Haigh's Has A Willy Wonka (And He's Let Us In On Some Chocolatey Secrets)

Haigh’s Has A Willy Wonka (And He’s Let Us In On Some Chocolatey Secrets)

This year Haigh’s turns 100 and we got the chance to find out what they’re up to, and ask the man behind the chocolate some questions (including the one we’ve all been wondering about).

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The oldest
Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate makers, Haigh’s are a South Australian Icon. Photo Credit: Haigh’s Website

If you grew up in the 80s, or even the 90s for that matter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of those movies that shaped your childhood. You no longer took chocolate for granted (thanks Charlie for teaching us about poverty and appreciating the little things in life). You may even buy Turkish Delight bars now, simply so you can pretend you’ve found the golden ticket (or is that just me?). Either way, chocolate has always held a special place in our hearts, and the mystery behind the makers has always been something that peaked our interest. Who are the makers behind the magic?

Magical chocolate.
Magical chocolate.

Enter South Australia’s iconic brand Haigh’s. This year marks their centenary, after being established in 1915 by Alfred E Haigh, making them Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate makers.

To celebrate, they’ve just released The Collaboration, a special chocolate pack (just in time for Father’s Day) which gave us the chance to sample the unique trio of chocolates, and interview the man behind the curtain, Ben Kolley.

haigh's
The Willy Wonka of Haigh’s.

Ben helped to develop the chocolates for this unique collaboration between three iconic, historic South Australian companies – Haigh’s (of course), Yalumba and Coopers. The result? Three incredibly unique types of chocolate in a uniquely South Australian gift pack (right down to the graphic design, and hand made boxes). And what flavours will you get to enjoy? 70% Dark Chocolate Truffle, Antique Tawny Fig Liqueur and Stout Ganache. They’re incredible.

haighs collab
The tastiest Collaboration ever.

Although this is the first time Haigh’s has worked with beer, they have found previous success with their Shiraz Truffle. We are in South Australia after all (*cough cough* Barossa Shiraz lovers we’re looking at you).

So back to Ben Kolly, who helped develop The Collaboration” chocolates with Coopers and Yalumba. Ben has been with Haigh’s for 7 years as their Technical Manager. His main role is creating new recipes and giving us endless excuses to eat copious amounts of Haigh’s chocolates. All for our own ‘research’ of course.

The Haigh's 1912 Model T Ford.
The Haigh’s 1912 Model T Ford. Photo Credit: Haigh’s Facebook.

When we spoke with Ben (other than marvelling at his fantastic accent), we were fascinated by his career. Ben told us “I was born in Switzerland. I started as a pastry cook, and then I moved on to chocolate making for another chocolatier in Switzerland, but then I wanted to expand to big business, so I worked for Nestle under the Cailler brand between Switzerland and Germany. (Note: Dedicated to quality since 1819, the Cailler brand is one of Switzerland’s oldest, best-known and best-loved chocolate brands.) After many years though, I wanted a change of weather, so I packed up and moved to Australia.”

Ben went on to work for Nestle for another 9 years, before opening his own coffee shop. Finally Ben applied to work with Haigh’s, which fit with the brand ethics he was looking for, and a more family-oriented environment.

Haigh's are known for experimenting with chocolate and different flavours.
Haigh’s are known for experimenting with chocolate and different flavours.

Ben went on to tell us that although he’s worked with chocolate a lot, when he started with Haigh’s it was the first time he’s been involved with the bean.

“At Haigh’s we make all our chocolate from the cocoa beans, so all of our blends are very specific to Haigh’s, as we blend the beans the way we like. So, often as a combination together they really work nicely. Then the rest of our chocolates are made from single origin cocoa beans, as they all have a different type of flavour depending on where they’re grown; which country, the climate, the vegetation around the trees, and everything like that. It’s a fascinating product. There are over 600 flavour components in a cocoa bean!”

All of the chocolate! Glorious!
All of the chocolate! Glorious!

When we asked Ben about his favourite product (because who doesn’t want to know that question?!), he shared that he likes simple flavours. “I like dark chocolate, but I really think we do a beautiful milk chocolate.  A lot of Swiss people don’t like any chocolate other than Swiss chocolate, so when I sent my parents Haigh’s for the first time, they thought, “Oh we’ll try it just to be polite”, but they actually thought “wow”. I think it’s just a beautiful chocolate”.

“Mr Haigh, in the 60s, spent time at Lindt in Switzerland where he learnt more of his trade and he brought back machinery, which helped to influence the direction of the product. So basically, I find this mind blowing. Since the 60s we have been making Swiss chocolate here in Australia.

“In Europe you have chocolate in the wintertime only, but in Summer people move on to ice cream and things like that. Here in Australia, it’s Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, all over Summer, basically people are always eating chocolate.

One of the favourites... the Haigh's Chocolate Frog has been in production since the 1930s.
One of the favourites… the Haigh’s Chocolate Frog has been in production since the 1930s.

To cater for this demand, Haigh’s bring out new products 4-6 times a year. They also listen to their customers and their requests. Salted caramel was increasing in popularity, to Haigh’s brought out their own version last year. There’s also an increase in interest for single origin chocolate as consumers are becoming more educated about chocolate. It’s all a lot more involved than we ever thought! There’s definitely some magic going on at that chocolate factory…

Now before we left, we had to ask the difficult question that we’ve all been wondering (because how often do you get to interview a chocolate genius?)

Us: When we hold on to our Easter Eggs and nibble at them over a couple of months (you know, when we were kids), when the chocolate goes white, should be throw it in the bin?

Ben: The short answer is no. Coco butter has crystals in it, and when it’s made it’s evenly distributed. And stable. What you’re experiencing is blooming – it can happen from a change in temperature (like when you put chocolate in the fridge – sugar bloom happens). The crystals are just coming to the surface. It can change the texture so it’s not ideal, but it’s not bad for you. You can certainly still eat it! But you know, there’s no harm in buying just a little more chocolate!

haigh's history
The factory back in the day. Photo Credit: Haigh’s Website.

Haigh’s has 6 stores in Adelaide, 6 in Melbourne, and 2 in Sydney and you can also buy online (delivery only within Australia currently).

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