Chocolate and The Straw Bale House – Daylesford, Victoria, Australia

“They serve you hot chocolate in a toilet bowl,” my cousin tells me.

“What?” I ask with a look of disbelief.

“No, really, they do. It’s called the ultimate hot chocolate, but the cup they serve it in looks like a toilet bowl,” she says with a wink.

My family of four is visiting her family of four in Victoria, Australia. Her husband has taken us to Mt. Franklin, Victoria, outside the local holiday destination of Daylesford. It’s considered spa country with small boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and a lake. We are about an hour and half from the city of Melbourne.

Nestled in the woods and surrounded by tranquility sits a non-descript building made of bales of straw. Built by owners, Jennifer Gregory and Chris Weippert, it was a labor of love and learning. Starting in 2001 with planning and preparation, the straw bale house was completed and occupied by Jennifer and Chris in 2003. Working full time on the house, with part time help from Jennifer, Chris learned quite a bit about building a house out of straw.

As I walk toward the two-story modern house, its characteristics catch my eye. The rough exterior and the pale yellow color make me laugh. It is truly made of straw. Wanting to build something earth friendly, the owners of the Chocolate Mill have created a structure that not only provides them with a home, but also a thriving business.

I have never seen a house like this. To discover it’s a chocolate shop makes it more intriguing. A little path with stones and water leads to the front door, with a sign outside that reads, "For the Serious Chocoholic". Enter through the heavy wooden double doors into an oasis of chocolate bliss. A chocoholic's dream.

I’m taken aback by the aroma of chocolate. The four children are giddy at the sight of it all. The sales floor is small in size, but not in character, having two round tables with chairs to enjoy the Belgium chocolate delights. Handmade on the premises, Chris and Jennifer use the professional’s choice of Callebaut couverture chocolate. A Belgium company, Callebaut is the leading manufacturer of cocoa and chocolate with over 120 years experience. This is what makes the chocolate at the Chocolate Mill truly magical. Couverture chocolate requires tempering, but melts smoothly, finishes glossy and produces a thinner shell than other chocolates.

The chocolate display case in the center of the room features some of the most decadent truffles, bon bons and petit four to entice even the most distinguished chocolate lover. Adjacent to the display case and situated in a corner, is a clear glass viewing window that allows guests and chocoholics alike to peer into the workings of a chocolate mill. Behind the glass are women dressed in white, working their magic to create what will be a melt in your mouth delicacy. The sign above the window says it all, “Please do not lick the glass".

Beyond the selling room is a covered enclosed patio known as the Hot Chocolate Café. We visited in wintertime and were pleased to find the patio sheltering us from the outside cold. Long wooden picnic type tables welcome you to sit and enjoy The Chocolate Mill’s famous offering “The Ultimate Hot Chocolate". With a full range of chocolate choices from milk to extra dark and even soy, guests can savor the best the Chocolate Mill has to offer in a cup.

I tell my daughter that I heard they serve the chocolate in a toilet-shaped bowl. She and I were expecting a literal toilet. What we received was a slight V-shaped white ceramic cup with thin edges. “This isn’t a toilet bowl.” I announce to my cousin sitting at one of the tables, my forehead and lips crinkled in mock disapproval. It’s actually a very modern shaped cup with a saucer. It is, however, the largest cup of hot chocolate I have ever seen. Rich in flavor, the dark hot chocolate I chose was self indulging without an overbearing sweetness. The smell and flavor were better than any I have ever tasted. When finished, you are met with an undercoat of chocolate at the bottom half of the white ceramic cup. It is too thin to spoon the rest out. It would be improper to use one’s finger. I guess it would be even worse to just lick it out of the bottom of the cup.

Housing the Chocolate Mill on the first floor, Chris and Jennifer’s home occupies the second floor. With smooth contemporary lines and varnished wood floors, it is a cozy respite from the workings of their chocolate enterprise. Active in their community, Chris and Jennifer have contributed to several local non-profit organizations. In 2004, the Chocolate Mill was awarded the Tabaret Goldfields Best New Business Award. It is an award given by the Tourism Department of Victoria celebrating the best and most innovative businesses in Victoria, Australia.

Located minutes from the spa country of Daylesford, Victoria, the Chocolate Mill is a must see part of any trip to Australia.

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