Grichi Gallwey, who now runs the truffle operation from her kitchen in a large old Victorian house overlooking the glorious coastline of southern Ireland, was herself the result of this early Euro enthusiasm. Her father was Irish and her mother Spanish, a descendant of the Jerez sherry baron, the Marquis of Real Tesoro. When Grichi married Dayrell Gallwey, she was joining a family whose name had been a feature of life around Waterford for generations. Henry Gallwey started trading in wine and whiskey in 1835 and ran a wine and spirit bottling business in Colbeck Street, Waterford. Their own blend, called Irish Legend, was highly popular and in 1959 Dayrell invented and produced Gallweys' Irish Coffee Liqueur, featuring a saffron-kilted soldier, which was sold for 20 years around the world. "Dayrell was known as one of Waterford's great characters, he was honoured as a Freeman of the city," says Eily Kilgannon, spokesperson for Irish Distillers, the company which eventually bought Gallweys. "And he had served in the Irish Guards, hence the figurine on the liqueur label. Everyone knew him, he was a great talker and host."
On his retirement from the whiskey business in the early 1990s, Dayrell cast around for a new initiative. While he had worked, Grichi had remained at home raising their three daughters and son, now it was time to start an enterprise they both could share. Then fate struck twice. Dayrell's mother, Nona, had always made chocolates at Christmas, and the recipe had been handed down through the family for generations.
"A member of the Irish Industrial Development Authority came for lunch," recalls Grichi. "After the meal we served him our chocolates. He said they were so good we ought make them commercially. We thought about and decided it was just the thing we had been looking for. Dayrell researched it very thoroughly to get just the right blend of whiskey and chocolate. We decided to go for the best quality chocolate, cream and whiskey. "I learned about professional chocolate making from a French expert who gave very expensive private lessons in London. I also went to Belgium for courses. We made a batch and sold them to shops in Waterford, we learned really as we went along. The first Christmas we had to stay up all night to fulfil the orders.
"The business was just up and running when Dayrell died. It was a terrible blow and for a short while Grichi debated whether to carry on. But she decided that was what he would have wanted, so she reinvented herself a second time in just a few years, this time as a career businesswoman with a front-of-house role.
"I am not naturally out-going," she says modestly. "And to start again later in life is never easy. It was hard at first, I had to make myself go out and sell, but I found people were very welcoming."Now, Grichi has to divide her time. In the mornings she and six other workers are usually to be found in her rambling basement kitchen with its old fashioned dresser, range cooker and huge metal pots, tempering the melted chocolate to the point where it radiates a gloss, and filling delicate shells cases with the mouth-watering truffle mix. Then it's on with the suit and off visiting shops, delicatessens and department stores. Already the truffles have won two awards at The Guild of Fine Food Retailers Great Taste Awards, and were runners-up in the best Irish confectionary section at London's IFEX food fair recently.
"There's a lot of competition," adds Grichi. "Yet Gallweys continues to grow, perhaps because we are deal with two products that will always give people pleasure - chocolate and whiskey."