Chocolate Trails: Central Victoria
Chris and I recently had a chance to spend a couple of days in Trentham, Central Victoria. The area is mostly farm country and very quaint, but it's also another weekend retreat for urbanites since it's less than two hours from Melbourne.
One thermometer-breaking day (I think it peaked at 42C--certainly over 100F), we decided to forgo sitting by the side of the community pool in favor of driving around in search of the perfect chocolate. The region has some spectacular food and, of course, wine; and the entire state of Victoria (for those of you who are not familiar, Australia has six states and two territories--Melbourne is in Victoria; Sydney is in New South Wales, which is one state over to the northeast) is pushing a very large tourism campaign to get people to visit places like this.
We followed a free map of the "Vine to Vintage Trail," focusing on local food and trailing off from the wineries. The first stop was Daylesford, a country town now frequented by enough people in alternative lifestyles to have Thai tofu pies alongside traditional meat pies in shops. A cafe called Sweet Indulgence has some nice real-chocolate-based hot and iced drinks, including a spicy one. From there we drove to the Lavandula farm outside of Hepburn Springs. It's a very active lavender farm originally started by Swiss-Italian immigrants who came to Australia looking for gold. They served us one of the best meals we've had in a month and a half in Australia: lavender champagne cocktails, a charcuterie plate with all manner of cured meats and homemade sausages, and an antipasto platter with delicious marinated vegetables and an assortment of olives grown at the farm.
Then came our first chocolate stop. Using our tourist map, we found The Chocolate Mill on the side of the highway. The chocolate shop was housed in a building made of recycled materials and the first person we saw when we walked in was an artist-in-residence molding a tree out of clay. I applaud this experiment in sustainable living but the chocolates were less inspired and the flavor had traveled so far from subtle that Chris dubbed one of them (a promising-looking Mayan-themed chile pyramid) the Tandoori Truffle.
After antique shopping in Castlemaine, our last stop was Colliers Chocolates in Sutton Grange. Chocolatier Ray Collier is a well-trained artisan who was happy to let me strike up a conversation about the percentage of cacao in fine chocolates and to counter my fanaticism with an explanation that not only the percentage of cacao (or "chocolate liquor") but the source of the beans themselves accounts for the flavor and quality of the finished product. Of course the Shiraz bon-bons that we bought melted in the car, but they made for a nice hot chocolate when whisked into milk the following morning.