Wine chocolates steal the show

In this year’s FOOD Challenge Awards the winner of the Confectionery Award, Farm by Nature, also won ‘Best in Show’ for its innovative wine chocolates.

Like any new company wanting to establish themselves in a consolidated market, Farm by Nature was presented with the challenge of differentiating themselves, when they first decided to start up a chocolate company in 2004.

Having been in the confectionery industry for twenty years with Cadbury Schweppes, Farm by Nature chief executive officer Simon Armstrong believed there was no point producing another Cadbury Dairy Milk or Mars Bar and began thinking about other possibilities for chocolate.

“People often eat wine and chocolate together though no one has ever combined wine and chocolate in a way that complements both,” Armstrong said.

And so the idea for Cocoa Farm Wine Chocolates was born.

Though a seemingly simple concept, it took about twelve months of experimentation to get the finished product to a state where it could be made commercially.

As opposed to liqueur-style chocolates, which have a liquid truffle centre, Farm by Nature developed novel patent-protected infusion techniques to infuse a variety of vine fruits, including sultanas and raisins, with red wine before combining them with the chocolate.

“For twelve months we were just working in the kitchen, trialling a whole lot of different options to see whether we could actually make it,” Armstrong said.

“One of the problems with chocolate is that trying to mix it with water is like mixing water and oil; it just doesn’t mix.”

Developing the technology to add water-based flavours and powders to a fatty chocolate matrix gave Farm by Nature its competitive edge.

Never before in the world has a method for infusing fruit with real wine and high antioxidant wine extracts, such as grape seed, been developed.

Not only does this novel process prevent the chocolate from going lumpy with the addition of water, but improves the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of chocolate, a scalar value used to compare the antioxidant content of different food products.

Antioxidants and flavour

Farm by Nature capitalised on the wealth of research available on the antioxidant levels and subsequent health benefits of red wine and cocoa in their wine chocolates, resulting in a product that has been scientifically proven to contain greater antioxidant levels than a glass of red wine.

“We discovered that grape-seed extract is the major source of antioxidant in red wine and that the grape seeds are typically thrown away during wine production,” Armstrong said.

“We were able to source these extracts from a company that processes the by-products of wine and add them back into the wine, for a product with genuine health benefits.”

A real wine-flavour experience is enhanced by special mixtures of dried powders developed by Farm by Nature, in collaboration with the Wine Research Institute.

Authentic notes of shiraz, merlot and pinot noir are dispersed using butter and milk fractions, typically used in milk chocolate manufacture.

In addition to achieving a smooth mouthfeel, this innovative delivery system improves chocolate’s typical organoleptic experience.

“In order to mimic the varietal characteristics of different wines, we not only used the wine to soak the currants, but also flavoured the chocolate slightly,” Armstrong said.

Production times

The time taken to make the chocolate — from infusion of the currents with wine to the final block — is about a week.

As opposed to standard chocolate-making processes, in which the chocolate is mixed and formed into blocks in a couple of days, the wine chocolate involves infusing currants, drying them off, flavouring the chocolate, placing the currants into the chocolate, and then forming it into blocks.

The extended processing time involved, and the increased demand for the product when it was first launched in 2005, presented Farm by Nature with the challenge of producing the chocolate in commercial quantities.

“We soon realised that moving things from a lab/kitchen stage to a production stage was a real difficulty as we went from making the chocolate in small quantities to making two tonnes at a time,” Armstrong said.

“We had to upgrade our equipment for both the infusion and drying processes, and bring in more industrial-sized equipment.”

Demand for the wine chocolate, particularly from overseas, continues to grow because it is unique not only in Australia, but in the global confectionery market.

Export opportunities are expected to increase again in the next twelve to eighteen months with the launch of the company’s, and Australia’s, first authentic-Australian chocolate bar made with chocolate sourced from Australian-grown cocoa.

“We call ourselves Cocoa Farm because we actually own a cocoa farm in far north Queensland,” Armstrong said.

“We have been involved in an experimental plot with the department of primary industries for eight years now, testing whether cocoa could be grown in Australia, and will now become the first company in Australia to commercialise it.”

Farm by Nature expects to start processing the Australian cocoa in twelve to eighteen months and, depending on demand, will produce all of its chocolate using this local produce.

The company has entered into a contract with Australian cane farmers who will grow cocoa and supply it to Farm by Nature on an exclusive basis.

“This has created an enormous amount of interest from over-seas as a lot of people are into regionally-different chocolate,” Armstrong said.

The cocoa farm ties in closely with current trends within Australia’s food industry, with a demand for goods that are less travelled and less processed.

Indeed the company, in many respects, is about deviation from the norm and creating products that are innovative and value added, a quality that has made them a deserving overall winner in the 2007 FOOD Challenge Awards.

For further information, please contact Dr Barry Kitchen.

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