Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Two Cowboys on a Journey: Ocho, Dunedin - New Zealand

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate - Otago Chocolate Company

(Learn: **** Inspire: **** Amaze: **** Live: ****)
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It is a bit of a closed society, the people that make chocolate. There is a lot of secrecy involved. A key factor in this secrecy is that it is too hot to make chocolate where the cacao beans are grown, so you have to really want to make chocolate to give it a go. While cacao is grown and harvested near the equator, it is not the ideal place for chocolate to be made. It is too hot and humid. The right temperature, knowledge, climate and commitment is required at a totally different location in the world. A place like Dunedin, New Zealand. Only the really motivated Producer can succeed in this business. If you do, it is a delicious business to have.
"If there is a fork in the road, take it. You never know where it will take you..." Liz Rowe, Ocho, NZ


Ocho is a craft bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Yes, it is the other chocolate company you will find in Dunedin, next to Cadbury New Zealand. I would venture that it is the "real chocolate" company in the beautiful city of Dunedin.

Being a craft chocolate maker means that Ocho imports the fermented and dried beans and make the chocolate from scratch. This includes roasting, grinding, conching and tempering the chocolate before moulding it into bars. Unlike big industrial chocolate makers they use simple equipment and their processes are very hands-on because none of their equipment is automated.

It's a bit like craft beer compared to mainstream beer companies. The beans are roasted and processed in small batches so some variations are possible from batch to batch. They don’t blend any of their chocolate, so each batch is fully traceable back to the farmer co-operative where the beans were grown.

Impressions

Ocho is a real gem of a business that Liz and her two assistants established. We arrived the morning to find a tiny little-shared kitchen and three passionate chocoholics, in the industrial area of Dunedin.

"You should have waited until we are in our new place." is the first words we heard from Liz, as we unpacked our camera gear. Unfortunately, our time in Dunedin was limited. We couldn't wait to do the profile at another date after a scheduled visit with a Producer in Alexandra fell through at short notice.

After meeting Liz and her team, we really were happy that we didn't delay this profile. It is one of the most surprising profiles we've done to-date.

Three things stood out from our visit with Ocho:

  • Unbelievable Story: Why trek ten hours into the jungles of Papua Neuguinea for cacao? "Because it makes for special and unique chocolate." according to Liz, a Journalist, Artist and now avid Chocolate Maker Producer. Yes, you've heard it right. Liz hikes into the back country bush to source her ingredients in one of the most inhospitable and primitive locations in the Pacific. Because of this commitment, Ocho's cacao beans and unique flavour of chocolate is something you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. She had to tell me the story twice, so unrealistic it sounded the first time I heard it. We were treated to something amazing and groundbreaking in this tiny little kitchen, far away from most of the world. How can something this amazing remain a secret? It cannot! Because Liz is committed to only using cacao that is sourced in the Pacific, her chocolate is unique in many ways. It tastes phenomenal, and it is unique in her commitment to the people that farm the beans. Many of them live in absolute poverty as subsistence farmers.
  • Ingenuity: Liz contracted a local engineering student to help her build the equipment for processing the cacao. The beans are cracked with the help of a Bosch drill that cranks the machine. It is winnowed by a vacuum cleaner and a plastic funnel held together with duct tape and fed by a food processing meat grinder. Pure Kiwi ingenuity! It all works to keep the process as simple as possible for capturing the true flavour of what the beans have on offer. Only two ingredients go into the majority of the Ocho chocolate. Cacao and Sugar. That's it! The way it used to be. It leaves you with a range of flavours that work its way through your palate by letting it linger for longer. Truly amazing.
  • Nothing Like It: Liz spoiled our taste in chocolate for good. Chocolate will never be the same again! After working your way through 88% PNG, no chocolate can ever be as good as we've had from Liz. During our days in Canada we will be reminiscing about the flavours of Ocho and its uniquely flavoured Pacific cacao beans, and remember the passionate ladies that keep it simple, yet amazing.
We are counting the days until we are back in New Zealand to order and enjoy a delicious Ocho chocolate bar.

We also recommend the Beekeeper's Bar: New Zealand Manuka Honey, Bee Pollen and Puffed Amaranth are added to OCHO's 70% single origin dark chocolate in this bar. The amaranth and bee pollen combine to give a soft crunch to the chocolate and bring a mild toasted flavour, while the Manuka honey adds a strong honey flavour for a lingering finish reminiscent of summer in a beech forest. You can get it here (ocho.co.nz).

Now tell me if this isn't amazing!!

Hendrik van Wyk
Producer and Second Cowboy

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