CYGNET, in Tasmania's south, is fast becoming a foodie haven.
It is wedged on one side by the sea, surrounded by orchards and tranquil farms, and with the most charming main street around.
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- Cygneture Chocolates, cygneture.com.au or ph 0408 970 440
So spellbound was Gillian Ryan by the town that she not only chose to live there with her husband and two children, but three years ago also established a chocolate business inspired by the area.
Cygneture Chocolates offers 120 varieties that feature Huon Valley produce – stone fruit, nuts, whiskies, wines, and even a new wasabi number (from a farm south of Launceston), one that features pepperberry and another combining goats cheese and honey.
“To get to Cygnet you drive through cherry orchards. I live opposite a strawberry farm and there’s hundreds of hectares of fruit orchards, blueberries and stone fruit. It’s so abundant,” says Gillian, who is an Irish expat and has the lilting accent to match.
“So our principle with the chocolates is to use local produce as much as we can. Even mint and rosemary. I make a chocolate bar for a local cafe that uses their chai tea and our honeycomb has leatherwood honey.”
With a shop front in the main street, alongside three pubs, a few cafes, and St James Catholic Church (1840), one of Australia’s oldest Catholic churches, Cygneture Chocolates churns through about 20kg of Belgian chocolate a week and is able to remain hands-on and small.
It is, says Gillian, designed to fit around her lifestyle, which involves looking after her two children aged eight and four.
And better still, it fits with her love of food and hospitality. Gillian was raised in Tipperary – and just to complete the cliche – above a pub.
“I’m the youngest of seven and I’m the only one in the family who has entertained the idea of working with food, bars and hospitality. I had the best fun there, it was great.”
At the age of 17 in 1992 she moved to Australia (the whole family now lives here) and studied teaching, working in pubs and restaurants part-time which, she says, gave her the perfect training for her current business.
When she and her husband, David Plater, moved to Tasmania six years ago she was determined to have a family-friendly business that revolved around food. Her answer came after she enrolled in the Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School.
Gillian says the only downside to living in Cygnet is the weather.
“Some days tempering the chocolate is really difficult, it’s all to do with temperature and humidity,” she notes.
“In winter we have to wait to the afternoon for the kitchen to warm up and in summer we have to do everything in the morning. Some days we can’t work because it’s just too cold. But it’s not really that cold. Canberra is the coldest place I’ve been to in Australia.’’