Vanuatu Cocoa becomes high grade chocolate in tiny Australian factory that makes bespoke chocolate.
The New South Wales town of Mudgee, in the Cudgegong Valley, has a reputation as the hub of a wine region and as a tourist destination, but it is also home to a small bespoke chocolate factory.
Luke Spencer runs the his little factory from a shed at the rear of his Mudgee home, roasting and processing cocoa from Vanuatu into single source handmade chocolate.
From the street, it’s just another charming house on a sleepy country town street, but if you follow your nose through the side gate and up the garden path, you start to get a scent of chocolate.
Chocolate bars from tiny Mudgee factory
PHOTO: Luke Spencer says his chocolate bars are designed to remind consumers where the delicious flavour comes from, the cocoa bean. (Sally Bryant)
Spencer Cocoa is a relatively young business; Mr Spencer has been making chocolate for three years in his purpose built shed.
“We are the little factory in the suburbs of Mudgee,” he said.
“We don’t get many complaints from our neighbours because all of our smells are really, really good smells.”
Before developing his business making chocolate, Luke Spencer worked at the opposite end of the production chain, managing cocoa plantations in the Pacific.
With this experience, and with insight into the production of Cocoa, he saw the opportunities available to value add to the cocoa beans from the region.
“If those growers sell their beans to a local agent, the price they get for them is about one third less than the world price.”
Luke Spencer – Mudgee chocolate maker
“We have developed a relationship with a handful of growers in Vanuatu and we buy directly from them.
“If those growers sell their beans to a local agent, the price they get for them is about one third less than the world price.
“We are able to offer them pretty close to the world price; there are a few shipping costs we have to bear, but other than that we are giving them the world price.”
Mr Spencer said it’s satisfying to be able to offer his growers a good price for their efforts.
“I know what hard work it is to grow cocoa, so I like to be able to pay my growers well.
“Their main cost of living comes from education and medical expenses; they grow most of their own food.”
Making chocolate in central west New South WalesPHOTO: Luke Spencer makes chocolate in Mudgee, from beans he sources direct from the grower in Vanuatu. (Sally Bryant)
The process of transporting the cocoa beans has not changed in decades; they are picked and packed in bags and then carried by hand into the containers aboard ships.
The process is time consuming but, as Mr Spencer points out, it uses no fossil fuels and employs a large workforce of manual labourers.
Cocoa beans from Vanuatu
PHOTO: Cocoa beans grown in Vanuatu are shipped to Mudgee in the New South Wales central west, where chocolate-maker Luke Spencer creates single plantation chocolate. (Sally Bryant)
When the cocoa arrives at Mudgee, it is dried out in the sun before it is roasted; the first of a series of processing steps.
“We roast between 40 and 60 kilos of beans a week,” Mr Spencer said
“That’s what makes us pretty unique. There are not too many actual chocolate makers in Australia; there are melters but not many actual chocolate makers.”
See more stories in our blog.