I have never seen so much chocolate in the same place in my life. In fact, I may never have seen that much chocolate over my entire life to date, though this is harder to judge.
When Hannah first started talking about chocolates from the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie a few months ago, I was intrigued. For one thing, the flavours sounded fascinating. For another thing, I’ve never been to a chocolaterie before. And for a third thing… didn’t my former chiropractor move to the Yarra Valley and start a chocolate business?
Yes, yes he did. (Hi Paul!)
The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is a really gorgeous space in a really gorgeous location. It’s situated in Yarra Glen, which seems to be a bit of winery area in the Yarra Valley, and they are working on growing more of their ingredients, so there is a budding orchard on the long hill leading down to the dam.
You can see the vineyards on the neighbouring hills, and there is a sort of enclosed balcony in the cafe area so that you can get an uninterrupted view of the surrounding ranges. There is also an outside play area, well stocked with big balls in bright colours for children to play with.
Inside, everything is bright pink, magenta, green and orange, and chocolate brown, of course. It’s a wonderful, bright inviting space. It’s also extremely accessible – there are no steps, the doorways and aisles are invitingly wide and the floor is smooth wood. Prams and wheelchairs can move around with ease, and the wide aisles and high ceilings add to a sense of space. It was pretty full of people today (which is why I don’t have any pictures of the space – I try not to post photos of strangers on my blog, it isn’t polite!), but it didn’t feel crowded. The seating is also impressively comfortable. I feel that a chiropractic eye definitely went into this design!
At one end, there is a huge glass wall through which you can watch the chocolatiers at their work. One side wall is labelled ‘the great wall of chocolate’, and… well. Easiest just to show it to you, really.
At the other end, you have a cafe and ice creamery, with seating both inside and out on the enclosed balcony. The café food is good, with a focus on fresh and simple foods (lots of pizzas and panini, and I had a rather good lentil and roast vegetable salad for lunch), and there are a good number of vegetarian and gluten-free options. The dessert menu is also extensive but we felt that lunch and ice-cream pretty much covered our needs. The breakfast menu contained a lamb and chocolate sausage and it is therefore imperative that I get back to this chocolaterie during a morning sometime, because I have to know what that tastes like. The menu seemed a little on the pricey side, but it’s worth it because you then don’t have to go elsewhere to hunt for food…
As for the chocolate, you will have heard that the first bite is with the eyes, and the first bite at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is a glorious one. There are so many beautiful, inviting things to look at that it’s hard to know where to start.
I loved the blocks of chocolate with packaging featuring local artists painting local scenery, and I was delighted by they way you could package several of these blocks like a shelf of books.
There was a whole section of chocolates infused with bush foods, and this was particularly stunning. The ingredients for these chocolates have been wild-harvested in consultation with the local indigenous community, and indigenous artwork is on display and for sale in this area. 50c from each ($5.50) block goes to a development fund for the local indigenous community, and these bars, too, have packaging decorated by local artists.
The garden blocks of chocolate were beautiful and fascinating, with flavours like celery and caramelised sesame seed, or honeycomb and lavender. You could buy a whole set in a miniature garden planter, which was a nice touch.
I also like the way you can see some of the chocolate through the back of the packaging.
Then there were the truffles, which are beautiful and delicately decorated, and have the same combination of adventure and local produce as the blocks. The colours and shapes were just beautiful – I especially loved the bright red strawberry truffle that looked exactly like a strawberry.
There are all sorts of novelty chocolates available too; green frogs, grey sheep, chocolate eggs containing baby chocolate animals (I’m not sure I’d have the heart to eat those, but it’s a very cute idea), giant freckles, and chocolate biscuits. There is also nougat, chocolate boiled lollies, and all sorts of fruits and nuts covered in chocolate, as well as honey and jam.
And periodically, staff come and offer you tastings of dark, milk or white chocolate buds, of chocolate peppermint crisp, of chocolate boiled lollies. It’s a hard life.
In terms of dietary requirements, I noticed that the chocolates, ice-creams and cafe food all demonstrated an awareness of food allergies. There were a number of dairy-free sorbets (their chocolate sorbet was particularly exceptional) too, and relevant products were marked as gluten-free, nut-free and something starting with A that I didn’t think to enquire about and am yet to fathom. Also, all their dark chocolate bars seem to be vegan!
We had our lunch, and then went for a walk around the dam (which, actually, you can’t entirely do – we walked halfway, and then had to come back, as there was too much flora that didn’t need disturbing), before coming back to eat ice-cream and make our chocolate selections.
(One cannot possibly try them all, no matter how tempted. And we really were tempted.)
We decided to focus mostly on the chocolate blocks this time, because the flavours were so interesting, and because we do, after all, have good sources of chocolate animals and chocolate truffles closer to home. First of all, we gravitated to the beautiful, arty gourmet range.
These chocolates are rather beautiful to behold both in terms of the packaging and in the way the bars themselves are presented as little shining logs which can be broken off one by one, like an exceptionally high-class Kit-Kat. The dark chocolate is very richly dark, and I think it would be rather luscious as a plain bar, too. The first I tried was the lemon, lime and mint, which had a heady scent of lemon and lime oil from the moment I opened the packet. I found the citrus flavour a bit strong for my taste, but Andrew loved it.
The macadamia and salted caramel was pretty much a perfect chocolate of its kind, with bits of nut and caramel through it, blending perfectly with the milk chocolate. Definitely one to go back for. The orchard harvest, with pieces of dried pear, raspberry, orange and other orchard fruits was a good fruity chocolate with a nice snap, but I felt the chocolate dominated a bit much. The strawberry vanilla was probably the pick of the bunch, with tiny pieces of freeze-dried strawberry providing a zingy counterpart to the dark chocolate. I couldn’t taste the vanilla much, but then, I’d just had three other pieces of chocolate, so this probably wasn’t the fault of the chocolatier!
The bush tucker range was both fascinating and just a little bit weird. We decided to try six of the eight flavours, eschewing the aniseed gum and one other that I have temporarily forgotten.
The first one we tried was the Gum Leaf and Wild Honey. Definitely a bizarre flavour – my comment to Andrew was, oh look, someone has invented Strepsil-flavoured chocolate. Or is it Vicks Vaporub chocolate? I swear, sniffing the chocolate cleared my sinuses a bit. The honey makes the chocolate somewhat fudgy in texture, a bit more like some of the raw chocolates out there. And the flavour itself is really hard to fathom – I mean, to me it really does taste like all the best cold remedies rolled into one chocolate bar, and I don’t care for it, but the aftertaste is more like a scent than a flavour – it’s like those hot days when you walk to the train station and can smell the eucalyptus oil coming off all the gum trees, and I actually really like that. I’d never imagined appreciating a chocolate more for its sensory appeal five minutes after eating it than while it’s in my mouth, but that’s really how it is. It’s truly unlike any other chocolate that I’ve tasted. And it might even be a bit addictive.
Lemon Myrtle is one of the few bush herbs I’ve worked with much, so I was pleased to find that the lemon myrtle chocolate did indeed have a lovely, deep myrtle flavour – less ‘fizzy’ than some lemon myrtles I’ve tried, but pleasingly herbal and lemonadey. Dreamtime Harvest was also very myrtle-ish – it contains anise myrtle, mountain pepper, lemon myrtle and sesame seeds, as well as sea vegetables and blue gum. I mostly tasted lemon myrtle, with a hint of crunch from the sesame seeds. Pleasing, but I was a bit disappointed not to find any of the other, less well-known flavours there. Perhaps I just don’t know them well enough to recognise them?
The Red Desert Sun, our only white chocolate block, threatened spicy pepperberries and scared me at first sight with its pinkness (actually, it looked like Dreamtime dot art at first glance – very pretty). How much spice was going to be in this chocolate? Actually, the answer turned out to be not so much. The pink was from freeze-dried strawberries and the flavour was somewhere between gingerbread and black pepper. I rather liked it, though it was a little on the sweet side.
Native Fruit Spice, our next pick, actually had more of a pepperberry taste, along with a fruity taste and a herby taste and a chocolate taste, and it’s really hard to say what this chocolate tasted like, because there was so much in there. We definitely liked it, though, and we liked its herbal aftertaste, too.
My favourite as an eating chocolate (rather than a Gourmet Chocolate Experience) was definitely the Bush Tomato and Jindilli Nuts. I’ve never tried either flavour before, but I really liked this – it tasted caramelly and a little stone-fruity, and the Jindilli nuts tasted like pieces of sweet biscuit – it reminded me a bit of really good hedgehog. This was one of the sweeter chocolates, and felt like something I’d have enjoyed as a child, too.
I’m always fascinated by herbs in chocolate, so the Kitchen Garden range was right up my alley. We chose two flavours that I was sure would be delicious, one I was uncertain about and one which sounded fairly weird…
Naturally, I had to try the Caramelised Sesame & Celery chocolate first, because really, that sounds like a bizarre combination. And it was, oh yes it was. Full marks to the chocolatier for getting a very true, strong flavour of celery into this chocolate. If you have ever wondered what celery would taste like with chocolate, this bar would answer your question. Having said that, I’m not entirely convinced that this was a good idea… I couldn’t taste the sesame, but Andrew felt it dominated. The honeycomb and lavender, however, was *wonderful*. You could smell the lavender from the moment you opened the packet and the crunchy, sweet honeycomb was a perfect pairing with it. I could eat this bar all day.
We next tried the hazelnut and chipotle chilli. Or, to be more precise CHIPOTLE CHILLI. Because for me, I had a tiny nibble of smoky Gianduja before my mouth exploded. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a wimp, chilli-wise, but that really was quite something. It seemed like a good set of flavours, but I’m not going to be able to eat any more of it. Because I no longer have a mouth. Well, no, but because that really is too spicy for me. Andrew, being the perverse creature he is, couldn’t taste the chilli at all (sometimes I do not understand that man – I mean, yes, I am a chilli wimp, but I do cook with it fairly often, so I know when something is spicy and that was spicy), but objected to the hazelnuts. Not the right chocolate for this household, alas.
The final flavour we tried was orange and rosemary, and that was the absolute winner in this set – very dark, with a good whiff of rosemary from the moment we opened the packet, and wonderfully orangey from the dried orange that was both in the chocolate and on the chocolate. The one tiny complaint I would have is that it’s a little difficult to break up the chocolate and get a bit of dried orange on each piece. Of course, the solution is evident: eat the whole block yourself. I could do that…
Andrew and I then chose six truffles each, basically because I have no self-control about chocolate. I chose apple cider, blueberry, lemon and thyme, passionfruit punch , apricot caramel and raspberry, because I always choose raspberry. The apple cider is quite nicely alcoholic, with a taste of apple at the start followed by a hit of alcohol! I’m a lightweight, but I suspect I’m already over my limit… The lemon and thyme gave a sharp burst of lemon on the tongue, followed by a strong thyme flavour. I don’t normally like the sweetness of white chocolate, but it worked here, because the thyme has that touch of bitterness. The blueberry tasted like real, lightly cooked blueberries, and the passionfruit has a mellow sort of passionfruit flavour rather than a tangy one, again with a good alcoholic kick to it. This and the lemon and thyme chocolate were my favourites. The raspberry was good, but not up to the standard of Koko Black, and the apricot caramel had a nice apricot flavour, but I found the caramel a little sweet for my taste. A perfectly good chocolate, just not my thing.
Andrew’s choice was a bag of chocolate-coated dried apricots.
Dark chocolate. Good dried apricots. Nothing else going on here, but then, nothing else needs to be going on. We’ve eaten our way through half the packet already…
All in all, the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie makes a really lovely day out – it’s a beautiful place to visit, and their chocolate makes use of some truly unique flavours. I would say that some flavours definitely work better than others, and it’s certainly not cheap (the Bush Foods chocolates were $5.50 each; the larger gourmet bars were more like $11 per bar), but given the quality and unusual nature of the products, I think the value is quite good, and in some cases exceptional. Definitely worth a look if you are a Melburnian with an interest in chocolate.
The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice-Creamery is located at 35 Old Healesville Road, Yarra Glen, and is open every day except Christmas! Getting there on public transport is, I suspect, not actually possible, but judging by their website, there are a lot of foodie tours that include the Chocolaterie on their schedule, so that’s always an option… possibly even for hungry me…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~One Year Ago: Adventures with Ingredients: Kadaifi Pastry, Sweet Cheese and Kunafa bi Jibin Two Years Ago: Lemon Drink for a Hot Day