Few of us need any encouragement to indulge our love of chocolate but, for some unusual treats, you shouldn't miss the International Festival of Chocolate

In rural Carmarthen, an hour and a half out of Swansea, is the country's only chocolate farm. The Welsh Chocolate Farm, as it styles itself. This summer no fewer than 90,000 people made a pilgrimage to this unlikely temple, an otherwise ordinary farm of some 140 acres. It boasts neither cacao plantations nor any living farm animals at all, but its owner, chocolatier Elizabeth Jones, can parade a feast of edible chocolate animals, pigs, lambs, horses, rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants in front of her visitors.

In rural Carmarthen, an hour and a half out of Swansea, is the country's only chocolate farm. The Welsh Chocolate Farm, as it styles itself. This summer no fewer than 90,000 people made a pilgrimage to this unlikely temple, an otherwise ordinary farm of some 140 acres. It boasts neither cacao plantations nor any living farm animals at all, but its owner, chocolatier Elizabeth Jones, can parade a feast of edible chocolate animals, pigs, lambs, horses, rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants in front of her visitors.

If you can't get to Wales to experience the phenomenon, there is a chance to see it in London next month when the farm will be represented at the second International Festival of Chocolate, held at the Royal Horticultural Hall in Victoria.

The main chocolate companies - Thorntons, Lindt, Neuhaus and Green & Black, the pioneers of organic chocolate, will of course be among the 40-odd exhibitors. But there are plently of less predictable stalls, including that of Picnic Fayre from Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk (of all places), who sell a searingly-hot chilli and chocolate spice paste devised by chef Steven Wheeler. To make it, bitter chocolate is combined with hot dried chillies, toasted nuts, fresh vanilla, garlic and a blend of many other spices. It is an essential ingredient for Mexican moles (chicken and turkey stews).

Another company, Choccywoccydoodah from Brighton, will be displaying fanciful chocolate cakes big enough to serve several hundred ("baroque Cherubic fantasies and decadent Gothic gargoyles"), and Patty Wood & Co are exhibiting their chocolate worms, maggots, spiders and Monty Python range which includes Lumberjack Fudge and Dead Parrots.

Even more off-the-wall has to be the stall of Youngs, the Wandsworth, South London, brewers, with their double chocolate stout, a combination of chocolate malt, real dark chocolate and a full-flavoured dark beer.

In this context the Welsh Chocolate Farm sounds positively normal, and indeed offers one of the widest selections of chocolates in the country. There are over 190 different handmade lines: truffles, fondant chocolates with citrus and strawberry flavours, milk chocolate bars, sugar-free chocolates, organic chocolates, as well as shameless tourist bric-a-brac such as moulded Welsh pointy hats.

Elizabeth Jones's decision to create a chocolate farm came about purely by chance. Ten years ago, when she and her husband Alan were working at Central Television in Birmingham, they felt a longing to find a country retreat. Elizabeth, who had taken a six-month course in chocolate-making in Belgium, was sure they could make a go of setting up a business, even if the site of their prospective new home was remote. Initially she would simply make chocolates. But then they realised that the very activity arouses interest and excitement (think of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and the idea of a chocolate farm was born.

Farm buildings were converted into factory premises and a tea room was built. At the height of the tourist season they have a team of 10 servicing the farm, mostly Welsh-speaking locals. They give classes in chocolate-making and invite children to join in. The annual list of visitors feeds an already large mail order database. "We specialise in satisfying individual requests. None of the big firms will do that."

The remote location hasn't proved a disadvantage. "The one snag is that a lot of people say it is difficult to find us. So I've had a special map made. In chocolate."

That the British are a nation of chocoholics has never been in doubt. We are, per capita, the world's major consumers (along with the Americans), but purists still argue that Cadbury's Dairy Milk is not real chocolate.

Real chocolate contains up to 70 per cent cocoa solids, and cocoa butter (the name given to the oil of the tropical cacao "bean"). Cocoa butter is unique in that its melting point is the same as our body temperature, which is why it remains firm until placed on the tongue, when it melts and delivers its exquisite palate of flavours.

In a milk chocolate bar, cheap vegetable oil is substituted for the cocoa butter and the main ingredients, milk powder and sugar, are simply flavoured with low-grade cocoa. The difference between a milk bar and gourmet chocolate is comparable to that between plonk and a vintage claret.

The International Festival addresses itself in the main part to Real Chocolate. Our leading chocolate truffle-maker, Sara Jayne-Stanes (who will be demonstrating her craft in the Festival kitchen) has just written an outstanding book, published this week, in which she spells out the difference between the popular milk chocolate bar and the delicious food of the gods (the Latin name of chocolate is Theobromus - literally "god of food').

To complete the history of chocolate she journeyed to Mexico to meet growers who were to be found in the heart of Chiapas, guerrilla country.

Her book is an invaluable bible of chocolate with its table of terms, tasting vocabulary, directory of chocolate sources and, above all, a workable collection of 150 tried and tested recipes for confectionery, cakes, biscuits, puddings, sauces, frostings and decorations (from which we choose these recipes). To obtain a copy at a special price, see below.

'Chocolate, The Definitive Guide' by Sara Jayne-Stanes (Grub Street £20) is available to IoS readers for £16.99 incl p&p from Grub Street, 0171 738 1008.

International Festival of Chocolate, Royal Horticultural Halls, Greycoat Street, London SW1, Friday 3 Dec to Sunday 5 Dec. Entry £7.50 on the door, £6.50 in advance. 24 Hour Ticket Hotline 0870 901 0020.

The Welsh Chocolate Farm, Llanboidy, Carmarthenshire, SA34 OEX is open from 9-5.30pm. Tel 01994 448768.

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