Due to the fashion in which genetics express themselves, there will be variation even within single pods - the impression Maranon would have one believe (at least the impression i'm left with after reading/viewing the marketing materials) is that the chocolate is made from these pigment free beans. The reality is that only a very small % of the beans inside the pod are of this phenotype, the majority of them are phenotypically 'typical' beans. Meaning they express their traits largely as any other bean would be expressed.
I've had this chocolate, and it's ok. There's nothing wrong with it. But it's very clearly a blend to make it commercially feasible - one could separate the beans from the pods to segregate them, however they'd be left with a very, very small pile of white beans. To be honest I expected more, and I've had much better chocolate (some of it from the fine folks who hang out here). But taste is quite the subjective qualitative attribute.
I've never met the folks at Maranon, and know nothing about them. I'm quite sure the beans, even with their phenotypic mixtures, are quite capable of producing a wonderful chocolate. Perhaps their sensory definition of a great chocolate simply differs from mine; or perhaps they're in the process of learning what fermentation and drying protocols are necessary to get the beans to express their flavors differently (i'm sure they're working with a pretty small quantity, so trialing is going to be a slow process). They appear to be selling to high end pastry chefs, which means the chocolate can't be too remarkable, as it will be used as a component of something else, and the more remarkable a given element of a pastry design is, the more difficult it is to incorporate other highlight ingredients. Too remarkable, and it becomes limiting.
I would also note that Dr. Meinhardt is a geneticist, quite knowledgeable as a geneticist, but he's not a chocolate guy, a bean guy, or a post harvest guy. Not to detract from any work he's done; only to point out where his competencies lie. From an industry standpoint, it highlights one of the gaps in terms of how breeders interact with growers, and industry. Breeders, geneticists, farmers, and industry are all motivated differently, and i've yet to see all 4 groups together at the same time to discuss how to best plot a path forward for the future. Why is this a problem? Because if breeders give the farmers something that industry doesn't want (but the farmers do because it's high yielding - but tastes terrible only the farmers don't know this because 99% of them have no idea what chocolate even is) - we're not going to have a sustainable industry.
I've met Mr Brian some years ago in Piura, where we were organising a workshop with the APPCacao (Asociacion Peruana de Pequenos PRoductores de Cacao) whereby all information about the criollo beans of Peru was presented. He at that time was new into cacao and I guess was interested in the subject and started a program in the Maranon region I assume. Is his cacao the "rarest cacao"? Well, if you use the % white beans it would definitely not be the rarest, around Piura f.e. much higher % white is found, and actually thanks to the work of Cepicafe (a producer coop) farmers are replanting the white criollo since some years.
Hi all this is Brian Horsley from Marañon Chocolate. Saw this thread and I thought I would clarify a couple of things. I live in Peru with the farmers full time and am responsible for all aspects of collection, selection and post harvest processing.
We use one heirloom variety of cacao from a number of smallholders in one small valley in northern peru that has been genetically tested as pure Nacional. Our variety is genetically equivalent to the La Gloria and Las Brisas Nacional accessions, what are widely considered to be the "reference" or purest known examples of Nacional cacao. But our cacao, unlike Nacional from Ecuador, has on average 42% white beans, and grows at much higher altitude. Also the climate and terroir is different, with a resulting difference in flavor from what is historically known of Ecuadorian nacional cacao.
As Rodney says, Piura has some populations of all white cacao. So do we in our valley. We don't select for bean whiteness, we select for genetic purity. That is why its so rare, because its the only known genetically pure Nacional cacao, none has been found of this purity anytime recently in Ecuador, and the first genetically tested Nacional found outside of Ecuador. It is only available from certain farms in one small valley in northern peru.
We have spent a lot of time and effort developing fermenting and drying profiles to take into account the mix of purple and white beans present which present fermenting challenges. I am currently achieving 98% + fermented beans, 0 slaty, 0 off flavors, and almost no vinegar acid due to some techniques which i personally have developed (with assistance from some very experienced cacao/chocolate people) and supervise daily.
We do not claim to make chocolate from pigment free beans, we select for varietal purity and the beans here happen to average over 40% white beans. The remaining 60% have a lot of pink, fairly white beans and some purples too. This diversity tends to give a lot of complexity to our chocolate's flavor profile.
Our Fortunato #4 couverture is not a blend. it is made from pure nacional beans that i personally buy raw, ferment and dry, and send to switzerland, to be mixed with a small amount of cocoa butter and sugar. no lecithin, vanilla, salt or anything else. No beans of any other variety are present. We sell our couverture mostly to high end chocolatiers, although we have pastry chefs among our clients. More information is available at the website. Many of our clients have websites where you can see how it is being sold. Almost none of it is sold as "part of something else", and so I would categorically disagree with Sebastian's comment that it "can't be too remarkable."
Of course taste is subjective, if Sebastian thinks its just "ok" nobody can dispute that. But the reception in the marketplace confirms to us daily that our chocolate is indeed very fine in flavor and presentation.
Thanks for bringing this up Brad, I have always respected your style and honesty on these boards. If anyone has any questions about our cacao or chocolate I can always be reached here, although when I'm in the campo I frequently go for long periods of time without access.
Thanks for the clarification!But how do you the cocoa is the "rarest", you haven't tested all others is it? Perhaps genetic pureness is not as rare as you might think ;). Do I understand it right that the cocoa is pure "nacional" in the sense that it is the pure nacional from Ecuador? Was the cocoa introduced from Ecuador into Peru or what is the connection? You have any info about that?
Best and succes with the beans! Chocolate (from your beans) being sold in Holland?
No disrespect meant Brian, just my honest opinion. I'm quite familiar with the particular material you're using - in fact, i can tell you just about anything you'd like to know about it. It's precise genetic code. It's variability from tree to tree, or from pod to pod on the same tree. It's self compatibility. It's variation from generations F1 through to F12. I can tell you the top 10 most prevalent microorganisms that were present and active during fermentation. If i needed to, i could probably give a pretty good approximation of how you dried, roasted, and milled them as well.
The generational phenotypic differences that present at any given generation are indicative of an inherent genetic 'blend' in the bean genetics - when i indicate there's a blend occurring, i'm referring to the fact that any chocolate made from that clone will be, inherently, a blend - unless you manually segregate out the phenotypes (which still would result in a blend actually, just less of one) - but that makes it financially unviable as you don't have access to sufficient volume to justify doing so. It's a bit like breeding 2 non-purebred animals - their offspring will be a blend because that's the nature of their parents.
I wish you all the best in your venture! Remember, mine is just one opinion amongst many. There's plenty of people who think Apple computers are less than desirable, yet they're one of the most successful companies on the planet.
This is interesting indeed.
Being a born and raised Alberta redneck, I'm going to try and dumb things down a bit here to get a better understanding of what everyone is talking about. PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong. I'm simply trying to understand.
I understand that there is only one species of cocoa, and that is Theobroma Cocoa. I also understand that there are many "varieties" of theobroma cocoa which may or may not have evolved over 100's or thousands of years to adapt to their unique growing environments.
I also understand that there can be and often are genetic variations of beans even inside a single cocoa pod, meaning that a "variety" (aka: Nacional or Arriba for example) is often be a blend of many genetic variations from a particular region (mentioned just above).
Comparatively, there is only one species of human (homosapien), but many different races (aka: Varieties), and among those varieties many different genetic variations.
Am I wrong by using this comparative analogy?
If I'm not far off track, wouldn't it be reasonable to deduce that almost every small grower produces the rarest cocoa in the world? After all, the amount of beans they harvest don't even register on the scale of world (or even regional) cocoa production, and given the genetic varieties and associated percentages of those varieties that will present themselves in that particular harvest at that time is unique in itself (aka: rare). Duplicating that combination would be as likely as winning a lottery.
Further to that, only by combining the product of MANY growers in a region do you begin to create a "common" product which can be labelled for that region (such as Nacional or Arriba). It seems to me the only way this works, as you will NEVER get a metric ton of one single genotype, let alone many tons that represent a variety such as Nacional or Arriba.
Having said all of that, from a business perspective does the consumer really care, or is this simply a philosophical discussion amongst a bunch of chocolate geeks?
Personally, I don't think the consumer gives a pinch of pigeon poop. The mass majority of the general public still looks at chocolate as "Dark, Milk, White". The fact that single origin "Varieties" are making their way into the market and being well accepted is an indication that people are learning and becoming more discerning. I still don't think they care about the genotypes. That's more of a marketing ploy in my opinion - which is something that Maranon is using to differentiate it's product from others.
I also agree with Sebastian, that if this incredibly rare chocolate is being used by pastry chefs and other culinary professionals for baked goods and such, the flavour is questionable. In my opinion, the price of the chocolate doesn't reflect it's quality, or the quality isn't there, or it isn't being marketed correctly. Case in point: A chef isn't going to use a $90 bottle of Chiraz in a stew. He's going to use either a very inexpensive wine, or the left over wine from several opened bottles the previous day.
I do however think it's important for "chocolate geeks" and "redneck chocolate geeks" alike to learn and understand where their cocoa comes from, and how they can differentiate genotypes in order to create flavour profiles in their final chocolate, which in itself makes it unique to that geek who produces small batches of fine flavour dark chocolate. I also think it's less important to industrial chocolate makers.
Am I wrong? Am I out to lunch? Your thoughts?
Not to pick nits, but this discussion also raises questions about the meaning of rare. What are we talking about? Rarest beans? Or rarest chocolate?
I can argue that a small batch chocolate maker like Dandelion that is making, maybe, a couple of hundred kilos of a particular chocolate - at most - is making chocolate that is far rarer than Fortunato #4, of which Felchlin makes many tonnes at a time. So we can argue that Dandelion's chocolate is far rarer than Fortunato.
Now Dandelion might be making their chocolate from an origin that produces far more beans than Brian does for Marañon. So we can argue that Marañon's beans are far rarer.
QED - rare beans and rare chocolate are not the same thing. My guess is that there are many chocolates that are far rarer than Marañon.
Also, lifting some more of the veil. One of the experts on post-harvest processing and fermentation that Brian mentions is Steve DeVries. Credit where credit is due.
hi all, lots of interesting stuff here. to take it one by one:
It is correct that we have not tested every cacao in the world, so is ours definitively the rarest? I don't know, but I do know that there is no other source of high altitude, 40% white beans, pure Nacional cacao on the planet that we know of right now other than ours so we consider it as rare as anything else out there. Brad uses the phrase "the rarest cocoa beans" referring to beans from Jim Lucas' Brazilian plantation, which is probably not the smallest in the world. Rodney calls his Piura beans "ultra-rare" porcelana criollo, but to my knowledge Cepicafe has not genetically tested them to show Criollo genetics, and Piura's production is way more than than the little valley where we work. We're all in the business of marketing and selling chocolate as effectively and ethically as we can. We can probably all agree not to parse each other's marketing language down to the last degree. Especially because i've met Rodney, like him, liked his sample chocolate a lot and want him and Original Beans to succeed wildly. I'm sure I would feel the same about Brad and Jim and their cacao and chocolate if I could meet them.
I agree with you Brad that these distinctions are pretty hard for anyone who isn't neck deep in this stuff to understand or take seriously or care about. But people are getting turned on to really good chocolate these days, the market may be going in the right direction so that's good for all of us.
Rodney the existence of our cacao brings into question whether Nacional originated in Peru or Ecuador. Ours is genetically equal to what is considered the reference example of nacional, but nothing of comparable genetic purity has been tested recently anywhere in Ecuador that I know of, nobody knows definitively where it comes from, and the transmission route from one place to the other is also not known. Or maybe Sebastian knows something about this??......
Consider your opinion accepted Sebastian, I didn't take it as disrespect, you sound far more knowledgable than me. when you initially said "blend" I took it to mean blending beans from various sources and varieties to make fortunato 4 chocolate which we don't do.
Our couverture is not being used in any baked goods that I'm aware of, for exactly the reason Brad mentioned - it wouldn't make economic sense for the client, and it would be a waste of the chocolate's unique flavor.
Finally, Clay is right Steve Devries was instrumental in our start up phase as a consultant and deserves credit - thank you Steve!
Good luck to all, have a great day!
Just for your info, I'm since some three years not involved in Original Beans anymore, and I must say the beans from Piura are to my knowlegde a true criollo, but not a true "porcelana" (what we thought initially, and actually this was discussed during the workshop and reviewed afterwards by a Venzuelan expert that visited all regions around Piura).
We have sent photos to the people in the US and actually they mentioned based on the bean cut and shape of the fruit, that around Piura the cocoa is very likely the same Andean Criollo related to the Nacional as you have in your region. Well, anyway, Peru has an interesting future, when looking at the fine flavour cocoa beans, and all initiatives (like yours) are more than welcome to promote it.
In a post a couple of hours ago, Brian wrote "We can probably all agree not to parse each other's marketing language down to the last degree."
Personally, I think his quote goes to the root of what we as artisinal chocolate makers CAN change! We MUST be clear to the customer about what it is that we're selling. If we aren't, it not only hurts us, but also discredits every other artisan chocolate maker and chocolatier in the eyes of the consumer.
I've taken a lot of heat from consumers defensive of "their" chocolatiers in the past couple of years because I've stepped up and boldly spoken the truth about what I do and what goes on in the industry - truth that is substantiated by considerable, and in many cases irrefutable research findings, then blatantly contradicts what they claim to do. As a result, many of my peers (a couple of big ones too) have taken enough flak from customers that they have actually changed the verbiage on their packaging to more accurately reflect what it is that they do. It doesn't diminish the quality of their product. It simply offers the consumer more accurate portrayal of their crafts.
We've all pretty much agreed on this forum that Fortunato #4 is in fact NOT the world's rarest chocolate. Yet the website I was sent to BOLDLY states that it's, and I quote: "The World's Rarest Chocolate".
I make a 70% bar from a Mexican Porcelana bean I acquired a couple of years ago. I make the chocolate in small 50lb batches. Each batch turns out slightly different. Given that it's Porcelana, and it's made 50lbs at a time, could THIS be the world's rarest chocolate? I don't know. I certainly don't tell people it is. What I tell people is that porcelana is considered the "holy grail" of chocolate, and is considered to be among the rarest in the world. That's all true.
This HAS been an interesting discussion, and I have learned a tremendous amount from it. However, after digging down to the basis of it, even Brian admits that he doesn't know if his beans are rarest. Given that, he certainly can't claim that his chocolate is the rarest. Yet Maranon the website does, and to me that's deceptive and very misleading. (Sorry Brian. That's just how I see it).
A better approach might be to celebrate the effort needed to collect these beans from the growers and process them into a truly special chocolate - something the average person has never experienced. Sell the story and the relationship with the growers. I think that would get more play from a marketing standpoint.
One of the great privileges I have is to taste lots of things - some of it very good, some of it very bad - however they all add to the richness of the experience in total. I've had (even made) some of the rarest beans in the world (ie hand pollination of single flowers) - where there literally is no other pod (ie beans) like it in the world. Sometimes they've even been crossed with close cousins of cocoa, genetically similar, but a different family. Now, that's about as rare as rare gets. Most of the time, albeit rare, the product is unremarkable from a flavor standpoint - sometimes even awful. Sometimes they're remarkably remarkable. However, in each experience, one learns something & deepens the richness and depth of the experience as a whole.
For me, if i'm doing something I love with people i enjoy, learning along the way, and leaving a wake behind me that betters the lives of those i touched, I find fulfillment in that intersection. Chocolate, generally speaking, is a consumer experience that can dovetail nicely in that equation! The other intriguing part is that no matter how much i know, or how much i think i know, there's always something new to learn, another way to look at things, and great people to work with.