Get Your Hands on Some Exquisitely Fresh Chocolate
Easter is one of those rare times in a year where you can eat as much chocolate as you can without the fear of friends giving you that judgy, sideways glance.
With Easter just around the corner and the supermarkets filled with all the usual boring chocolates, we caught up with expert chocolatier Peter Carpenter from Hunter Valley Chocolates to talk all things chocolate and find out what unique and delicious delights can be found, right here in the Hunter Valley.
HV Magazine: What is your top seller, and how do you make it?
Over the past 20 years, our top seller has been Peppermint Thins, closely followed by Rocky Road. The secret to our exquisite chocolate is in the freshness and the quality. We make it in 5-kilogram batches, and everything is packed in-store – so nothing has to travel. Due to the small batches, the chocolate is turned over quite quickly, which guarantees its freshness. We’re making chocolate almost every day, and the chocolate that we make Saturday to Tuesday is gone by Sunday. There is no one else in Pokolbin who makes their chocolate on-site. This is our main point of differentiation and the reason our chocolate tastes the best – because it’s FRESH.
In the Peppermint Thins, we use top-quality peppermint oil and smashed peppermint candy. The Rocky Road contains Turkish Delight, almonds, hazelnuts and marshmallows. It took me four years to find a decent marshmallow, and now we have a supplier that makes it just for us.
Our Chilli Chocolate used to be our top seller and marquee product. We were the first to create it in 1999, and these days you can even get Chilli Tim Tams! Twenty years ago, we were approached by an elderly Norwegian lady who asked for chocolate-coated chillies, which started us thinking. Of course, chilli and chocolate go together! Chocolate originates in South America, where they drank hot chocolate with chilli. There was no sugar – it wasn’t sweet. Christopher Columbus reported that the hot chocolate he was served in South America made his mouth feel as though it had daggers in it. We still do chilli chocolate, but it’s not as popular as it used to be.
HV Magazine: What ingredients do you use the most, and approximately how much do you use each year?
We use 8 tonnes of chocolate every year – 5 tonnes of milk chocolate, 2 tonnes of dark and 1 tonne of white. Dark chocolate has been rising in popularity over the past 15 years due to people becoming more health-conscious. Lately, the vegan movement has also contributed to its popularity because excellent dark chocolate contains no dairy. Our base is from Belgium. We’ve tried to source it from Australia, but it doesn’t grow in the quantities we need. It really only grows 10 to 20 degrees on either side of the equator. So obviously, our Belgian base originates in Africa. Columbus took the plants and seeds from South America, and once Europe had developed a taste for chocolate, the various European countries, with their colonies in Africa, started growing it there so that it was cheaper to transport.
Easter is coming up. What advice can you give to budding Easter bunnies who want to do better than a supermarket egg?
Don’t buy anything from the supermarket. We have a full range of Easter chocolates, including bunnies, bilbies, eggs, unique blown painted eggs filled with chocolate, candy-coated sugar eggs with chocolate inside, and we create hampers made to order.
What is something surprising that tastes great covered in chocolate?
Pretzels! Probably because they’re salty. Salted caramel has taken over from chilli as another flavour trend. I’ve heard of potato chip clusters covered in chocolate and fruits like watermelon. Once, when I was doing some chocolate training for the Hyatt, I heard about one unfortunate apprentice cook who dipped prawns in chocolate and was sacked for his trouble! Of course, the South Americans use it in savoury cooking to deepen the flavour and add depth. We don’t sell anything that’s too ‘out there’.
What is the most obscure place or furthest away you’ve shipped your chocolates? We don’t ship our chocolates – we avoid it as much as possible. Anything more than a 200km radius, and you risk spoiling the chocolate.
If you had to recommend one item from your shop, what would it be?
I would recommend anything that I make, but Dark Chocolate Rocky Road is particularly difficult to find, and it’s so much better with dark chocolate. My personal favourite, though, is the Fruit & Nut Bark.
Really, there's no better way to find a favourite than for people to come and see/taste for themselves and make their own decision. We’ve got three locations in Pokolbin, and it’s a great time of year to visit the Hunter Valley.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE EASTER EGGS
With the Easter Weekend almost upon us, shops are stocking their shelves with Easter eggs, bunnies and bilbies and people across Australia are getting ready to tuck into chocolate treats. But have you ever wondered why we eat chocolate eggs at Easter?
While the chocolate Easter egg is a relatively new tradition, the Easter egg's origin and many more modern-day
Easter symbols, such as the Easter bunny, go back a very long way and pre-date Christianity.
Throughout the ages, decorated eggs were often given as presents around Easter time, symbolising rebirth and new life. Eggs were usually boiled and decorated with dyes until French and German chocolatiers started producing edible chocolate eggs. Early chocolate eggs were filled with sugared almonds until John Cadbury cracked the recipe
for making moulded, hollow eggs in 1875. The earliest Cadbury chocolate eggs were made of 'dark' chocolate
with a plain smooth surface and were decorated using chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
The launch in 1905 of the famous Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate made a tremendous contribution to the Easter egg market. This new kind of chocolate's popularity vastly increased sales of Easter eggs and did much to establish them as seasonal best sellers. Today the Easter egg market is predominantly milk chocolate.