Popular Mudgee chocolate makers, Spencer Chocolate are gearing up for their busiest Easter season yet.
The cheery chocolatiers are grinding beans, releasing aromas and filling molds in preparation for Easter time with 'smart little bunnies' currently in the making.
"We mainly focus on the bars, but in the last couple of years we have decided to dabble into a bit of fun so we have these smart little bunnies we do at Easter time," Spencer Chocolate's Thea Spencer said.
"This year we're hoping to do packs of a dozen that we will sell at the Farmers' Markets in addition to the individual ones that can be purchased at stores around town."
Making chocolate since 2013, Luke and Thea Spencer have never gone out of their way to promote their chocolatey goodness, but instead let the product do the talking.
"It's humbling to see people seeking out our chocolate. It's taken us a long time to build that confidence and we aren't big marketing people, we just put the chocolate out there and let them decide," Luke said.
"Mudgee has been really supportive. We've got great support from not only the stores but some restaurants using our chocolate. If you've got a highly skilled chef using your product because they like it, it gives you confidence, it's really heartening.
"We've always just wanted to maintain integrity in what we do. You can cut corners or buy cheaper ingredients, but I don't think it does your product any service or yourself."
The beans used in Spencer Cocoa bars are sourced from growers in Vanuatu, a family Luke met several years ago.
As time has gone on, Luke and Thea have maintained contact with the family, typically visiting the cocoa plantation twice a year, except in 2020 due to COVID-19.
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"They know the quality of cocoa we need and supply to us exclusively, unless they have excess harvest then they will sell them to other buyers," Thea said.
"The relationship we have with them is really important for us."
After the cocoa beans have been received, they go straight into an oven to roast before being ground, conched and tempered.
"The cocoa bean has natural oils in it, it's called cocoa butter. All the beans need is the grinding and the heat to transform it into liquid. Then we add Australian raw sugar and a little bit of extra cocoa butter and that's it," Thea said.
"We've always prided ourselves on keeping it simple, we try to cut down on the sugar as much as we can and don't add things that aren't necessary in chocolate," Luke said.
"We use really good ingredients, make the best chocolate we can and then let the consumer decide."
In terms of the business, they've allowed it to grow naturally which has proved to pay off with their team recently welcoming some new additions.
"We've grown slowly and organically, it's been a lot of hard work to be honest. Where we are now, we've still got a lot of work to do but we're really proud of our product," Luke and Thea said.
"Through COVID-19, our sales increased. From about July onward our sales kept growing, we weren't sure whether it was the business maturing or whether it was because people were really looking for Australian made and produced food so we were well placed for that.
"We were already seeing this kind of gradual and fairly steady growth anyway, so we've been able to take on some more staff, they're fantastic. Without them, our business doesn't operate properly."
In the future, Spencer Cocoa looks forward to growing their business further, offering consumers the chance to understand the process from how acocoa bean turns into a block of chocolate.
"We would love to show people more about the chocolate making process. We're thinking of a retail outlet at some stage but there's some things we need to cover before we go ahead with that idea," Luke said.
Spencer Cocoa bars can be purchased on the business's website or at 29nine99 Yum Cha & Tea, Dad's Deli, Kelly's Irish Pub, Mainly Mudgee, Market Street Cafe, Mudgee Corner Store, Mudgee Visitor Centre (depending on availability).
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