Hot chocolate is like a hug from the inside, reads a sign at Atelier Chocolat, at once summing up one of the joys of a Central Victorian winter (just add crackling fire, and maybe cake) as well as the attractions of chocolate in warm liquid form.
And you rest assured that this is no ordinary hot chocolate. Laetitia Hoffmann, who opened her charmingly bijou Trentham handmade chocolate shop at the end of March, is a devotee of the bean-to-bar school, in which the cocoa beans can be traced back to an ethical source.
Elna Schaerf-Trauner cuts a stunning figure. With her crown of gold curls, and dressed in a traditional Austrian dirndl, she sits down at the marble-topped table with a glass cup filled with coffee. The co-owner of Das Kaffeehaus in Castlemaine she looks around the great space inside the former Castlemaine Woollen Mill, now known as The Mill. Since 2015 this has been a popular part of the Castlemaine lifestyle. It moved from the Old Castlemaine Hospital when it was founded in 2003. “Both sites have chimneys, important for venting the aromatic output of the coffee roasters,” points out Elna.
If you had to write a job description for Zack Grumont, it would take you some time. He does a lot of different jobs at Guildford Winery. He spends his week in the kitchen preparing for the weekend. This involves a lot of preserving, fermenting, making charcuterie and general prep. Zack also wears another cap as one of the winemakers on this small vineyard on the main road between Daylesford and Castlemaine. When we catch up, Zack seems relaxed. The busy weekend is days away and the 2019 vintage is quietly settling into the various barrels in the cellar.
After the busy harvest and demands of vintage, a veil of a contemplative calm has gently descended over Curly Flat, a small winery near Lancefield. “This is the time of year for reflection,” says winemaker Matt Harrop. He’s been here for 18 months now. Before that he was at Shadowfax, making wine from vineyards across the state. Now he lives a few minutes away from the vineyard and feels every frost and every northerly wind. “May is a time working out what we did right and what we did wrong,” says Matt matter of factly.
Drive to the eastern edge of Daylesford, where the elms begin to give way to farmland. Turn at the Farmers Arms and just before you get to the old railway bridge, take a left and follow the road for a few hundred metres to the old butter factory on your left. What you’re confronted with is a building that is distinctly Ye Olde Worldly, even King Arthur.
Between Malmsbury and Daylesford is a dead-end lane that dips and swerves with the lay of the land. Zig Zag Road cuts through the last of the fertile basalt soils before they give way to the hard quartz country near Taradale…
“We just love gin!” says distiller and farmer Catherine Crothers. “It is our drink of choice.” She and husband Gary Jago make a very well-balanced gin called Big Tree on their farm looking out onto the Cobaw Ranges…