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Explore : The Central West

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The Central West region in New South Wales is the area west of the Blue Mountains and includes Young in the south, Dunedoo in the north and Parkes in the West.  It’s a wet region that’s high in elevation and hilly, making it great for vineyards, vegetable growing and sheep grazing.  While we were in the area, we went on the Rhino Adventure, looking for as many painted rhinos as we could find.

 

 

After having spent so much time up north in the tropics, we were still adjusting to the wintery weather of the south.  When we visited the NSW Central West Region in mid-July, the combination of increased altitude and the ‘big freeze’ weather phenomenon that came through during our visit made our nights very cold.  It even snowed when we were in Orange.

 

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Bathurst

Proclaimed a town in May 1815, Bathurst grew into a city by 1885, is the oldest inland settlement in Australia and just celebrated its 200th anniversary.  It’s also known as Gold Country, as it was the site of the first gold rush in Australia.  It was established to be the administrative centre of the western plains, but these days, it’s mostly known for motorsport.  Mount Panorama is the venue for many racing events including the Bathurst 1000, which attracts tens of thousands of people each year.  There’s also a National Motor Racing Museum beside the circuit.

 

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The Big Gold Panner

Located outside a hotel with the same name, the Big Gold Panner was erected in 1979 and kneels over 5 metres tall.

 

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Beekeepers Hill

About 22km outside of Bathurst is a café and farm shop that offers honey tasting, cakes and coffee, candles, antiques and collectables. There’s an adjacent brewery, the 1859 Brewery, and the café offers tasting paddles for $2.50.

 

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Orange

Orange is known as the Colour City not only because of its name, but because of the colours on show during Autumn.  It was established in 1846, is the birthplace of Banjo Patterson and has a beautiful collection of historic buildings.

 

We spent two days in Orange and got to experience a beautiful sunny day, followed by a snow white day.  We went for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and climbed to Pinnacle Lookout before checking out some local wineries.

 

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In town, the Word of Mouth cellar door is a convenient stop for an enjoyable tasting session.  For us, the 2013 Petit Manseng was the winner – it was sweet and fruity with a ginger spice.  Brangayne was another great winery that gets its name from the story of Tristan and Isolde.  While their pinot grigio was lovely, the 2013 Isolde Reserve Chardonnay was smooth and fruity with a morish malolactic bloom in the mouth.

 

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Badlands Brewery is just out of town to the north west and gets its name from the Aussie outback.  We enjoyed tasting their beers, with a few that we had never heard of, like the U-Boat Märzen, which was floral and sweet with yeasty flavours and a bitter hops finish.  We particularly liked the Gloaming Cherry Baltic Porter, a smoky beer with dark cherry and bitter chocolate flavours.

 

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On our way to Parkes, we stopped by Borenore Caves Reserve and explored the Arch Cave, which turned out to be quite an adventure.  There was plenty of light left in the day so we stopped in at Orange Mountain Wines for our final tasting session of the day.  They had a great selection of white and red wines, but we really enjoyed their ice wine style sweeties, Mountain Ice Viognier and Rose.

 

 

Parkes

Once called Bushman’s, Parkes was renamed in 1873 in honour of Sir Henry Parkes, the premier of NSW and ‘Father of Federation’.  There’s a big statue of him located in the centre of town.

 

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Parkes is also known for its annual Elvis Festival and one of the museums at the Information Centre has the biggest Elvis collection in Australia.  Parkes also has a festival that caters for ABBA lovers.

 

About 25km north of Parkes is the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope – or The Dish.  It’s been operational since 1961 and is an important tool in the field of astronomical science.  Admission to the Discovery Centre is free, and there’s also a café on site.  Unfortunately, it was closed when we got there, but we still had a look around.

 

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Within the garden at the front of the Discovery Centre is Newton’s Apple Tree, a direct descendent of the apple tree that inspired Newton’s Law of Gravitation.  Also in the garden are the Whispering Dishes – if you’re in the area, you’d be silly to miss the opportunity to play with these fascinating demonstrators of how the Dish works.

 

Utes in the Paddock is a kooky art project just over 70km west of Parkes.  About 20 old Holden utes have been turned into pieces of art that represent Aussie icons and various Australiana. It’s a great display that is well worth the drive.

 

 

Dubbo

We didn’t spend a great deal of time in Dubbo because we were busy meeting the animals at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, but we did make some time to find some painted rhinos before skipping town.

 

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If you’re looking for a nice place to camp for the night, check out Ponto Falls Reserve.  It’s off the road, alongside the Macquarie River, and the toilet facilities are new and clean.

 

Mudgee

Mudgee was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a small town that has earned the reputation of being a great food and wine area.  The Farmers Market was on the day we visited and we were able to taste all the delicious locally made foods, such as cheeses and olives, fermented foods, deli meats, wine and spirits.

 

There is even a brewery in town – Mudgee Brewing Co. – that has a great range of beer.  We met the brewer, Gary, who walked us through a few of his beers and revealed that the origin of the camel in the logo comes from the saying, “a man’s not a camel”.  There was a beer named the Camel’s Beard Black Sour, which had a sour cherry smell, fresh fruity taste, with clean and mild roasted malt finish.

 

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On our way to the Troopy Winter Ramble at Glen Davis, we stopped at Broombee Organic Wines for a quick wine tasting session.  The owner, Barrie Corner, was quite the character, and our two favourite wines were the Cabernet Blush and 2005 Muscat liqueur, which had that morish nutty aftertaste.

 

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Drink : The Hunter Valley

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The Hunter Valley Wine Region is located around 60km inland from Newcastle, with Pokolbin at the centre.  It’s the hottest wine region in Australia and despite the plethora of vineyards and wineries, the area contributes only 3% of the total wine production of Australia.  The area had established vines by 1823 and flourished as a wine region from then onwards.

 

The two predominant varieties that are grown in the area are Semillon and Shiraz.  Semillon wines are white, crisp and acidic with some citrus, apple and subtle spice and they get better with age.  As the wine oxidises, it changes to a deep yellow colour and develops creamy apricot flavours.  Due to the climate of the area, the Shiraz wines are a little different – they almost resemble a Pinot Noir.  Shiraz wines used to be known as Hunter River Burgundy but because of France’s copyright on region names (like Champagne), they are back to being Shiraz.

 

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Wineries

Saddler’s Creek

The first winery on our Hunter Valley adventure, it was a great way to get to know the varieties of the region.  We tried a young crisp Semillon and compared it to an older Semillon with a distinctly more mature and delicious flavour.  Our host was great to chat to and knew a lot about the region.

 

Lindemans

One of the oldest wineries in the region, Lindemans have been around since 1843.  Their cellar door is quite impressive both on the outside and inside, and their entire selection was fantastic.  We particularly liked the 2013 Shiraz Reserve 1300 because it wasn’t as dry as most of the other Shiraz wines, and it was full of raspberry and dark cherry flavours.

 

Tulloch

We had a great tasting session here – the guy who hosted us really knew his stuff – but instead of focusing on Semillon wines, we explored Verdelho.  We learnt that Tulloch was the first to use the variety to make a table wine instead of a sweet dessert wine.  We dabbled with the reds before getting into the fortified wines.  The Limited Release Crème De Vin was absolutely delicious, full of ripe apricot and honey.

 

Piggs Peake Winery

All of the wines are named after something to do with pigs.  The Hogshead Chardonnay was lovely, the Suckling Pig Shiraz was sweet and fruity, and the Little Pig Verdelho Swines Only dessert wine was to die for, but when we were presented with a Shiraz named Kevin, our questioning glances were answered with one sultry word… “Bacon”.

 

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Pepper Tree Wines

This is a fairly young winery, having been established in 1991, and their cellar door operates out of a renovated barn that is simply charming.  They do a wonderful NV Tipsy Muscat that is supposed to come with its very own ‘tipsy’ bottle, but they had sold out that day so we missed out on the novelty.

 

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McGuigans

These guys are fairly well known but because they were right next to a cheese factory, we figured we’d check them out.  Their cellar door is huge and they have won several international awards for winemaker of the year.  Our favourite was the 2007 Bin 9000 Semillon – a gold medal winner that deserves its awards – and the NV Personal Reserve Muscat that had amazing nutty butterscotch and caramelised fig flavours that would not give up.

 

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Peterson House

Offering something a little different to the typical Hunter Valley range, Peterson House likes to add bubbles.  We tried most of what they had, each one better than the one before.  Their best seller, Pink Blush, was a great bubbly with floral and candied orange tones but what we loved was the Sparkling Botrytis Semillon and Sparkling Fortified Shiraz.

 

Breweries

Hunter Beer Co.

What was supposed to be a quiet session with a paddle in the corner turned into an incredible tasting extravaganza when one of the brewers came over for a chat.  Not only did we try the four beers on the paddle, but he also brought over samples of his zesty Ginger Beer, sweet Barley Wine, and the Slaked Magpie, which ended up being Dave’s favourite because it was like drinking a chocolate milkshake.

 

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He also told us a great story about how Hefeweizen beers existed in Germany before bananas, so when bananas finally arrived, everyone thought they tasted like beer!

 

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Lovedale Brewery

Located at the heart of the Crown Plaza Resort, the Lovedale Brewery offers a paddle of four beers for $9, which is pretty cheap.  We got the Lager, Pale Ale, Rye IPA and Porter, and while the Rye IPA was a pleasant surprise with deliciously sweet aromas and a toffee flavour, the crisp and refreshing lager was the clear winner.

 

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Matilda Bay Brewhouse

We broke all the rules at the Brewhouse, choosing our own selection of beers to taste instead of choosing one of their pre-selected paddle options.  While Juz favoured the Small Batch Bright Ale, Dave enjoyed the IGP (Itchy Green Pants).

 

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Hunter Distillery

With a massive range of spirits and flavours, there is something for everyone here, but our favourite by far was the honey vodka – it was like having honey on toast. The drinking vessels were very cool too.

 

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Food

The Hunter Cheese Factory

This was one of our favourite cheese tasting experiences.  We got a platter for $6.95 to share and it included five cheeses varying from a soft fromage to a creamy blue vein.  We loved the Sicilian style feta for its great savoury balance, as well as the Branxton blue brie for the rich earthy and mushroom flavours.

 

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Binnorie Dairy

The cheese tasting was free, fast and without any fuss, and before we knew it, we walked out with a tub of herb and garlic fromage frais.  This was an easy choice, but if we had more room in our fridge, we would have taken a jar of their labna and marinated goat fetta too.

 

Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop

Stocking local and imported cheeses, this was our only chance to sample some Hunter Belle cheese, made with Murray’s Beer.  The cheeses were odd – they had a strange yeasty flavour – but they were still good.  We also got to try some St Agur, a decadent blue cheese from France that costs around $100 a kilo.

 

Hunter Valley Chocolate Company

While we didn’t really taste any chocolate, there was a counter offering fudge tastings.  There was a massive range of flavours, but we loved the Australiana with lemon myrtle and macadamia, as well as the salted peanut caramel.

 

Hunter Valley Cookies

Located at the Village Shops near the Gardens, this little cookie shop makes huge cookies, and even has an interesting and eclectic collection of cookie jars.  We sampled the gluten free Florentine, which was a big, fat disc of chewy deliciousness.

 

While we were in the Village, we checked out the Tunnel of Beer in the Garden Cellars.  The selection of local and international beers was huge and it’s definitely worth having a look.

 

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Hotel Cessnock

Set in a swanky old building, the Hotel Cessnock has a few cheap lunch specials.  After doing a few wineries in the morning, we stopped for some lunch.  Dave got the rump steak and chips for $11 while Juz splashed out on a chicken schnitzel burger and chips for $12.  Both were tasty and adequately portioned to keep us going for the rest of the day.

 

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Information & Accommodation

Self-drive tours of the Hunter Valley are fine, but you will need a designated driver.  There are so many wine tours available for the area, it would be a shame not to take advantage of someone else driving you and your friends around.  Accommodation and wine tour bookings are available at the Hunter Valley YHA.

 

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If you don’t need the comfort of a tidy kitchen and warm bed, there is a rest area north of the region about 5km west of Branxton.  It can be a little noisy there though because it’s between the highway and the railway that transports all the coal to Newcastle for export. We didn’t mind because we had friendly neighbours JK and Oona to keep us company!

 

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The Hunter Valley YHA

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The Hunter Valley YHA is located in the heart of the wine country and is the perfect place to stay while you taste the region.  The purpose built hostel is set in a quiet location and is surrounded by beautiful countryside.  The onsite vineyard yields grapes that are sent to local winemakers for bottling.  The resulting wine is available for purchase at the hostel.

 

We spent only one night at the Hunter Valley YHA.  It was a great way to get settled in the area and with the winter chill settling in, having a warm meal and a warm bed was priceless.

 

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Facilities

The hostel sleeps 48 guests, and each room opens out onto a veranda that wraps around the whole building.  During the winter, extra blankets are provided to keep you toasty and warm.

 

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Recent renovations have brought new life to the kitchen, bathrooms and lounge area, with plush faux leather couches, new tables and a brand new conduction stove.  Outside is a BBQ area that overlooks the vineyard, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a cute bunny or two grazing on the grass.

 

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The adjacent shed houses the laundry, which costs $3 per load for washing and another $3 to dry.  There’s a clothes line as well if you have the time.  There is also a swimming pool with hammocks for the warmer months. While you’re at the Hunter Valley YHA, book yourself in for a wine tour.  Alternatively, get a big group together and rent out the entire hostel!

 

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Things Nearby

Within 1km

  • The Hunter Beer Co. – only 700m away, enjoy a night out drinking craft beer. Next door is the Potters Hotel and Brickworks Brasserie that pours Hunter Beer Co. brews and has a nice menu.

 

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Surrounding Attractions

  • Cessnock – only 2.7km away, this is the closest town to the hostel and has supermarkets, cafes and various other services that you may require. Hotel Cessnock does a great cheap lunch deal if you’re hungry.
  • Wineries – the closest cluster of wineries is around 3.5km away to the west.
  • Kurri Kurri – 15km to the east is Kurri Kurri, a cute little town with one of Australia’s newest big things, the Big Kookaburra.
  • Newcastle – the closest city to the Hunter Valley, Newcastle is only 1 hour away.

 

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The Essentials

The Hunter Valley YHA is located at 100 Wine Country Drive in Nulkaba.  Reception is open from 8am to midday, then from 5pm to 8pm.

 

To make an enquiry, call 02 4991 3278 or email huntervalley@yha.com.au.  Alternatively, you can visit their website.

 

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Chocolate pistoles at the Denmark Chocolate Company

Denmark Food & Wine Region

It wasn’t until we got to Albany that we discovered that there was a little food and wine region only 50km to the west!  We stayed the night at Torbay Inlet, got up nice and early for the sunrise and packed up for an action-packed day.

 

Once we arrived in Denmark, we went straight to the information centre to make sure we’d crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is.  They were so impressed with Juz’s organised action plan, they suggested we move to Denmark and offered her a job!

 

Denmark is a little coastal town in southern Western Australia.  It was first explored by naval doctor Thomas Braidwood Wilson in 1829, who was assisted by local Noongar men.  It was originally called Leeuwin Land, but after the discovery of the river, Wilson named the area after his friend, English doctor Alexander Denmark.  By 1885, the wood trade was booming and a railway was built between Denmark and Albany to transport all the karri timber.  Unfortunately, after a severe depletion of karri trees, the timber industry collapsed and the population reduced.

 

In the 1960s, Denmark was reinvented as the home of alternative hippies, who helped cultivate the town’s artistic culture. Agriculturists also moved into the area and established vineyards.  Since then, over 20 vineyards have opened in the area, and due to the great soil, it is also a wonderland of local produce like berries, eggs, cheese, chocolate, honey, olives, coffee, pickles, sauces, toffee, fudge, wine, beer and cider.

 

While we were exploring the town, we definitely noticed the alternative lifestyle, with lots of health food stores and holistic practitioners.  After a quick lap of town, we got down to business and started to visit the wineries.

 

A little tip – just for you – don’t go to Denmark on a Tuesday or Wednesday because many places are closed!

 

Howard Park Wines & MadFish

These two wine labels are owned by the Burch Family.  Howard Park Wines has two wineries – Denmark and Margaret River – and released the MadFish label in 1992.  MadFish got its name from a story about Madfish Bay, south of Denmark.  Usually a tranquil bay, during particular tide times, the fish ‘go mad’ and try to jump out of the water to avoid being eaten by bigger fish.

 

  • 2010 Howard Park Chardonnay – pale straw with a green tinge, it had a sweet oaky smell that was a little oily.  The entry was very fresh before a warm, oily bloom that finished with sweet melon.  Gorgeous!
  • 2010 MadFish Carnelian – named after a semi-precious stone from South Africa, it was deep red with plums and purple.  The smell was rich with sweet fruits, lots of blackberry, plum and chocolate, and while it had a dry entry with velvety tannins, it was rich, warm and ripe.
  • 2010 Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz – deep ruby with hints of indigo, it had a sweet, robust scent of lavender and tasted of black fruits.
  • 2008 MadFish Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot – caramel, garnet and ruby, it smelt of sweet berries and chocolate.  The entry was dusty and spirited, but mellowed out with berries and savoury tannins.
  • MadFish Muscato – the colour of pink champagne!  Lots of strawberries and floral characters on the nose with a sweet and refreshing entry full of musk, lychees and Turkish delight!
  • Howard Park Muscat (No Vintage) – golden caramel, it smelt sweet with nut and honey.  Very viscous, it was gently spirited and had a nutty rancio finish.  Beautiful!

 

 

Rockcliffe

In the 1980s, a local family acquired the property, called it Matilda’s Meadow and planted some vines.  The name Rockcliffe comes from the granite cliffs that run along the coast of Denmark and the wines are also named after landmarks along the coast.

 

  • 2010 Rockcliffe Chardonnay – a sweet smelling wine with lots of yellow nectarine, it had a crisp, acidic entry and rounded finish that was creamy with butter and fruits.
  • 2011 Third Reef Pinot Noir – light crimson liquid full of raspberries and plums that matured in the flavour to dark fruits, chocolate and fine tannins.
  • 2012 Quarram Rocks Rosé – using pinot noir grapes, it was a deep rose pink colour with a creamy scent of flowers and berries.  It was very light and vibrant, full of strawberries and a crisp finish.
  • Forty Foot Drop Sparkling Shiraz (No Vintage) – ruby with a caramel lining, it smelt of currants and liquorice.  It was full of bubbles and any sweetness was chased away with a hint of dryness before the fruity finish.

 

Bartholomew’s Meadery

If you like honey, then this is the place to be!  Bartholomew’s offers honey wine and liqueur, honey ice cream and several flavours of pure honey, as well as bee merchandise like tea towels, jars and honey spoons.  They also have a glass beehive where you can play ‘spot the queen’!

 

  • Citrus Mead – it had an odd smell that was dry and bitter like grapefruit.  The entry was crisp and refreshing with a beautiful raw honey flavour that continued until the end.
  • Methglin Mead – traditional recipe infused with cinnamon, ginger, rosemary and cloves.  It was very spiced and fruity with a sweet and full flavoured entry full of honey and a spiced finish at the back of the throat.
  • Honey Liqueur – oozing with the smell of brandy and spiced fruit, it was very thick and sticky with a firey spirit and honey nut finish.

 

The different flavours of honey were just gorgeous – cinnamon, ginger, yate, chocolate, creamed and vanilla bean.  The real stand out was the hazelnut honey, which was kinda like Nutella but with a rich honey sweetness and consistency.

 

 

Denmark Chocolate Company

Chocolate-lovers BEWARE!  You will never want to leave!  We were in chocolate heaven as soon as we walked through the door, with the smell of freshly baked chocolate brownies wafting through the air.  This place is Western Australia’s first licensed chocolate lounge and uses Swiss Annie’s Fine Chocolates to make a variety of handmade chocolates and truffles.  They also offer local wines, beers and liquors, coffee, hot chocolate and cake.

 

Swiss chocolate has had a long history that has spanned over 200 years.  Italy was the chocolate epicentre of the world after learning from Swiss chocolate artisans in the 18th century.  In 1826, Swiss chocolatier Phillippe Suchard opened a chocolate factory and produced chocolate that made him world famous and by 1883 was making 50% of all Swiss chocolate.  In 1831, Swiss chocolatier Charles Kohler opened a chocolate factory and introduced nutty chocolate.  He also took on a few apprentices, including Rudolph Lindt.  Lindt went on to open his own factory in 1879 and improved the recipe to make chocolate even more delicious.  By the early 1900s, Switzerland was making 55% of the world’s chocolate.

 

 

We sampled a variety of pistols, from the super dark chocolates to the strawberry infused white chocolate.  The chocolates that were between 55-72% were still creamy without being bitter at all.  The infused white chocolates were very interesting – particularly the lemon and orange flavours.  It seems that a strong essence was used to flavour the chocolate while the colours are added later, and most of them were sickly sweet.

 

They also had some ports, tawny and muscat to try.  Our favourite was the Rutherglen Premium Muscat, which was rich caramel brown and smelt and tasted of fruit and honey with a viscous entry and spirited warmth.

 

We also sampled the truffles.  The Roast Almond and Honey truffle was rolled in flaked almonds and the milk chocolate was made even sweeter with the honey.  The Rum and Raisin truffle was rolled in dark chocolate flakes and was rich with rum essence and chewy raisins in dark chocolate.  We were also treated to a Dark Coconut Malibu truffle covered in dark cacao powder, which contrasted the sweetness of the white coconut filling perfectly.