I'm back from a really enjoyable few days in Adelaide. It was extremely cold and wet there, moreso than Melbourne!, but we enjoyed lots of time in front of open fires and a wonderful evening exploring the very grand Mt Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills, where our friend is acting as caretaker.
Our tour of the chocolate factory was on Monday, which I didn't realise was the first day of the SA school holidays; so it was quite busy! Haigh's is a very small family business, who encourage traditional skills and maintain as much human involvement in the chocolate making process as possible. They still hand dip and hand decorate all chocolates, which is a lost skill in most chocolate factories.
The smell walking in was very yummy, but soon became overwhelming. I'm not sure how I could cope if working there; the very sweet smell combined with the noise of the machines made for a fairly high stress environment for somebody like me, who loves a quiet workplace. Haigh's had put on extra tours, and the woman taking them seemed a bit harrassed. I have to say I was a little underwhelemed by the tour; we didn't get a chance to see the chocolate from its raw cocoa bean form being made into the chocolate we know. Rather, the tour shows the final stages of decorating and packing, which is also very interesting, and now I have a deeper appreciation for the higher cost of the chocolates, but I really did want to see how chocolate was made! No cameras allowed on the factory floor, so I'm afraid I don't have any photos to show you, other than the shop.
What did annoy me most of all was that the woman taking the tour shouted loudly the whole time and didn't leave any opportunity to ask questions. But most of all, I resented the fact that she addressed the whole tour to the 4 children in the group, and pretty much ignored the 15 adults. I had lots of things I wanted to ask, but trying to get in was impossible. At one stage I was burning up with curiosity watching some workers unloading small sacks with a very obvious label of Callebaut on them. Callebaut? The French chocolate makers? Why were Haighs, who proudly adverstise that they are the only chocolate factory to make their own chocolate from the raw bean, receiving deliveries from a French chocolate factory? The sacks were too small to be beans. What could they be? I shouted out my question while our tour leader was taking a breath, and she most obviously didn't answer it! Rather, she started explaining the packing process going on at the next table. Hmmmmm. Was she ignoring me, or did she misunderstand? Had I uncovered a conspiracy at the Haigh's factory? Was I going to be snatched by men in dark suits and taken away for questioning?
I gave her the benefit of the doubt and turned my attention to the amazing hand-dipping process going on in front of us. There are some serious artisinal skills maintained at Haighs, and all the staff look really happy to be working there. They're allowed to eat as much chocolate as they want, but not while they're working. I think I'd find it very difficult not to pop one in my mouth as it passed from table to fork to table!
I managed to sideline our guide at the end of the tour to ask the questions. She was most obviously distracted and keen to finish, and definitely not interested in being asked a question. Her answer of "I have no idea" and a shrug to the Callebaut sacks didn't encourage me to pursue the issue any further. If anyone out there knows the answer, I'd love to know, but I was certainly not getting it from her! I also really wanted to ask about Haigh's policy on Fair Trade sourcing, as raised by Owen in a comment recently. Australia only has Green & Black Fair Trade chocolate, and I was really interested to find out what Haigh's view was about it. But there was no chance I could ask that. To be honest, I'm not certain our guide would have known what it meant. She was skilled at entertaining children, but I don't know how she would cope with questions from adults.
Later we received our free handful of chocolates, and were let loose in the store. Essentially it's just a standard retail store, with prices the same as all the others, but they do have a seconds and discontinued section where I bought a bag of assorted dark chocolate bars - marshmallow, cappuccino, nougat etc. (very nice!) and a bag of various truffles to try (also very good). I have now realised I much prefer their truffles to their filled chocolates, which are too sweet and gooey. I've eaten everything I bought already, which is very greedy of me. But once you get on a roll.....
If you're in Adelaide it's certainly worth going along for a look. The tours are free, so it is a bit precious of me to write about how I wasn't very impressed by it, but going during school term-time might be a very different experience.
Haigh's Chocolate Visitors Centre
154 Greenhill Road
Parkside SA 5000
Tour Bookings:(08) 8372 7077
Tel: (08) 8372 7070