A Sweet Excursion to the Yarra Valley

Last week was like a dream. I took the week off from work to travel to Australia, got engaged on the way, saw dozens of family members, partied in Melbourne with my little sister on her 20th birthday, and ate plenty of ice cream.

One of my favorite days was spent exploring the Yarra Valley, a famous wine growing region located about an hour outside of Melbourne. My sister, fiance (SO weird to say that!), and I took the train out to the Yarra Valley early on Tuesday morning. One of my aunts lives in the Valley with her family, and she took the day off to play tour guide. The Yarra Valley is a beautiful place, with rolling hills and dozens of small family-owned vineyards dotting the landscape – similar to what I imagine Napa Valley was like back in the day. We tried dozens of wines at Yering Station, sampled cheeses at the Yarra Valley Dairy, and enjoyed beer and cider at Coldstream Brewery.

But the best stop of the day was the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery! The business just opened in December, but my aunt knew it was the perfect place to take us for lunch and dessert. You can imagine my excitement as we drove up the immaculately-manicured driveway and walked towards the architect-designed warehouse.

Walking through the doors at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is like stepping into a sophisticated version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The smell of chocolate permeates the colorful open store. We were immediately invited to samples of milk, dark and white chocolate, which I enjoyed while taking everything in.

The store is mostly dedicated to chocolate, with ice cream taking up just a small section towards the back. Most of the walls and counters are stocked with homemade truffles and beautifully-packaged chocolates. The left-hand wall is actually a glass window that looks into the chocolate-making kitchen, where three chocolateries were hard at work on this Tuesday morning.

My cousin was waiting for us in the store’s little cafe, which has a patio with stunning views of the Yarra Valley. The plan was to have lunch here; the cafe serves light but gourmet fare – including pizza, paninis and salads. I appreciated that the menu called out all vegan and gluten-free options. We all ordered something different, and I went with the Vegetable Fritatta with a garden salad. It was a bit more expensive than your average lunch ($18), but it was a lovely and memorable meal. Moreover, restaurant meals in Australia are generally more pricey than in the US – partially because tip/service fee is built into the food and drink prices.

Despite our satisfying lunch, we all ordered dessert. It’s simply unacceptable to visit Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery without having something sweet. Besides the chocolates and truffles in the store, the cafe also serves fancy dessert waffles, sundaes, tarts, and gorgeous hot chocolates. While I was tempted by the gluten-free brownie sundae, I couldn’t not try the homemade ice cream.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery’s ice cream is made fresh on-site every day, and they prides themselves on using only high-quality ingredients. This Tuesday, there were 12 different flavor options – which is actually fewer than I’m used to! Luckily, everything sounded good. Most flavors were traditional, such as Cookies & Cream and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were a couple more interesting ones, like Peach Mango and Honeycomb. Also, the two sorbets looked great in the display case. The Dark Chocolate looked rich and, well, dark! And the Wild Berry was a beautiful purple color and was studded with berry seeds (always a good sign!).

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided on a two-scoop cup with both Honeycomb and the Dark Chocolate sorbet. The flavor combination was an ode to my all-time favorite Australian candy, Violet Crumble. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating one, it’s a candy bar with a crunchy, honeycomb toffee center covered in a thin layer of chocolate. My sisters and I would eagerly look for Violet Crumble bars in any package coming from an Australian relative. While I’ve encountered Violet Crumbles in a few specialty stores in the US over the years, they still retain a big novelty factor for me. Since honeycomb isn’t a common ice cream flavor in the States, I had to pounce on this opportunity. Luckily, Ava thought the combo was a great idea – and she agreed to split the massive portion and hefty price (almost $6) with me.

The verdict? As you can see, the folks at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery certainly don’t skimp on portions. And given that the ice cream and sorbet had an almost gelato-like consistency, it was served at the perfect temperature and didn’t melt before we could finish it. True to their promise, both flavors were rich and flavorful – proof of the high-quality ingredients used. While I expected Honeycomb to be my favorite, the Dark Chocolate sorbet was the star of this combo. It was one of the best chocolate sorbets I’ve had; incredibly rich (but not too sweet) chocolate flavor and a velvety-smooth texture unlike many other ice-y sorbets. The Honeycomb ice cream had that caramel-honey flavor I love. However, there were just two big chunks of honeycomb candy in the scoop, whereas I’d hoped for many small bites throughout. Still, the ice cream was a winner – especially when paired with the Dark Chocolate sorbet. These flavors complemented each other well; the sorbet was so rich that a milder flavor was needed to balance it out. Even still, my sister and I barely finished this cup. Overall, however, Yarra Valley’s ice cream flavors are not nearly as exotic as their chocolate candy and truffle flavors. I’d love to challenge Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery to focus a little more attention on their ice cream business. If they start to put as much TLC into their frozen concoctions as their chocolate candy, this stuff would be hard to beat.

All in the family.

The Stats:
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
35 Old Healesville Road
Yarra Glenn, Victoria 3775
Australia
http://www.yvci.com.au