Living in a small village in Iceland’s remote Westfjords, Elsa is not your ordinary Westfjorder. She’s a chocolatier and founder of Sætt og Salt—a flourishing, new chocolate company. Her speciality is pairing local seasalt with her unique chocolate recipes.
Elsa has been involved in chocolate making since 1984, when she first started experimenting with making chocolate. For many years, she ran a bakery in North Iceland but always remained what she refers to as “a chocolate nerd”, and her passion for chocolate never faded. After almost two decades as a baker she decided to make some changes in her life and she moved to tiny Súðavík—a tiny village most infamously known for a fatal avalanche that struck in 1995. There she managed the local grocery store Kaupfélagið for a while. At the same time, she had started stepping up her chocolate making at home. Kaupfélagið was one of the only places in town selling hot coffee, and she realised that with all that coffee what they needed was a nice sweet bite to go with it. So she decided to offer up her homemade chocolates to go with the coffee. And the rest is history!
People kept asking for more chocolate, and soon they were asking to buy the chocolate to take home. This growing chocolate adventure became the beginning of Sætt og Salt (“sweet and salty”). She stopped managing the grocery store and instead began making chocolate full time. Word of her amazing chocolate spread fast and demand quickly picked up. “I was at a crossroads,” Elsa explains. “I had to choose if I really wanted to make a go of this or stay small. So, I decided to meet up with the Icelandic Innovation Centre”. The centre liked the sound of a chocolatier in the Westfjords. They ended up giving her seed money for a business plan, so she moved out of her kitchen into a bigger facility and began expanding production.
“I’m very proud to be making chocolate in Súðavík. One of things that has been tremendously important to me is that my chocolate is giving the village something else to be known for. It used to be known as the place hit by the avalanche, but now when you say you live in Súðavík,” Elsa says with a big smile, “people ask if it’s the village with the chocolate.”
Each piece of chocolate from Sætt og Salt is handmade with no piece the same. But her signature component, the sea salt from nearby Reykjanes, remains a fixed element in all her different chocolate variations. “Sea salt and chocolate are perfect companions,” she explains, “the salt really brings out the flavors”. Sætt og Salt offers a range of unique chocolates, like her seasonal chocolates at Christmas, Easter and late summer during the berry season including ingredients like blackened chilis, spiced nuts and seeds and Icelandic bilberries.
“I recently started making chocolate truffles,”Elsa says, “which have turned out to be a big hit as well.” When asked what drives her passion for making chocolate she says it’s simple: “I love chocolate myself and I love having people try my chocolate for the first time. It’s very rewarding and I’m always excited to see their reactions when they taste it for the first time. I’m also happy to be creating new jobs in Súðavík and bringing new opportunities to the area.”
Elsa’s chocolate has slowly been making its way across Iceland, now available at the international airport, the Blue Lagoon and many other popular places. “I can’t really keep up with demand at the moment so I’m actually forced to tell some potential customers to check back later. One customer I’m particularly proud of is the president. He once came to taste the chocolate and decided that it would have to become a regular offering at state dinners at the presidential residence.” Companies from the United States have also increasingly been reaching out to Elsa, asking her to supply them with her handmade chocolate, but at the moment, she’s got her hands full making chocolate for the Icelandic market. Elsa, however, dreams big. And according to her, this chocolate adventure is just getting started.