Australia’s favourite chocolate bar is also its oldest: the Cherry Ripe, originally created by the now-defunct Melbourne confectioner MacRobertson’s (who also gave us the Freddo frog) back in 1924, and now owned by Cadbury.
And while Easter Sunday will be an frenzy of chocolate eating, it seems Australia’s long love affair with chocolate is on the wane, with Roy Morgan research finding that in recent years, chocolate consumption has been in a steady decline. The following Roy Morgan chart shows the decline in boxed chocolate alone, based on Australians over 14 who’ve eaten some in the previous four weeks. It’s dropped from 35% in January 2010 to 29% in 2104. Chocolate bars have gone the same way, down from 53% in March 2009 to 49% four years later.
The other thing that’s worth noting in the chart below is that boxed chocolate buying and consumption peak around December and January and the spike noticeably higher than the Easter/Mothers Day period.
However, there’s been one important upward trend in recent years and that’s in local chocolate makers. And while there are plenty of good local chocolatiers about, most use imported, but high quality couverture chocolate. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s interesting is the increasing number of passionate small businesses who are making chocolate from scratch, starting with importing and roasting the cocoa, and one, Daintree Estates, has even starting growing cocoa in far north Queensland to use in its chocolate.
Chocolate, like coffee and olive oil, is best fresh, so the locally made stuff has an advantage if you’re looking for flavour, and has a range of different flavours, depending on where the cocoa is grown. For example, beans from South America are generally more fruity than their African counterparts.
Here are five brilliant Australian-made chocolates to try.
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Where to get it
Two decades ago, Peter Wilson, one-time punk band manager and Yarra Yering winemaker, was wandering around Europe when he had a Road to Damascus moment over Valrhona chocolate. Inspired, he returned and with partner Juliana Kennedy set about making the country’s best possible in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
They got there, setting an early benchmark, with quirky boxed chocolates such as “after dinner ducks” flavoured with coffee, cinnamon, orange or mint, and “cat’s tongues”, 81% cocoa chocolates packing the bean’s punchy, natural bitterness and an aromatic spiciness.
The boxed thins come in milk or dark (70%), but once opened, never last long.
Emu Heights NSW
Where to get it
If we have to pick favourites, then western Sydney chocolate maker Michelle Morgan wins hands down. It’s worth going out to visit her chocolate factory in western Sydney, at the foot of the Blue Mountains to see how it’s made, pick up a few of her fancier hand-made chocolates and talk with a woman so knowledgeable and fired up about her labour of love you’ll end up asking when you can start working there.
She makes a 70% dark and a 45% milk chocolate, but there are two elegantly packaged bars you need to seek out. The first is Zokoko’s Alto Bene Bolivian 68% dark chocolate, made with organic cocoa, which has lovely citrus and honey notes and is a Sydney Royal Show gold medallist.
The other one is the Tranquilidad 72%, a truly exquisite Bolivian chocolate perfumed with dried fruit and the perfect bittersweet balance. It won best dark chocolate bar at the International Chocolate Salon in the US last year and it’s totally OMG if you love great chocolate.
More recently, Morgan’s been working with the Solomon Islands, helping them rebuild their industry following a series of natural disasters. You can bet when the time comes, the results will be amazing.
Margaret River, Western Australia
Where to get it.
Josh Bahen was a winemaker, and since the flavours of cacao are a lot like wine, his move into producing beautiful, elegant bars of traditionally made, stone-grown chocolate makes perfect sense.
Set in the glorious Margaret River wine region on the family farm, Bahen’s factory creates beautiful chocolate from bean-to-bar using a 1930 roaster and 1910 chocolate machine, using cocoa from Madagascar, PNG and Brazil, and more recently with farmers from cyclone-devastated Vanuatu.
It’s seriously classy 70% dark chocolate, packed with flavour and the whimsical packaging makes it look almost too good to open. Best spend the $50 on the mixed bundle to see just how good Bahen & Co can be.
Parkside, South Australia
Where to get it
Next month marks a century since Alister Haigh’s great-grandfather, Alfred, open his first chocolate store in Adelaide. Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate maker is now a national icon, with two Sydney stores and a reputation for imagination and quality. Haigh’s popularised the Easter bilby, which they launched in 1993. The 52% dark chocolate version is a good way to lure someone away from milk chocolate to the hidden joys of the dark side. The native fauna now extends to Murray cod too.
Haigh’s are one of the few large Australian companies to make chocolate from scratch, using raw cocoa. It sources UTZ-certified beans to ensure the farming is ethical and sustainable and the fabulous range of Easter chocolates means they’ll be longs queues outside all the stores in the lead up to the weekend.
Where to get it
Daintree Estates takes locally made chocolate to another level as the only Australian chocolatier to grow its own cocoa beans, as well as using the local dairy and sugar in its products. It’s a co-operative with a bunch of local farmers involved and you can even visit one of the growers, Sweet Farm Tours, for a guided tour of the sugar cane and cocoa plantations.
The bars are small, and not cheap, but the 70% dark chocolate is a revelation in what’s possible up in the rainforest region of far north Queensland – a fruity mix of berries, liquorice, cinnamon and even banana. There’s a single origin organic 70% dark chocolate, Goodman Estate, with floral clove and citrus notes too and they make other single origin chocolates using beans from Pacific Islands – Samoa, PNG and Fiji.
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