Iceland’s Omnom Chocolate Company
Back in 2012, after stints working as a chef in Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg and at Reykjavik’s Dill restaurant, Kjartan Gíslason realized that he knew very little about chocolate, an ingredient he’d used extensively over the course of his career. An innate and lifelong curiosity coupled with a natural propensity for experimentation led him to start ordering beans online and attempt to make his own bean-to-bar chocolate at home.
Gíslason would roast the cacao beans himself, cracking them open and grinding them by hand. Family and friends on the receiving end of this heady research responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, giving Gíslason and his now-partners—Óskar Þórðarson, Karl Viggó Vigfússon and André Úlfur Visage—the encouragement they needed to try their hand at commercial production.
In September 2013, Omnom Chocolates was officially born.
From November to December of 2013, the modest team at Omnom made all their bars—about 5000 over that time period—by hand. Not long after they moved into their current production site: a minute house-shaped facility that sits on a now-defunct gas station lot. These days, they’re producing about 5000 bars per week. “It could easily have been a flash in the pan,” says Gíslason of his foray into the world of chocolate; but luckily for tastebuds worldwide, it grew into something more.
The Roast Omnom receives their cacao beans fermented and dried from places like Madagascar and the Dominican Republic. The beans are roasted in an on-site convection oven, with personalized roasting times for each bean to ensure optimal flavour.
The Winnow After a 1-2 day cooling period, the roasted beans are then transferred to the winnowing machine, where the brittle husks are cracked and discarded while the toothsome nibs are set aside for grinding.
The Melange & Conch Once the flavour-packed cocoa nibs have been extracted, they’re placed into one of the facility’s six melanger machines (from the French “to mix”) for about 72 hours. Here, granite stones grind the cocoa nibs into a liquid paste. This is also the stage at which any additional ingredients, like sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder or flavouring agents are added. The machines work double duty, “conching”—or further refining and incorporating—the ingredients, until they become a smooth liquid stream of chocolate (think: Willy Wonka’s chocolate waterfall).
The Temper Once refined, the liquid chocolate is transferred to a tempering machine, where the chocolate is cooled while being kept in constant motion thanks to a large paddle. Tempering is essential for aesthetically pleasing chocolate and a silky mouthfeel. Properly done, it results in a final product with exceptional smoothness, shine and a crisp, satisfying snap when bitten into.
The Final Touch Finally, the tempered chocolate is poured into moulds, cooled even further and wrapped by hand. Yes, every single bar of Omnom chocolate is wrapped by hand.
Omnom started with three white and dark milk chocolate variations and two plain dark chocolate bars in 2013:
Dirty Blonde - Not your momma’s white chocolate. Made with organic unprocessed cacao butter, caramelized sugar and Icelandic milk powder*, this rich, buttery bar white and dark milk bar explores the previously unplumbed depths of white chocolate.
Milk of Madagascar - A silky smooth single origin 45% milk chocolate bar, featuring bright berry-flavoured beans from Madagascar, organic cacao butter and a liberal dose of Icelandic milk powder.
Dark Milk + Burned Sugar - Soft, smoky caramelized milk and sugar flavours make this 55% bar a wonder to behold. Its round, complimentary notes and caramel-like decadence lends itself to “just one more bite” syndrome, as you try to pin down what makes this bar just so damn compelling.
Papua New Guinea - A 70% dark chocolate bar that’s smoky, nutty and subtle all at once, with a slightly bourbon-y finish. [Recently discontinued due to the inconsistent quality of the beans]
Madagascar - A 66% dark chocolate bar that encapsulates a range of nuances and highlights the complexity a single type of bean can have. Forest fruit and red berry notes rub shoulders with earthy, floral aromas.
In 2014, they added:
Sea Salted Almonds + Milk - Made with the aforementioned beans from Madagascar in all their nuanced complexity, this malty 45% bar features the addition of dried roasted almonds that have been tossed in honest-to-goodness sea water for that coveted sweet-salty-crunchy trifecta of taste.
Lakkrís + Sea Salt - Lakkrís is licorice, a popular treat amongst Icelanders, who prefer theirs salty to sweet. But this isn’t just any licorice. Oh no. This bar features raw Persian licorice root, once used in the tobacco industry to flavour cigarettes, that has been steamed and pressed into a powder for the ultimate concentration of pure, unadulterated flavour. Combined with sea salt harvested from the West Fjords of Iceland, this is the bar to bring back as a souvenir.
In May of 2015, Omnom Chocolates teamed up with Reykjavik’s eponymous coffee company, Reykjavik Roasters to create Coffee + Milk, an experimental flavoured white chocolate bar, in which they replaced the cocoa beans with coffee beans, because why not? Coffee beans, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar and Icelandic milk powder come together to create one hell of a buzz. In fact, the bar is 20% coffee beans.
*All the milk powder used in Omnom’s bars comes from grass-fed Icelandic cows that graze on the country’s wild moors, giving Omnom’s bars an unparalleled richness, creaminess and depth of flavour.
Omnom’s distinctive colourful, graphic packaging was conceived by South African designer André Úlfur Visage. Captivated by Iceland after spending a few years travelling around the island, Visage eventually became a citizen, adopting the Icelandic middle name Úlfur, meaning “wolf”. Omnom’s logo became a physical manifestation of Visage’s wolf—all clean lines and angles.
The cardboard wrappers that envelope the chocolates are their own experience. Like unwrapping a present, they delight even further once completely unfolded with subtle designs on the inside. What’s more, the not-too-thick-and-not-too-thin material provides the perfect makeshift plate for sharing the chocolate (or not—we won’t tell). The kicker? Feeling like you’re throwing away a piece of art every time you go to recycle Omnom’s jazzy wrappers.
More experimentation. Gíslason continues to experiment with various beans, flavour combinations and ingredients. They have plans to start using beans from Tanzania and Nicaragua in 2016 and are currently experimenting with a vanilla flavoured white chocolate that puts vanilla, typically vilified, front and center. “Vanilla for vanilla’s sake,” Gíslason explains.
They also have plans to move to a bigger location near Reykjavik’s old harbour, closer to the city center. It’s supposedly four times bigger than their current location, which means more room to keep up with current demand. As it is, they’ve struggled to keep pace with their popularity, despite minimal marketing and only a handful of wholesale distributors outside of Iceland. Development of the new space began in September and they’re hoping to start producing at the new location by April 2016.