Words: Dianne Bortoletto | Images: Elements Margaret River
Chocolate – one of life’s great pleasures and, thanks to some delicious examples made in the Margaret River region, it’s a pleasure to be enjoyed right at the heart of your visit.
God love the ancient Aztecs for inventing chocolate. Known as the food of the Gods, many of us have an ongoing love affair with chocolate, yours truly included.
If you don’t love chocolate, then we can’t be friends. For chocolate lovers, read on as we discover the Margaret River region’s finest and tell you a little more about those responsible for its creation.
Gabriel Chocolate – Chocolate Maker
At Gabriel Chocolate, you can see the chocolate machine at work through a viewing window, taste different origins and blends, and enjoy a coffee with a chocolatey treat in the café. The modern chocolate gallery is marketed as a playground for adults.
Single origin chocolate is made from beans from Venezuela, Ecuador, Ghana and Madagascar, and flavoured blends such as espresso, mint and orange are all popular.
Self-taught chocolate maker Gabriel Myburgh swapped the courtroom for a kitchen, when he opened up Gabriel Chocolate in 2010. He gave up his career as a lawyer to make small batch chocolate, because “chocolate makes everyone happy”.
“I thought, so few people make chocolate on a small scale and I was always interested in chocolate, so we decided to give it a go.”
The South African-born 49-year-old says his main focus is to make chocolate like wine, by allowing the different influences of the naturally occurring flavours inherent in the bean come through.
Margaret River Chocolate Company – Chocolatier
The region’s first venue dedicated to chocolate swung open its doors in 1999. Known for offering generous tastings, the Margaret River Chocolate Company draws hundreds of visitors every day of the year, except for Christmas Day when they are closed.
Through the viewing window, you can see the chocolatiers sculpting handmade truffles, and making flavoured chocolate bars of salted caramel, mint chip, orange, coconut rough, sandalwood and cookies and cream. There are speciality chocolates, giant freckles, rocky road, chocolate-coated nougat, chocolate sauces, drinking chocolate, cocoa powder and even sugar-free chocolate.
While the family-friendly factory mightn’t lure the serious connoisseur, the vibrant flavour of the single origin chocolate from Ghana, Tanzania, Java, Uganda, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea and Venezuela are sure to impress.
The Chocolate Café serves lunch – everything from burgers to salad to soup – and they boast the best brownies in Australia.
Rather than spending money on a holiday house in the 1990s, business partners Martin Black and Patrick Coward decided to open a chocolate factory instead.
I’ve been a chocolate addict forever, and at the time, there weren’t many gourmet food experiences,” Black said. We wanted to create a exciting place where visitors could have fun, and it went crazy from day one.
“We use local honey, dried fruits and nuts, milk and creams – essentially local ingredients wherever we can.”
Did you know…?
A chocolate maker creates chocolate from cacao beans.
A chocolatier makes confectionery from chocolate.
Temper Temper – Chocolatier
Margaret River’s newest addition to the chocolate family is Temper Temper. The shop, which is also a café, has three walls lined with delectable rows of chocolates. There’s also a viewing window to watch the chocolatier at work.
Made by hand in small batches of just 45 blocks at a time, Temper Temper offers over 200 different varieties of chocolate, from kumquat to cardamom. There’s sugar-free varieties, organic, single origin, spiced, fruit and nut, essential oils, house blends and novelty blends such as salted caramel popcorn.
The chocolate is sourced from Switzerland and Belgium, but it’s in Margaret River where local flavours are blended then tempered for shine and snap.
Owner of Temper Temper Roz Koeppen says she loves the creativity of being a chocolatier.
“I experiment and most of the time it works, but sometimes it doesn’t, but that doesn’t matter.
“We like to use local produce in season – whether it’s figs, blueberries, raspberry or more unusual flavours like fennel.”
Bahen & Co. – Chocolate Maker
Peeling back the pretty wrapper of a Bahen & Co chocolate feels like opening a Christmas present. On the back of the pack of the unflavoured bars, you’ll find just two ingredients listed: cocoa and raw cane sugar.
Bahen & Co chocolate tastes as good as it looks, but best of all it’s the sort of chocolate that is actually good for you. There’s eight types of 70 and 80 per cent chocolate including single origins from Brazil, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea, delectable flavoured varieties such as chilli and salt, almond and sea salt, and cracked coffee as well as two house blends.
There’s no chocolate factory open for visits, but you can find the beautiful bars in speciality gourmet stores in Margaret River, throughout WA, across Australia, and in eight countries around the world. Stockists include Harrods in London, Jason Fine Foods in Asia and the prestigious La Grande Epicerie de Paris.
Josh Bahen travelled to Burgundy, France, to perfect his craft as a winemaker. That’s where his love affair began, with one bite of chocolate made the traditional way by a fifth-generation French chocolate maker.
“It was like eating fruit, I couldn’t believe the flavour,” Bahen said.
Bahen travelled to San Francisco and Italy to train in traditional chocolate making techniques.
“Making chocolate from bean to bar with just two ingredients is hard. Sourcing good quality cocoa beans is paramount to getting great flavour,” the 38-year-old said.
“Like wine making, we respect the fruit and make our chocolate to reflect the terroir.
“I can proudly say that one hundred per cent of our beans are bought directly from the farmer for a fair price. This benefits the farmer, instead of multiple cocoa brokers.
“Building relationships with the farmers is very important to us – to be honest, it’s the best part of what we do; travelling overseas, meeting farmers and working with them to help during pruning and harvesting. It feels good to reward them for producing quality beans with a direct sale.”
If chocolate’s not your thing, there are other delicious sweet treats to try in the region:
This ancient confectionery (dating back in its white form to 15th-century Italy) is made traditionally with sugar, honey, glucose, roasted nuts and dried fruits. Their nougat recipe is French inspired with a creaminess and chewiness unlike any other. Bettenay’s secret recipe is closely guarded among family members and hand-made in small batches ensuring their nougat is always of the highest standard. Try the Lamington limited edition nougat or for a classy treat, try a glass of Nougaretto, a nougat liqueur which comes in two flavours – honey and almond and coffee and almond nougat liqueur.
Margaret River Fudge Factory
For fans of this sublime chewy treat, the Margaret River Fudge Factory has been turning out delicious bites since 1999. To ensure that every piece of fudge maintains the highest level of quality, each phase of the preparation and production is done by hand. The team individually inspects all ingredients in every batch of fudge, with varieties like honey macadamia, Irish cream and choc mint. This temperamental product needs close monitoring to ensure the correct temperature and cooking time is followed. A slight variation in cooking time or temperature could cause the fudge not to set or to lose its robust flavour. The company also produces chocolate-covered coffee beans and chocolate postcards.