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Forget Whittaker’s and Cadbury’s there is a hot new chocolate maker on the block.

Hogarth Craft Chocolate is a boutique chocolate maker based in Nelson which hand crafts chocolate starting with a raw cacao bean and finishing with a tablet of deliciousness.

Karl and Marina Hogarth have been selling their handcrafted chocolate at the Nelson market for a while now but have recently started selling their premium product through retail outlets. These chocolates aren’t flavoured with caramel, peppermint, peanut butter or other additives, they are simply single origin cacao beans made into chocolate with different levels of pure cacao, each has a distinctive flavour that reflects its origins.

The 72 per cent dark chocolate from Venezuela for example has subtle flavours of tobacco and a fresh, almost juicy aftertaste while the Conacado bean from the Dominican Republic, used to produce the 75 per cent chocolate, has quite distinctive tangy mandarin citrus and toffee flavours.

Let’s deal with the cost upfront – not cheap at $14 about 65 grams of chocolate – it definitely sits in the premium chocolate treat market and that is where it deserves to be.

Last week I visited Karl and Marina to find out what makes their chocolate so special.

While Marina was working with a photographer creating wonderful images of their products, Karl showed me the chocolate-making process from beginning to end, including tasting raw cacao beans, freshly ground cacao nibs (the middle bit of the bean that becomes chocolate) and dipping a gloved hand into liquid chocolate going through various stages of the production process.

I got to taste some partially processed, very special chocolate, made from rare white beans called porcelana that tastes like truffles and if this small sample of beans sent to Karl were to be fully processed it would sell for about $25 for about 65gms. It won’t be on the market anytime soon so I felt very privileged to taste a treat like this.

The thing that I find really interesting and inspiring is that Karl Hogarth left school when he was 16 and went to sea fishing for Sealord back in the 80s. He became a skipper at the young age of 26 for another company and had “a few escapades around New Zealand, Australia and South Africa before I decided I wanted to do something different”.

He gave up fishing in 2003 and went to NMIT where he completed a diploma in business and then to Victoria University where he did a bachelor of commerce in marketing and commercial law.

“I came out thinking I would be the most employable person in the world but couldn’t get a job. Who wants a 30-plus year old ex-fisherman with a couple of degrees and not much experience. So I went travelling. What was going to be a month in Bali surfing ended up being a year travelling from the bottom of South America to Mexico.”

While chocolate was to feature in his future – in the whole time he travelled in countries that grow cacao, he never visited a cacao farm.

So how did he get into making chocolate?

“It started with a trip to South America in 2009 where I came across chocolate in Guatemala that was made by the Mayan. It was pure cacao beans made with little panela (evaporated cane juice) and was the first time I realised how good chocolate could taste when it is handcrafted using the very best ingredients rather than produced on a huge commercial scale in a style designed for the mass market and as much profit as possible.

“As I continued the trip, I continued tasting chocolate and read about guys in the US making chocolate and thought ‘what a great way to make a living’.”

He met Marina, who has a background in marketing and was head of PR for Converse Argentina when they met in Buenos Aires, and they lived in Argentina for a year before they came back to New Zealand and started a family.

“I found some work going back to sea but with kids I was looking for a way to stay at home and this little chocolate making seed was growing in my mind.”

Karl and Marina bought a little bag of cacao at an organic shop in Golden Bay and started working out how to turn it into chocolate.

“Not overly successful the first time” says Karl.

But after more research he found an online forum of people making chocolate at home and found out the machinery he needed was available in Singapore, where he travelled regularly for work at the time. That was the beginning of an exciting new future for the Hogarth family.

Hogarth Craft Chocolate sources the highest quality cacao beans from around the world to create small batches of chocolate using traditional techniques. From “Bean to Bar” means Hogarth’s sort, roast, crush and classify, winnow, grind and conche, age, melt, temper, mold, and wrap their hand crafted chocolates. Each bar is literally wrapped by hand.

As their website says: “Our process uses minimal ingredients and is focused on preserving the natural flavours within the cacao to bring fine and exquisite chocolate.”

They source five types of raw cacao beans, each with distinctive flavour profiles, direct from reliable plantations and from co-operatives via TradeAid.

However, this is just the beginning for this premium artisan producer. Karl and Marina have a range of things they are working with and trialling, they have plans to produce gianduja which is an Italian chocolate made with hazelnuts. They have bought the entire next harvest from a local hazelnut orchard.

As Karl says: “In the craft world, makers focus on making great products as well as they can, not as cheaply as they can. We are bean to bar chocolate makers so we focus on very high quality cacao, rather than cheap bulk beans. With a focus on the best quality beans with the best flavours we don’t need to add any flavouring to the chocolate, the cacao is all that is needed.”

Hogarth Craft Chocolate is already fielding calls from the US and the UK after just three month’s commercial production. The rest of the world is already discovering this wonderful Nelson producer and their handcrafted products, it is time you did too.

Wine pick

Blackenbrook Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2015 RRP$19

This Sauvignon Blanc has bright, fresh flavours with a certain purity we have come to expect from Blackenbrook. Ripe melon, apricots, passionfruit, zesty green capsicum and firm lime characters dominate the flavours while the ripe acidity leaves a wonderful juiciness in the long finish. Perfect summer drinking.

– Stuff