Liz Rowe has a de­li­cious job — she’s an award- win­ning choco­latier

A CRAFT CHOCO­LATE COM­PANY IS WIN­NING AWARDS, AND THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF DUNEDINITES

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS EMMA RAW­SON

CHOCO­LATE IS A FORCE to be reck­oned with. Liz Rowe should know; she fol­lowed the path to the dark side five years ago. And by dark, that’s 100 per cent ca­cao choco­late, with no milk, no sugar – only re­fined co­coa beans sourced from the Solomon Is­lands. That choco­late lured her down a path quite dif­fer­ent to her orig­i­nal goal — she had wanted to be a pain­ter and ce­ramic artist un­til choco­late dis­tracted her.

It started as a hobby, roast­ing ca­cao and tem­per­ing choco­late (heat­ing to com­bine in­gre­di­ents) in her home kitchen, and evolved into full-blown choco­late nerdi­ness. “I found it quite fun and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to scale up and make a bit of ex­tra money to fund my art habit. Fa­tal last words: I bought more equip­ment and sud­denly I had six sacks of beans in my kitchen.”

She founded OCHO (the Otago Choco­late Com­pany) in 2013 and now em­ploys three full-time staff and a hand­ful of part-timers pro­duc­ing 90 kilo­grammes of choco­late a week. OCHO is sold in spe­cial­ity stores na­tion­wide and at the Otago Farm­ers Mar­ket.

Liz’s dark choco­late bars had the judges rav­ing at the re­cent New Zealand Choco­late Awards. OCHO’s Solomons 100 Per Cent Ca­cao and 75 Per Cent Fiji Ca­cao bars were both awarded gold medals in the dark choco­late bean-to-bar cat­e­gory.

Head judge Elle Crocker, aka Elle Coco, the Britain-born choco­late ex­pert from the Bri­tish Academy of Choco­late and the In­ter­na­tional Choco­late Awards, de­scribed the OCHO Solomons choco­late as one of the best 100 per cent ca­cao choco­lates she has ever tasted. “Of­ten 100 per cent ca­cao choco­late is dry on the palate but this isn’t, and it is sur­pris­ingly fruity with a creamy tex­ture. It is good choco­late.”

Liz keeps close con­tact with grow­ers and

the ca­cao sup­ply chain in the Pa­cific re­gion to en­sure the qual­ity of her beans. “Agnes Pilopaso, an en­ter­pris­ing woman in her 20s, man­ages a large ca­cao farm in Ho­niara on Guadal­canal with her fa­ther. Her fer­mentery dries and fer­ments beans from around the dis­trict.

“It didn’t make sense to go look­ing for beans from halfway around the world — why would I get beans from Mada­gas­car when I can get beans from the neigh­bours? It’s a bonus as I can meet and sup­port peo­ple like Agnes, who is a re­ally in­spir­ing woman.”

Dunedinites have al­ways held choco­late close — the Cad­bury Choco­late Fac­tory was at the heart of the city for 150 years. When Cad­bury’s shut its doors ear­lier this year, peo­ple were keen to put their money where their mouth is. A PledgeMe crowd-fund­ing cam­paign for OCHO raised $2 mil­lion in 36 hours, a New Zealand crowd-fund­ing record.

OCHO shares were priced at a low $100 to keep them at­tain­able and most of the 3570 in­vestors own less than 10 shares.

While it won’t come close to re­plac­ing the 350 Cad­bury jobs, the cap­i­tal raised is pro­vid­ing OCHO with larger premises and new equip­ment. Pro­duc­tion will in­crease to 10 times even­tu­ally.

Liz says the de­mand for craft choco­late is grow­ing. “The Cad­bury clo­sure showed how much choco­late means to New Zealan­ders. At the mo­ment, craft choco­late is where craft beer was 15 years ago so we might see an ex­plo­sion of growth. I’d love to see New Zealand known for be­ing a great choco­latemak­ing re­gion, much like we’re known for our wines.”

Liz Rowe was in­spired to start mak­ing choco­late in her Dunedin home af­ter sam­pling crude choco­late made from stone-ground ca­cao while hol­i­day­ing in Ecuador.

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