Published by Max Felchlin AG, Schwyz, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. (2008)
Since visiting Felchlin 2010 and 2011, I must admit I’m addicted to there chocolate and there philosophy. This book is to interesting not to blog, so I must share this on my blog.
The Planter: From Gatherer to Large Landowner
The cacao tree is a delicate plant that needs special care and attention. Farmers often cultivate small seedlings under mat roofs. After six months, they then move the plnats onto the shade afforded by overhanging neighbouring trees, such as mango or avocado trees, or shelter them below high coconut palm or banana trees, sometimes even sheltering them under straw roofs to protect them from an excess of sun and wind.
Farmers often prune the plants without impairing their quality, cutting back the cacao trees that grow both on plantations and in the wild to a height of two to four metres. However, some farmers shy away from this type of tree husbandry, since superstition and mysticism are sometimes stroger than fact: if it is suggested that they chop off a branch, the farmers resist saying that the tree is a father and that they cannot cut off the hand that feeds them. They do not want to believe that the tree could die because it cannot regenerate.
Farmers keep the ground below the trees tidy and occasionally mulch it. They make sure that the trees do not become infested with pests. As the plants grows relatively close together, infestation can have a devastation effect and take hold of growing areas. All manner of different pest thrive in the fertile and energetic tropical climate, for example, fungi such as witches’ broom or fruit blight. Certain insects, such as longicorns and buprestidae, fruit flies, butterfly larvae, cocoa pod borers and cocoa mealybugs, also pose a danger to cacao trees.
After years of the uncontrolled use of pesticides and fungicides, there have been at least isolated attemps to return to the old methods. To large extent, these attemps have been driven by the high quality requirements of customers interested in the best and finest beans. Organic methods not only create trust, they also work.
The leaves that fall from the cacao tree are more eco-friendly than artificial fertilisers and insecticides. The dead matter decomposes to form humus that enhances the quality of the growing cocoa beans. Rambling plantations cultures often look neat and tidy, free as they are from undergrowth, weeds and other plants that could thrive on the same humus. However, the cocoa beans thus cultivated often all taste the same and a little bland because the ground in which their roots grow lacks the richness that comes from diversity. Afew ambitious chocolatiers continue to search tirelessly for new select varieties, resorting either to wild varieties or to those that have been cultivated in the Rain Forest, where ther is no lack of biodiversity. The humus that occurs in the wild gives cocoa a certain earthy quality that is the reason for its special flavour. Cocoa beans are cultivated or harvested in four different ways and these influence subsequent processing and marketing in particular:
(example of wild cocoa: http://www.maranonchocolate.com/ )
Gathering This is a very rare form of cocoa harvesting. In Beni, a remote region in the Bolivian part of the Amazone drainage basin in the lowlands of the Andes, indigenous families gather the fruits of wild cocoa plants growing is a sometimes swampy, sometimes arid landscape. Like truffle hunters, the families keep the whhereabouts of their trees fiercely guarded secret; apart from gathering the fruits, they leave the trees in peace, neither cultivating them nor planting nurseries. The trees are simply left over to grow wild. This is a unique from of harvesting and, even 600 years ago, searching for and gathering cocoa took place in the shadow os small, semi-professional cultivation. The wild beans are about half size of cultivated beans, there is greater waste, processing is more complex and some machines used in the manufacture of chocolate even have to be specially adjusted for the Beni beans. However, the resulting chocolate is the most exquisite in the world.
Bonbons made for Original Beans, Beni Wild.
Cooperative Cultivation on smallholdings; in order to promote their interests, smallholders working in various areas of agriculture come together to form cooperatives. These smallholders grow limited quantities of cocoa on small scale, either in gardens or on terraces, on smallholderings, in mini plantations or mixed cultivation: the cacao trees grow on and around small haciendas in the Rain Forest. Cooperatives are generally made up of 40 to 50 smallholders and in exceptional cases, as many as 200 smallholders. Cooperatives rarely produce more than 20 to 50 tons of cocoa beans per annum. Smallholders believe in diversification and also grow sugercane, tree tomatoes, palm herats and coffee, as well as keep a few animals; one farmer typically produces between 200 and 300 kilogrmas of cocoa beans but rarely more than 500 kiligrams per annum.
The members of a coopeartive elect a chairperson, who is assisted by between five to ten colleagues. This system can result in lengthy meetings. The purchaser who is interested in the origin of cocoa and who wishes to have a say in its quality has to have a great deal of patience and must be prepared to keep repeating his or her wishes each time a new chairperson is elected. The cooperative system is slow and ponderous and, although members often have only a limited knowledge of business, cooperatives are widly supported.
Hacienda This is the realm of the farmer. The hacienda differs from a large plantation in that it could easily be described as the counterpart to the coopeartive. The hacienda can best compared with a large farm in the Swiss midland. Its infrastructure exeeds that of the smallholding idyll and it employs staff all year round since there is also plenty of work for employees during the low season, for example, tending trees and maintaining the infrastructure, such as the fermentation and drying facilities. It is not uncommmon to have as many as 20 people on the payroll.
One example is the Haceinda Elvesia in the Dominican Republic, wich was once under Swiss ownership. Specialising in cocoa cultivation and with a tight infrastucture, it produces anything between 60 an 100 tons cocoa beans per year – a sufficient amount for direct sale; smallholders, on the other hand, have no option but to pool their harvests and sell them as part of an association, such as the cooperative.
Cultivation, figures in thousands of tons 2007
Plantation This is characterised by rational mass cultivation and by industrialised monoculture; it is not farmers who work here but managers, administrators and agriculture workers. The focus is on cultivation varieties of cocoa bean that require a minimum amount of effort and yet generate a maximum amount of profit. The beans are cultivated over sometimes huge, uniform areas, The subtleties of the aroma are lost and become almost irrelevant in the pursuit of the main obkective, namely to produce ready-to-use raw material for mass production.
NEXT TIME: The Bean From Harvesting to Shipping