For the chocolater lover, rather than the connoisseur, take a fun excursion to a regional chocolate factory.
At the beginning of the Christmas season in December 2012, the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery threw open its doors and declared its presence on a hilltop with sweeping views of the Victorian country side.
Its bare, maroon-painted warehouse exterior gives nothing away. Inside, the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is vast. It is however, poorly air-conditioned, a factor that will aggravate sensitive nerves on summer weekends when the place is invaded by endless troupes of hyperactive children, screaming toddlers, anxious parents and telescopic-camera toting tourists. To the left of the entrance, there’s a fishbowl set-up where one can view a worker setting little rectangles of ganache onto a conveyor belt to be drenched in molten chocolate, air-dried in a furnace, and dumped into large plastic tubs. It makes for great viewing, but the non-child can’t help but ponder about the degree of hand-made artisanship claimed by an enterprise that proudly proclaims to employ French and Belgian chocolatiers.
To the right of the entrance, numerous tables are stacked with tall pyramids of chocolate products, all fabulously gift-wrapped in signature stripes of bright pink, green and purple. There are giant chocolate freckles, chocolate eggs with plastic farm creatures inside, metre-long bars of chocolate, bags of rocky road slices, boxes of chocolate-coated nut balls and other snacking tidbits, and even novelty items such as chocolate cooking sauces, chocolate lip balm and chocolate soap. It is very easy to grab a basket and fill it up with dreams of a decadent chocolate gift hamper. Visitors may avail themselves to three giant cauldrons of “free samples” of chocolate drops — officially, this means that you use a long metal spoon and shower a dozen little chocolate pastille drops into your greedy little hands. In reality though, this means little children shoving little fists into the pile of chocolate pastille drops as though it is a pirate’s treasure chest of chocolate coins before leaping away to smear themselves with chocolate in the verdant grounds of the chocolaterie.
At the centre of the chocolaterie, a long glass counter displays an extensive range of chocolate bites. Made from Belgian couverture, the starting price is $10.95 for a box of six, which is on par to other Melbourne chocolatiers. We purchased a small box of the more unusual concoctions, but were left rather, underwhelmed. With the exception of the Tennis Ball (a coconut ganache surrounded by lime jelly and white chocolate), the flavours were subdued and the chocolate itself lacked depth and tasted rather too sweet. The Bush Tucker was said to have enclosed a wattleseed and dried bush tomato ganache; the Jasmine Tea was alleged to have been infused with the finest organic teas; the Chinese Five Spice was supposed to be flavoured with cinnamon, fennel, star anise, cloves and pepper; and it was claimed that the Pina Colada would be a little intoxicating. Yet, our tastebuds detected only whispers or only chocolate. A more sensitive palate than ours is clearly required.
Towards the far right of the chocolaterie’s entrance, an open cafeteria is situated adjacent to a small al fresco area. The cafetaria offers a range of typical cafe-fare — the usual sandwiches, chunky muffins and coffee. It also offers, however, a range of lusciously-described dessert options — think giant sundae goblets, fancy patisserie creations and lava-like chocolate drizzled on a variety of comestibles. A machine churns and spins liquid white, milk and dark chocolate into shot glasses, complementary with certain purchases. Yet, none of this appears to snatch anybody’s attention as much as the ice cream bar. Snaking around sticky tables neglected by an overwhelmed retinue of waiters, an inter-generational crowd queue for the exceedingly popular ice cream. The ice cream is indeed, good — creamy, well-flavoured and traditional flavours (vanilla, chocolate, honeycomb, berries etc) — but it is not a revelation. Nonetheless, one cannot, and ought not to, complain. It’s all rather fun. We can vouch for the Rum Raisin, Chocolate, Cookies n Cream and the Vanilla Bean.
If one is looking for artisan chocolates of the highest quality, go elsewhere. The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is not Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. If however, one is looking for a pleasant alternative to the ethanol guzzling that typifies a usual excursion to the Yarra Valley, a family-friendly get-away that will mesmerize the attention of children and adults alike, another pit-stop attraction for your out-of-town tourist friend, or a place to do some special occasion gift-shopping or chocolate-fuelled retail therapy, the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is most certainly, an ideal space. A word of warning: those with an aversion to children, high crowds or high noise ought not to visit on the weekends.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, 35 Old Healesville Road/Melba Highway, Yarra Glen, Vic.
- ☑ Budget: $-$$
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Chocolate.
- ☑ Must-eat: Coconut-lime chocolate bite and the ice cream.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: For the chocolater lover, rather than the connoisseur, take a fun eating and shopping excursion to a regional chocolate factory.