Embracing our own chocolate

Australia embracing its own chocolate


Life & Style
LIKE: Australians are developing a love for fine quality chocolate, some of which is produced using Australian-grown cacao.

LIKE: Australians are developing a love for fine quality chocolate, some of which is produced using Australian-grown cacao.

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There's no denying it - Aussies love their chocolate.

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THERE'S no denying it - Aussies love their chocolate.

One of the more recent reports has us consuming some 32kg of chocolate per person per year.

Most of those sticky fingers and smeared lips would be laced with the brown gold of the major brands.

However, Australia does produce its own chocolate, albeit on more of a boutique level.

It's a food scene that is slowly gaining momentum as well.

One of the pioneers of Australian chocolate is Daintree Estates at Mossman, north Queensland, which labels itself as "Australia's first commercially grown and produced single origin chocolate".

The company grows, harvests, processes and markets its own product range. It also uses Australian sugar and dairy ingredients to ensure the Australian taste.

There are other producers in the State's north as well, including the highly awarded Charley's Chocolate Factory at Mission Beach which won an International 2017 Cocoa of Excellence Award in Paris.

RAW: Inside a cacao pod which is the very start of the chocolate making process.

RAW: Inside a cacao pod which is the very start of the chocolate making process.

But if you're thinking you'd like to throw in a few hundred cacao (cacao seeds are the raw product; cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted and pressed out) trees and create your own Willy Wonka-style production facility, there's a bit of a catch; cacao only grows up to about 10 - 18 degrees north and south of the equator.

An eight-year feasibility study by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in 2010 showed the best production potential in Australia was in north QLD.

Trial plantings were also done in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

So that technically rules out production in New South Wales… for the time being.

Cacao. Photos by Richard Cornish

Cacao. Photos by Richard Cornish

Advancements in controlled temperature protected cropping (ie. greenhouses) could provide opportunities for expanded cropping, not to mention international breeding programs for cooler climate varieties.

While cacao plantations may not be about to spring up across the country, Australia does have other links to chocolate production.

At Sandigo near Narrandera in southern NSW, Ferrero Australia (whose parent company produces Nutella, Ferrero Rocher and Kinder Surprise) has completed the planting of almost one million hazelnut trees in the Riverina region.

Fruit from the cacao tree where chocolate originated

Fruit from the cacao tree where chocolate originated

The $70 million plantation is run by Agri Australis. Australia produces about 170 tonnes of hazelnuts but by 2022, Ferrero forecasts a yield from its demonstration farm alone of about 5000 tonnes in-shell.

Then of course there has been the rise of local chocolate manufacturers throughout the country, using both Australian and imported beans.

Two enthusiastic advocates of independent chocolate manufacturers are Alison Pearce and Chris Brown, who created the online chocolate subscription service, Bean Bar You in 2016.

Photo Edwina Pickles.

Photo Edwina Pickles.

The "bean to bar" concept is about producers making chocolate from scratch, leaving no questions about the source, quality and ethics.

Bean Bar You sources handmade chocolates from around the world to deliver to customers.

"We started Bean Bar You as a way to access great chocolate for ourselves and chocoholics around Australia," Chris said.

"While we love showcasing the world’s best chocolates made from the bean to the bar, we are also committed to supporting our local, Australian bean to bar chocolate makers."

Bean Bar You has 31 independent Australian chocolate makers on its books.

Raw cacao beans. Photo Edwina Pickles.

Raw cacao beans. Photo Edwina Pickles.

Chris said he has great respect for anyone who grows cacao or makes chocolate.

"The cacao farmers are incredible. They work extra hard to treat to their beans properly so they aren't damaged in the fermentation or drying process," he said.

"So there's more work on the farm."

The story Embracing our own chocolate first appeared on The Land.

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