South Australia's famous wine regions alone are enough to entice any traveller, but the state's epicurean blessings don't end there. The same fertile plains, bountiful orchards and prolific soils responsible for South Australia's great drops also produce a myriad of fine foods, with chocolate and cheese two of the best reasons to explore flavours beyond the bottle.
A taste of the sweet life
Thanks to a strong European heritage, chocolate making is in the blood here, and Adelaide is home to the country's oldest family-owned chocolate maker, Haigh's. This famous producer is in its fourth generation, as is Hahndorf's Robern Menz confectionery, creator of the much-loved choc-coated FruChocs made with the region's succulent peaches and apricots. One of the three FruChocs stores in Hahndorf, Glynde or McLaren Vale is an ideal spot to start your sweet adventures and the latter still houses the original machines, some over a century old.
The Adelaide Hills has the state's greatest concentration of chocolate producers, and here you'll find Red Cacao, where owner and chocolatier Marcus Booth-Remmers brings skills gleaned from years of training in Europe to a dazzlingly creative seasonal chocolate menu. In his chocolate cafe and store in Stirling you'll find fresh delights made with the best ingredients of the day.
"The Adelaide Hills region has so much produce that we are able to really enjoy pushing the boundaries of those flavours," says Booth-Remmers. "I can often let the ingredients decide what we make. Someone might come in and say: 'I've picked a load of blackberries, can you use them? Our staff bring produce from their gardens; you never know what will turn up. Figs, chestnuts, quinces are coming in, right now; the produce is so diverse, and seasonality is wonderful. We make lighter, fresher chocolates in summer, richer and more robust in winter."
Booth-Bremmer also has a passion for single origin chocolate. "It's amazing to see how much difference you can have within a grown and harvested product," he says. "It's just like wine."
So much like wine, in fact, that the two pair perfectly. Red Cacao chocolates are among a local selection featured in the ChocoVino Experience at Hahndorf Hill Winery.
In what must be one of the most enjoyable concepts in the degustation world, the winery's boutique wines are paired with chocolates that sing sweetly of their terroir, the geographical origins. Delectable – and adventurous – pairings include dark milk chocolate infused in pink lake salt with White Mischief Gruner Veltliner.
"This is an adventurous match but it works beautifully," says co-owner Marc Dobson. "It takes your palate on a bit of a journey; there's a subtle acidity in the chocolate that's echoed in the wine, and the salty notes in the tail end of the wine match, too."
Red Cacao's Booth-Remmer is excited about the possibilities for wine and chocolate pairings, and as well as Hahndorf Hill he's working with the Barossa's Schild Estate on a chocolate and wine flight concept.
Collaborations like this make perfect sense in a region where producers, growers and suppliers work closely together, and experiments dreamed up for fun among friends can become major new attractions. A delicious example is the Honey and Cheese Experience at South Australia's first 'hive door', Buzz Honey, in Totness. Here, owner Annette Ferris has paired Buzz's boutique honeys with gourmet cheeses from Hahndorf's Udder Delights.
"When I first tried the idea for fun, the response was so enthusiastic we put it on the permanent menu alongside the straight honey tastings," she says. "Now tour groups come specifically for it, and they tell us they'd never have thought of doing it."
The tasting starts with light goat's cheese with softer flavoured honeys, and progresses through to robust blues with stronger varieties.
"I adore the blue cheese with our Bush Mallee or Leatherwood," says Ferris.
You enjoy the tastings while gazing out over the hives, and there's a side order of education, too; beekeeper Adrian shares his extensive knowledge about the bees and their importance to the environment.
You'll be eager to taste more of Udder Delights, and highlights at this award-winning cheesemaker, owned by Sheree and Saul Sullivan, include Australia's first approved raw cow's milk blue cheese. You can taste it in the Raw Experience, along with Saul's own barrel-aged port, in the Udder Delights Cheese Cellar. Other tasty encounters here include a Cheese Fondue and a Cheese High Tea.
"We do our tastings differently," Sheree says. "Often cheese is just put on the plate for you to explore but we talk you through each one, and share our knowledge of the process."
You can take this one step further at Sheree's cheesemaking classes – which double as a tasting, too. "People are often amazed at how much they eat in the class," she laughs.
Not far away, in Woodside, chocolate and cheese share a history and still cohabit closely – perfect for those with a combined love for both. Once the South Australian Farmers Cooperative Union cheese and butter factory, Melba's Chocolates is now devoted solely to chocolate and sweets. This is an operation Willy Wonka would be proud of, and you can tour its various operating rooms and the 1940s heritage machinery that crafts chocolate frogs, giant letters, bunnies, numbers, dinosaurs and more. A tour around its various production rooms is like stepping into a storybook, with the tastes and aromas to match.
Just opposite Melba's you'll find Woodside Cheese Wrights, run by South Australia's first lady of cheese: Head cheese maker Kris Lloyd. This self-taught artisan has received multiple awards for her seasonal cheeses and is also the founder and chair of the South Australian Specialist Cheese Association. She's travelled the world learning her craft, and shares her knowledge in cheese making classes where you'll take home the results of your work. Tastings are a must here; Kris loves to explore the full potential of the region's excellent milk, and recently introduced South Australia's first Persian Fetta.
She's also produced one of those delicious experiments that blossom into hits: Vigneron, an earthy, full-flavoured cheese wrapped in vine leaves from the Woodside vineyard and washed gently in white wine, uniting two of the region's hero products in the same spoonful. Vigneron was born as a humorous 'cheesemaker v winemaker' challenge, and has since notched up more than 15 worldwide awards. Now that's a happy marriage.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.
This article brought to you by the South Australian Tourism Commission.