The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

The Art of Chocolate. From the Finest Cocoa to Exquisite Chocolate (Published by: Max Felchlin AG, Schwyz, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary)

Chocolate is more than just chocolate - the consumer is often uncritical in its selection and simply eats it without giving it a second thought. This blog(book) communicates knowledge about chocolate in order to in crease the pleasure in its consumption. Chocolate, such as is enjoyed today, is the product of a variety of specialist processes tailored to achieve maximum pleasure. This blog(book) contains a wealth of interesting facts and, after reading it, you will no longer just consume chocolate but will really savour and appreciate every bite.

Foreword (Christian Aschwanden CEO Max Felchlin AG)

Welcome!

Everyone knows chocolate, and just about everyone loves it, but only a few people know how it ia actually made. In this blog(book), we discribe the long journey "From the Finest Cocoa to Exquisite Chocolate": each individual stage, from cultivation and fermantation to the journey and production, requires consummate skill and expertise. We invest a great deal of care, experience and time in transforming the seeds of these fruits from the tropical Rain Forest into melt-in-the-mouth chocolate.

Chocolate is more than just chocolate - the consumer is often uncritical in its selection and simply eats it without giving it a second thought. This blog(book) communicates knowledge about chocolate in order to increase th pleasure in its consumption and to enable a critical appreciation. We are passionate about production fine flavour chocolate, wich is the product of a variety of specialist processes tailored to achieve maximum pleasure.

Troughout its 100-year history and despite the incredible amount of change that has taken place during this period, our company has been consistently dedicated to pleasure. We produce chocolate in our small factory in Schwyz and are happy to share the secrets of its wonderfull flavours with those who really appreciate it. If this blog(book) transforms you from a chocolate eater to a chocolate connoisseur, then we have succeeded in what we set out to do.

A Gem Among Culinary Delights

Full Circle - Back to the Roots

The hunger foor food and riches has changed the world. The voyages of discovery were inspired by the need for culinary treasures worth their weight in gold, namely by the search for spices that, 600 years ago, were precious and hugely valuable commodity available only in small quantities. However, the value of these spices went beyond the coffers of traders and princes and they unexpectedly infiltrated all levels of society. After Colombus landed on a Caribbean island in the New World in 1492, new foods started to enrich the menus of Europe.

Although the Spanish conquistadors were mainly interested in plundering the riches of the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas, they happened upon a veritable treasure trove of foods previously unknown in Europe and that are now integral part of our everyday diet. A small group of the most important South American products now account for a tremendous amount of the expenditure spent on groceries: potatoes, maize, tomatoes, beans, pineapple, avocado, papaya, peanuts, pumpin, turkeys, vanilla, tobacco -- and cocoa. The tomato, although initially not even eaten in Europe but exhibited as an ornamental plant, is today the world's most important vegetable.

The cocoa bean will never attain this status. However, it doesn't have to, since it is already the undisputed number one in a very different ranking. Cocoa is one of the most valuable agricultural crops, the embodiment of luxury in its finest form: the luxury of time and pleasure.

The most wonderful luxury is time, perceived as a gift to be enjoyed. Not the time that is taken up with day-to-day choces but those truly precious moments when, freed from the demands of everyday life, we can sit back and indulge in a feeling of relaxation and caml, as well as look forward to forthcoming events, either with excitements or even with a certain trepidation.

Enjoyed in these circumstances, a pleasure is a truly precious and remerkable thing, especially if we allow it the time to develop its character, to reveal its compleexity and uniqueness.

This is indeed, a pleasure, of course, chocolate. It is unique. Not only because its aromas beguile the senses but also because it demands that we make sacrifices. Sacrifices in terms of time, patience and also discipline. Chocolate denies greed, punishing exess with the heavy feeling of being sated. It only reveals its riches to those who are prepared to taste small pieces and to savour its hunderds of individual aromas.

Chocolate is something precious. A true gem amongst the culinary delights of the world, not only because the dedire for a slim figure and fit body means that the comsumption of chocolate has come to be regarded as e reward; forgoing the devouring of chocolate with reckless abandon has paved the way for a more delicate enjoyment. We only eat a little chocolate, but what we eat, we eat selectively. We are not happy to settle for mass products and only want the very best. The bonus lies in enjoying the moment, a rare pleasure.

And so the circle closes. When, at the turn of the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors first tasted chocolate in the New World, Columbus with little enthusiasm bur Cortés, who conquered Mexico, with the astute eye of the businessman, it was the drink of nobility and of ritual. And so, too, it was in Spain, at least for a century. The Portuguese then happened upon cocoa in Barzil and soon after planted the tree on the islands of Sao Tomé and Principe on the West African coast. Two daughters of the Spanish royal family took chocolate to France when they married into the French royal family. The new miracle drink spread via Italy, parts of which were under Spanish rule, to the Mediterranean. During the Rococo period, chocolate trickled down to the middle classes and, with the introduction of vital processing technologies, such as mechanical mills, cocoa-butter presses and conches, the end of the nineteenth century saw its transformation into solid chocolate, a rational, industrial product that became less and less expensuve and more affordable for all.

Chocolate was democratised and socialised. With the upturn in the economy after the Second World War, it became a mass product and lost its exclusive character.

Until, that is, high-handed fashion dictators declared war on thunder thighs and potbellies, forcing larger individuals into uncomfortable clothes and subjecting them to mockery and social ostracism. Chocolate and other rich foods were demonised and vilified as contributors to exess weight. However, the longing for the incorparable, unique flavour of cocoa cannot simply be excluded from our sensory life and regated to a list of forbidden pleasures Certainly, we can accept the need for self-denial, but only in moderation. Chocolate should remain a carefully considered exception, a very precious gem The community of epiceres has found its way back to the beginning, back to cocoa in its unadalterated form. Back to Criollo, the highest quality bean that, half a millennium ago, so amazed and delighted the palates of the Europeans.

However, this chocolate is not without its demands. It refuses to be simply devoured. It keeps its aromas locked away until the palate is ready to allow the heavenly pleasure to melt on the tongue.

So it's not surprising that the natural scientist Carl von Linné gave the cocoa plant the botanical name Theobroma cacao, meaning "food of the gods". The Swedish natural scientist who also fell under the spell of chocolate, was not just allowing his imagination free reing, he was also alluding to the traditions of the Mexican Indians who glorified the consumption of the fruit of the cacao tree as a privilege enjoyed by the gods.



The Tree

From Flower to Bean.

The evergreen cacao tree has its origins in the New World but has, for a long time, been prospering around the globe, namely in the tropical belt 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator. The cacao tree is very particular about where it is grown and the surrounding environment has to meet its requirements exactly. If all conditions are right, it will flourish magnificently, however, it starts to flounder as soon as its equilibrium is disturbed.

The climate has to be humid with 1.5 to 2 metres of rainfall per year (Bern: approx. 1 metre). The cacao tree is most comfortable at temperatures of between 25 to 28 degrees Celcius. It is very susceptible to wide fluctations in temperature and also to wind. In the "coldest" months, the temperature must never drop below 20 degrees Celsius.

The cacao tree is unimposing and certainly no giant. It grows in the shade of other trees and shuns direct sunlight. Long and thin, it can grow up to a height of ten to 15 metres, which means that, in the tropical Rain Forest, it is simply part of the undergrowth! The cacao tree has strong, tongue-shaped leaves that grow to a length of about 20 centimetres. They help to protect the fruits from the sun's rays. Thousands of mosquitoes, flies and other tiny creatures that are irritating to man are essential to the plants, as it is the insects that pollinate the flowers. Since the cacao tree is always in flower, all development stages of teh cacao can be seen on the tree at the same time, from the flower to ripe fruit, known as the "pod". The flowers consist of five small, narriw, pink sepals and five petals that are either yellowy-white or reddish in colour.

The cacao tree blosoms and produces fruit all year round. Ne flowers continue to grow on its thicker branches and are either a soft yellow or a subtle pink in color. Five to eight months after pollination, they turn into fruits growning directly on the trunk or branches. Depending on their maturity, these cover the entire colour spectrum from green, through orange, to red. The pods are approximately 15 to 25 centimetres long and weigh about a pound each. They look like elongated pumpkins or brightly-coloured rugby balls. When cultivated carefully, a cacao tree lives for 30 to 60 years. Fruits are generaly harvested twice a year (the most efficient system) but sometimes as many as four to five times a year.

Each fruit contains 25 to 50 longish, almond-shaped seeds: the cocoa beans. These are either light beige or whitish violet in colour and are surrounded by a slippery, juicy white pulp that unlike the bitter beans, has a sweet-and sour taste with a similar aroma to lychees. This pulp is refreshing and sometimes eaten by farmers but, more importantly, it is used for the fermentation of the beans after harvesting.

Not all cacao beans are the same. Scientists have so far identified more than one thousand different varieties and variations and new varieties are currrently being researched. It's very difficult to distinguish between different varieties and only experts can do this. This is because the fruits of the same variety can look very different.

The original variety names, Criollo, Nacional and Trinitario, which are the fine or flavour cacao beans, and Forastero, the bulk cocoa beans that do not have the same flavour, have today become trade names. However, there are lots of regional differences. Expressed in simple terms, the three flavour beans do not even account for one tenth of the world crop, since the trees are susceptible to disease and produce a lower yield. On a global scale, more than 90 percent of cococa is harvested from the robust, more resilient and less capricious but high-yield trees of the Forastero family, even though the flavour beans have a much richer, finer taste.

Only flavour beans are used in Felchlin's Grand Cru chocolate.

As a result of the increasing mixing of different varieteis on a plantation and in growing regions, cocoa beans are no longer traded under variety names, but are categorised according to their origin. This groups together beans from remoter regions and local plantations, from the mixed cultivation of smallholders to the tree islands in the Bolivian Amazon, where the indigenous people gather cocoa beans from wild trees.

This grouping according to region and increasing differentiations are comparable with the practice of viniculture. For example, we talk of an appellation, such as Maracaibo (a specific region), a specific growth is a cru (a vineyard), and a cuvee is an individual blend of wine (corresponds to cocoa from different types of bean produced on a hacienda).

100.000 Flowers:

“Cauliflory” is a botanical term refering to the growth of flowers on the trunk of a wodddy plant, the plants themselves are known as “cauliflors”. Three to four times a year, the cacao tree grows new leaves directly on its trunk or branches. It produces the largest numbers of flowers when it is between ten and twelve years old: it can produce up to 100.000 flowers a year!

The fine-flavours varieties

Criollo

 "Creolle" (a native-born person of foreign ancestry); probably originated from Central America and was cultivated in Mexico as the first ever cocoa bean: clearly the finest-quality cocoa. Only very slighty bitter, it reveals not only a mild cocoa flavour but also wonderfull aromas. It is thus also known as "WürzCacao". From Mexico, Criollo spread across Central America to Venezuela, some Pacific islands (Samoa, Ponape), Timor (Portuguese), Java Dutch) and Ceylon. Today, Criollo is still known as Maracaibo, the name of the port in Northwest Venezuela from which Criollo cocoa from this region was shipped.

Trinitario

Probably a natural (because unintended) hybrid in the Caribbean between Criollo and Forastero that developed when Spanish plantation owners imported Forastero varieties from West Africa and planted them on their haciendas. Still to be found predominantly in the Caibbean, Colombia, Costa Rica and other Central American countries.

Nacional

This is the name of the cocoa that is cultivated on the western (Pacific) side of the Andes (for example, Arriba from Ecuador). The National cacao tree is generally larger than the Criollo and the Forastero tree. Varieties of Nacional are also grown in Camaroon.

Criollo, Trintario and Nacional are delicate, susceprible to disease and have a low yield. However, their beans are fine, highly aromatic and rich in taste. The fien-flavour varieties make up less than 10% of global cocoa production.

The Bulk variety

Forastero

(Spanish: strange, foreign): originally from the Upper  Amazon Basin and, from there, exported to West Africa, Brazil, Espirito Santo) and Cuba (Hispaniola). From West Africa, taken to East Africa and Southeast Asia. Strong cocoa taste, slightly bitter and a narrower range of aromas than with Criollo, Trinitario or Nacional. Forastero variations: amalonado, amazon (West Africa, Southeast Asia), cacau comum (Bahia), calabacillo, para (Lower Amazon). Resistant to disease with a high yield and prolific harvest. Makes up to more than 90% percent of world production

Cocoa varieties generate lots of unanswered questions and ambiguities-the only way to achieve clarity would be to take a genetic fingerprint of each individual tree. 

New varieties

As in all areas of agriculture and nutrition, cocoa is also researched and subjected to extensive testing. In order to optimise profits, international groups require that varieties are resistant, produce a high yield and can be managed rationally. Research produce these varieties, even if they are unsophisticated and have poorer flavour than the conventional, traditional varieties. "CCN51", for example, is a hybrid variety with an extremely high yield. There is a tremendous temptation to cultivate this variety rather than the older varieties, even though "CCN51" has less flavour. Two tons of beans per hectare is regarded as a good yield; wiyh tradiotional varieties, 300 to 500 kilograms of beans per hectare is normal and, in the case of wild cocoa from Beni, the yield is even lower.

NEX EPISODE: THE PLANTER-FROM GATHERER TO LARGE LANDOWNER

 

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Tags: CCN51, Columbus, Cortés, Criollo, Forastero, France, Nacional, Spain, Theobroma, Trinitario, More…bulk, cacao, chocolate, varietiy

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Comment by Chocolate University Online on October 7, 2011 at 6:29am
I myself am amazed by the history of chocolate. Indeed, the Spaniards are in luck when in search of treasure, they found chocolate, something we all treasure today! :)
Comment by Vercruysse Geert on October 6, 2011 at 2:19pm

It took some time to continue, sorry for this. I try to go on from now on each week...

Comment by Vercruysse Geert on September 22, 2010 at 12:55pm
Thirth picture: different pods and raw beans.
Comment by Vercruysse Geert on September 21, 2010 at 1:50pm
Second picture from Hacienda Helvesia, Dom. Republic.
Comment by Vercruysse Geert on August 24, 2010 at 9:53am
I took this picture in august 2010, having a visit to Felchlin with Stephan Iten, the Export Corporate Pastry Chef from Felchlin, many thanks to Stephan.

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