Home-grown chocolate hit
BY NEXT Easter, the Puglisis could be eating chocolate produced from their own cocoa beans.
The Whyanbeel cane growers decided to diversify into cocoa a few years ago when the price of sugar was at record lows.
Along with a few other growers in the district, they combined to form the Daintree Cocoa company last year, aiming to process their own cocoa and produce local chocolate.
For Angelo Puglisi, it made sense to turn one awkward cane paddock into a cocoa plantation.
“It has always been a difficult little block,” Mr Puglisi said.
“The cost of production probably outweighed what we were getting for the sugar, so it was an easy decision.”
The crop cycle fits in well with the sugar season, with most of the picking either before or after the sugar crush.
While the cocoa has advantages over other fruit crops, being more resilient to pests and being easier to transport, harvesting is a labourintensive process, involving many members of the family one morning every fortnight during the season.
“It’s our family bonding time,” Therese Puglisi jokes.
The kids Angelo Jnr and Lucia enjoy eating the pulp from the fruit and driving the buggy along the crop rows.
With a current yield of eight tonnes per hectare at a price of between $700 and $1000 a tonne, the cocoa is not the most profitable crop in the world, which is one reason local growers have decided to band together to process the crop and thereby capture more profit per tonne.
At the moment, only four local growers have joined the cooperative company, which is getting ready to begin marketing chocolate under the Daintree Estate brand.
When it hits local shelves later this year, Daintree Estate will be the only chocolate bar containing wholly Australian ingredients.
The company is experimenting with dark chocolate, but the Puglisi kids are hanging out for the milk variety, expected later this year.
“My wife Mary loves the dark chocolate,” Angelo Snr said. “For me, it’s an acquired taste.” While the Puglisis have not regretted branching out into cocoa, they say it will never become their main focus.
“Cocoa will never replace sugar as our main crop,” Gerard said.
“But it fits in well with the sugar, and it’s good not to have all your eggs in the one basket.”