Here I am with Roberto Granja of Transmar, one of the larger cacao companies in Ecuador. Roberto was at last year's Salon as well and they buy production from San Martin and Huanuco in Perú as well as other places.
Above: I am wearing a real Panama hat. Although they are called Panama hats they were originally created in Ecuador. Mine is also made in Ecuador. Below: A "nativo" pod from a cooperative near Cusco. Bottom: Another pod from the same co-op. The genetic diversity of cacao in Perú is astonishing.
On Saturday, the second full day of the Salon, the International visitor spent most of the day participating in business roundtables. You can think of these as business speed-dating. Every half-hour from 10am to 6pm with a two-hour break mid-day, we sat down with representatives from different co-ops. They explained a little bit about the history of the organization and presented samples of what they were doing. Each of us then presented what we were looking for - in terms of beans and/or semi-finished products - at the Salon.
If any ChocolateLife members are interested in getting samples of some very interesting beans from some very interesting sources let me know. Serious inquiries for at least a pallet, please.
There is a lot of confusion in Perú about the word criollo. Well, they're not really confused, we are. They use the term meaning "native" or "from here" as opposed to forastero, or foreign. When we hear criollo we want to believe that we are getting genetic criollos. While there may be some criollo in Perú (and there is a lot of white cacao, though criollo ≠ white beans) what is meant when the locals say criollo is "nativo" or native varieties.
While Perú likes to claim that 90% of their cacao is cacao fino - in truth the bulk of the cacao being grown is CCN-51. This is because USAID has focused on productivity for most of the past 20 years, believing, correctly, that it needed focus on providing farmers a viable economic alternative to coca. Low-yielding strains did not fit that model.
Now, a lot of effort is focused on providing alternatives to CCN-51. Varieties that can yield as much as CCN-51 but that offer much better flavor.
Above: Here I am with representatives of one of the co-ops I met with - Kemito Ene - which is near the Rio Ene in the south. They are doing impressive work, had one of the best presentations, and provided samples of some very excellent beans.
For an equipment geek the show was also very interesting. There were two companies exhibiting machines to process cocoa beans into chocolate. While none of the local companies is really ready for prime time export, they are not far off, and I will be working to improve the quality and see what I can do to make them available to purchase. One company is offering an 80kg per hour cracking/winnower that delivers really quite remarkable performance - at a cost of under US$5000 ex-works. I also saw a small roaster and a number of pin mills that were very attractively priced for the throughput.
It is difficult for foreigners to really appreciate what the Salon means to Perúvians in general and to the cocoa and chocolate markets domestically an internationally. It is important to grown both the national and international markets at the same time. Bringing in international visitors shows the average Perúvian the respect the international market has for Perúvian cacao and chocolate ... and great strides are being made in the quality of production that is being done in-market, noticeable even from one year ago. Perúvieans are fiercely proud of their culture and their food traditions, rightfully so. (Lima is host to the world's largest food festival - Mistura - and hosts a dynamic foodie culture that rivals anything in South America (and many large cities in the US. But it's not yet possible to get good pizza, I hear. Perú is an incredibly inventive fusion of cultures with access to foods from the Amazon that most of us have never heard of before and they are not afraid to use them.)