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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 January 2021

World's first camel milk chocolate factory a huge hit in Dubai

Martin Van Almsick and Hanan Ahmed offer customers a taste of the exotic

Martin Van Almsick walks across the factory floor and pauses at a machine folding golden foil around slabs of milk chocolate.

Mr Van Almsick watches the contraption with adoration.

“It’s like an Aston Martin, 1962. Everybody wants it but they’re hard to get,” he says.

“Fifty bars a minute. For us, this is perfect. It uses a little bit of glue from Dusseldorf.”

There are deep vats of roasting cacao beans and trays with hazelnuts swirled into thick puddles of chocolate. Another machine clicks and whirls little squares of chocolate into paper.

“This is a Rasch, from my hometown,” he says with pride.

The Dubai factory follows the oldest traditions of chocolatiers from Van Almsick’s hometown of Cologne.

It differs in just one respect, with a not-so-secret ingredient: camel milk.

Mr Van Almsick is the man behind Al Nassma, the world’s first camel milk chocolate factory.

This small factory of 50 employees in Dubai Silicon Oasis makes 600 kilograms of chocolate a day and delivers products to countries from Morocco to Malaysia.

Its milk powder comes from Dubai’s camel dairy, Camelicious.

The success story began on Easter Sunday in 2004, when Mr Van Almsick and his Sudanese wife Hanan Ahmed were relaxing on the sofa watching a travel show at their home in Cologne.

A German veterinarian appeared on screen, extolling the health benefits of camel milk.

It was Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director of Dubai Central Veterinary Research Laboratory and one of the forces behind Camelicious.

This sweet ride was crafted by the team at Al Nassma chocolate factory in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
This sweet ride was crafted by the team at Al Nassma chocolate factory in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The couple immediately saw the potential.

“We just saw it, you know,” Ms Ahmed says. “They have a camel farm in Dubai and they’re making camel milk powder, and directly we had the idea, 'Why is there no camel milk chocolate?'”

Mr Van Almsick says: “The same day our friend presented his sheep milk chocolate to the public. So the idea was not a stretch for us, eh?”

He started experimenting to perfect recipes with renowned Austrian chocolatier Johann Georg Hochleitner.

Al Nassma general manager Martin Van Almsick and wife Hanan Ahmed, who is customer relationship manager. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Al Nassma general manager Martin Van Almsick and wife Hanan Ahmed, who is customer relationship manager. Chris Whiteoak / The National

By August 2007, the family had moved to Dubai to set up and run the factory. Mentors came to Dubai from Cologne and Vienna to train staff for the 2008 opening.

It would take another six years before camel milk was recognised as a dairy product by the EU. Legislation only considered cows, sheep and goats as viable milk producers.

The couple originally lived in a villa next to the Camelicious camel farm, close to Hungarian microbiologists, an Indian diary expert, a Sudanese vet and their families.

Mr Van Almsick loved it.

“We could focus entirely on setting up a chocolate factory from day one," he says. "It was a bit out of town but we learnt everything about camels, which was great for us.”

Ms Ahmed remembers the farm less fondly. Their children were aged 1, 6 and 10.

“It was very hard, living there,” she says. “There was nothing. Until today I have a real horror of camel spiders.

"For me, it was the whole day saying to the children, ‘Close the door, don’t go out’. I love the desert but ...”

“Remember the time you saved me from the viper?” her husband asks, recalling another unwanted house guest.

Schooling was another challenge. Their eldest spoke little English and commuted to the German school in Sharjah.

Mr Van Almsick and Ms Ahmed were among the parents who started the German school in Dubai with the German consulate.

Family life revolved around the business.

“Everything we did was centred around the chocolate,” Mr Van Almsick says. “Al Nassma was a number one priority for the whole family.

"There’s very little we do just for fun. Even when we go on holidays we visit our retail partners.”

An extraordinary life was perhaps always in the cards for a couple with an unusual beginning.

They met in Hungary. Ms Ahmed had left Sudan to study international law in Budapest. Mr Van Almsick was on his way to catch the Transiberian.

He had rented a room in the campus dorms and after a chance meeting, they stayed in touch by phone.

Mr Van Almsick returned to Cologne after three months and Ms Ahmed followed six months later.

They studied together at Cologne University and worked at the city’s Chocolate Museum, where Mr Van Almsick would become manager.

Chocolatiers Mumeen Abdul Wakkil (left) and Sajith Narayanan create hazelnut chocolate bars. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chocolatiers Mumeen Abdul Wakkil (left) and Sajith Narayanan create hazelnut chocolate bars. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“If I look at my old books that I read when I was 13 and 14 years old, I find little chocolate stains,” he says. “But you don’t think that chocolate could be a profession.”

Yet his first job was at the factory for Stollwerck, a company that was Europe’s second largest chocolate producer by 1900.

For Ms Ahmed, a future in camel milk also seemed fated.

“More than 100 years ago, my father’s family had caravans going from Darfur to Egypt, and then I’ve come back to this in the modern world,” she says. “It’s something in my DNA.”

Mr Van Almsick “never rests on what he’s done”, says Adam Rozmaryniewicz, the executive chef for Zaabeel Palace Hospitality.

“He’s always going at 100 miles an hour with ideas and concepts. He trusts a lot, he trains a lot, he empowers a lot and I respect him incredibly as a professional in his field.”

Updated: July 26, 2019 01:52 AM

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