The world’s northernmost chocolatier
In Fruene, Longyearbyen’s meeting place, enjoy polar bear and dinosaur chocolates
Polar bears. Glaciers. Dinosaurs. These are a few of the high-quality chocolates that Tove Eide crafts as the world’s northernmost chocolatier. But Eide is much more than a maker of fine chocolates. She is also a master baker and the owner of Fruene, one of two cafés in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Eide had always wanted to own her own business, and in Svalbard, that dream became a reality. In 2003, a counter coffee shop, Barista, went up for sale. Eide took a chance and bought it. She added a seating area and renamed it Fruene.
Fruene became a hit.
Eide talked with me about the challenges she’s overcome to make fresh food in Norway’s high Arctic, and how she became the world’s northernmost chocolatier. “When I came to Svalbard, there was no good place for people to meet. You could go to a bar, of course. But if you didn’t drink, or wanted to meet your friends during the day, or to bring your children, there was nothing like that. I wanted Fruene to be a place where the community could come and socialize. Where there would be good fresh food; where people could sit and talk and have fun.”
Her cakes and pastries are different from others I’ve eaten in Longyearbyen. “I use my grandmother’s recipes,” she said. “You can’t get anything like this elsewhere in Longyearbyen. It’s true home cooking. Sometimes it’s difficult to hire a baker, because in cooking school, they teach you to be expert at one kind of pastry. But here, we make chocolate cake and cheesecake and carrot cake and cookies. We make cakes for birthdays and special occasions. My bakers use my family recipes for everything.”
She gave me a tour of Fruene’s small kitchen. “We also make all our food here as well as our chocolates. Soups, salads, smoothies, cakes, and cookies. We make four kinds of bread every day. Everything fresh.” I asked what happened to stale goods. “We sell day-old bread cheap, cheaper than the grocery store. Students at UNIS (the university of the Arctic) and people on limited budgets buy the day-old things. We have almost no food waste.”
Of course, I had to know about her famous chocolates. Eide said, “In 2014, I started thinking that in Norway, for a little thank-you, you buy flowers. But there are no flowers here. So what do you do for a personal gift? As tourism increased, I also wanted something visitors could bring home that would be inexpensive and memorable and made locally. I decided to make chocolates.”
Never having made chocolate, Eide admitted it was a trial. “I ordered every book on chocolate I could find. I experimented for six months.” She laughed. “Toward the end, my husband got a bit impatient. The only cooking I did was making chocolates. Books and molds and cooking equipment filled our house. Everything smelled like chocolate. It was a crazy time.”
Her work paid off. At first, Eide used metal pans to temper her chocolates, using ice cube molds for the first Polar bears. The first day, she sold every chocolate she made. It was a struggle to meet the demand. “The ice cube molds didn’t work well. But everyone loves the King of the Arctic, so I had to have polar bears. Chocolate World in Belgium makes exclusive polar bear molds for us. We started with 100 molds with 16 polar bears in each. Now we have two hundred molds. We make 3,200 polar bears every month. We spend an entire day hand painting their tiny faces. It’s fun!”
Eide now has three machines devoted to chocolate. “The tempering is very important, and challenging to do with a regular stove. Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature. If you’re off by a degree too hot or too cold, it doesn’t come out right.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. One of the chocolate machines has been broken for a year. “This is Svalbard,” Eide said. “Getting someone here from Belgium to fix our machine—they say it will happen, but can’t say when. I’m glad I bought three, so two machines are still working.”
Chocolate-making is ongoing. As Eide and I walked through her kitchen, the small stove top was covered with giant pots. One held the day’s soup. The other two held ganache for filled chocolates. Eide stirred one, bringing up a long vanilla bean in the spoon. “This filling will be caramel. We use only the finest ingredients, and I like to experiment with spices and unusual flavorings. We made beer-flavored chocolate with local beer for Oktoberfest, and special Christmas chocolates made with fresh ginger and mint.”
An employee showed me how she dipped the chocolate into the mold, then smacked it on a hard surface to remove the air bubbles before pouring the chocolate back in, leaving a coating for the shell in the mold.
Eide also makes dinosaur chocolates. “Svalbard has a lot of fossils, and the famous Norwegian paleontologist Jørn Hurum comes often, specifically for the plesiosaurs. Jørn always visits Fruene when he’s in town, so I started making dinosaur chocolates for him. While Svalbard has the best plesiosaur fossils in the world, there are lots of other fossils, too. I have seen fossils out hiking with my family.”
Eide sells several sizes of boxed chocolates. “I don’t want them to be only chocolates though. I want people to leave here knowing a bit more about the Arctic. Every box has a photo of a different Norwegian Arctic explorer, and some information about who they were. If you buy chocolates here, you learn about the Arctic as well.” She paused. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and I still love it. I love talking to the people who come in. I love having a good, local product. And I am happy that Fruene is the community meeting place I wanted. Everyone talks with everyone else. Here, everyone is friends.”
If you visit Longyearbyen, be sure to stop at Fruene and have some cake (my favorite is carrot cake) and take home some polar bears. If you can’t make it to Svalbard, you can still order chocolate polar bears from Fruene by contacting Eide at email@example.com.
Elizabeth Philotera Bourne is an artist, photographer, and writer. Her work has been shown nationally in the United States and in Norway. Bourne’s short stories have been published in several genre magazines. She currently lives in Longyearbyen, Norway, where she is learning to snakke norsk, and where there are no trolls because the polar bears ate them. You can find her at www.philotera.com and on Instagram as @philotera.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.