Home-grown chocolate hit

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - RICHARD KOSER

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.”

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