Final Report: Saving the Chocolate trip
In late October, 2010, I arrived at the farm of Eloy Canales, a mile north of La Patriota. Personally I wanted to understand more about the ancient cacaos-- the criollos-- and their present role in the hybrids of Nicaragua. On a practical level, my hope was that more such knowledge would benefit the cacao farmers as well as my own chocolate making.
In several trips there we shared tales, knowledge-- how to make rustic chocolate so they all can better appreciate their own production-- and many tools including laser thermometers, grafting knives, pruning saws and other useful wonders.
Consonant with our goals, we bought over a ton of sorted cacaos at premium prices ($1 over market), establishing a price for premium quality. This is a small step that has rarely been taken before in northern Nicaragua: at present all cacao is mixed and sold en masse.
Our premiums are cacao Indio and cacao Lagarto, the latter of which contains perhaps 25% white-colored seeds that are specific to the original ancient cacao Criollo (we think).
We located a few pure white cacao (cacao Blanco which I believe to be the original criollo) trees near La Patriota. With gifts and incentives, we encouraged the preservation of these rare trees, and carried over a hundred seeds to a cacao plantation near Granada, wherein they were planted.
Characteristics of this white cacao are 1] young leaves are pale green, not red; 2] the pods have 10 lobes, sometimes so flattened that they appear to be 5 lobes; 3] pod walls tend to be thicker than most
We found a stand of perhaps 10 hectares of cacao Lagarto near Mombacho. Unfortunately this farm only ferments for three days in fermentation boxes that are rather small. Resulting cacao is definitely acidic and will need special attention to make decent chocolate of it. Yet this farm has buyers for all its cacao at a $.50/lb premium, every year for exportation to Colombia. I hope to learn how this cacao is treated, and for what use.
I became friendly with the field manager (mandador) and advised that if this cacao were properly fermented for 5 or 6 days, it would bring at least a dollar premium and surely more in coming years. He said he would build a set of larger fermentation boxes and ferment longer next year.
In addition, I learned with and trained two women in our kitchen, Cocina Marisol. According to all tasters, we made the best chocolate in Nicaragua. These women are left in possession of a well-equipped kitchen and considerable knowledge.
Pursuant to an offer from a USDA researcher, I took leaf samples from nine different trees in order to ascertain the criollo/forastero mix in each. These samples await passage through the Plant Protection and Quarantine office in Miami.
Gross percentages of criollo and forastero genes may only be an indicator of the mellower criollo tastes. We are aware that higher criollo gene percentages do not guarantee better tasting cacao.
Cacao Raffle!!! Proof-of-the-Chocolate Pudding
Last fall I offered to send 2kg samples of USDA certified organic, 8-day fermented cacao Indio to 5 lucky winners of a raffle-- in return for their public assessment in the Chocolate Life. This cacao is now in my hands. I will open up my list for entries by email for two weeks, until January 26, then draw names out of a hat.
Note: As these cacaos reach no higher than 120ºF in the fermentation process, I assume they can be properly called "raw" in their present pre-roasted state.
If you are among the unlucky raffle losers, you may buy this cacao @ $10 /pound plus some shipping charge. Min. order 5 lbs
Business may be conducted with me by email: email@example.com