataša runs the sales side of the business, it is her husband Gregor who comes up with the flavours. Both of them pay particular attention to the ingredients, about which Nataša emphasises: “We buy the cocoa we use from the Italian family-run company Icam, which is based north of Milan. This sustainably oriented factory, which has been owned by the Agostini family for four generations, buys cocoa direct from cooperatives, i.e. from associations of small farmers. All the cocoa that we use is single origin, which means that it is possible to determine from which plantation every piece comes. For example, for our milk chocolate we use cocoa from a plantation in Peru, while for our dark chocolate we use Ecuadorian cocoa.”

Nataša emphasises that in their boutique chocolatier they are also very particular when it comes to other ingredients: “We have tried numerous hazelnuts, but the ones we liked the most were the ones we found at a small farm in Piemonte in Italy. The hazelnuts are roasted for a longer time at a lower temperature, which preserves all the flavour – they really are amazing!” The couple's precision in carefully choosing ingredients is also attested to by the fact that, in the search for pistachio nuts, they visited a factory north of Rimini.


While Nataša Mikelj is the head of sales, her husband Gregor comes up with the flavours.


And then there are the numerous local flavour for which Radolška cokolade has become known far and wide. “The honey and pollen that we use in our chocolates is produced by beekeepers in Gorenjska. We get our rose water from Goriska brda, the walnuts are Slovenian, as is the buckwheat. Where we use alcohol as a flavour, we add Slovenian fruit brandy, walnut brandy and pear brandy,” mentions Nataša, adding that the tarragon used in their chocolates grows in the family garden.
The winner at last year's festival
So, what is Radolška cokolada preparing for this year's festival? They will have a stand in the park as well as an open day in the chocolate shop, which is located at the entrance to Radovljica's old town. “We will offer visitors everything we have – from individual chocolates to chocolate bars with various additions, chocolate spreads and more. If it is warm weather, we will also offer ice-cream,” says Nataša, outlining the wide range of sweet treats, adding that the chocolate with crispy organic buckwheat, which was the winner of the 'Best Chocolate' competition at last year's festival, will also be available this year.


You can try the sweet treats from Radovljica's chocolatiers at this year's 10th Radovljica Chocolate Festival.


The 10th anniversary edition of the Radovljica Chocolate Festival will take place on 15th and 16th April. Excellent sweet treats, a varied accompanying programme and a series of chocolate surprises await. We invite you to visit Honestly Sweet Radol'ca!

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