Monthly Archives: September 2012

See you there! Cacao Art at the Miami World Festival

We at Cacao Art are thrilled to be contributing with the Miami World Festival this coming Tuesday, Oct. 02. It will be a great event, with many outstanding chefs in attendance. The event is being held to raise funds for Common Threads, a charity that teaches low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals. To learn more about Common Threads, please visit http://www.commonthreads.org/Pages/Home

Hope to see you there!

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The Mechanics series – Going to where the action is: day trip to Barlovento, Venezuela

A gorgeous cacao pod ready for harvesting

A gorgeous cacao pod ready for harvesting

This is the second post in our Mechanics series. In the previous one, we talked about the three types of cacao bean and I mentioned that the criollo bean is particularly delicate to grow. In this post, I will tell you about our trip to Barlovento, a small criollo-growing region in Venezuela. This trip took place place a few years ago, before Cacao Art was a reality.

Although we had seen pictures and even visited the beaches around Choroni, another well-known cacao area, we had never been to a cacao plantation. So, when my nephew’s school organized a trip there, we did something extraordinary (for me, not so much Susana – mother of three): volunteered to go along and help with the kids.

We took a bus with some 20 kids and their teachers and went on a three-hour ride into the wilderness. The first thing to understand is that cacao trees need humidity and shade to thrive. So the best places for it to grow are almost wild rainforest. The mix of different trees and plants make for a more interesting soil and yields even more interesting cacao. So Barlovento, a gorgeous, lush tropical rainforest, is paradise for cacao trees.

Cacao pods hang low on the trees. Harvest is tricky, because the pods mature at different times. In Barlovento, everything is done by hand: from the picking of the pods, to opening them (using a machete) and scooping out the seeds and pulp.

Then comes the vital step of fermentation. It usually lasts two days. Beans are put in shallow boxes with the pulp still attached and covered with plantain leaves. This is the first step in developing rich, flavorful beans.

Setting out the beans for a good roast under the sun.

Setting out the beans for a good roast under the sun.

Barlovento beans are then roasted under the scorching tropical sun. More than one of us came back a little sunburned, I have to say. In other parts, if the climate is too rainy and humid, the drying is done indoors or using massive hot-air fans.

After roasting, the beans have lost all their moisture and half their weight. They are then packaged in burlap sacks and ready to go to the different manufacturers.
Going to Barlovento was a unique experience. The men working the harvest were kind and knowledgeable. They even serenaded us with traditional Barloventeño tambores.

CA Barlovento

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Debauve and Gallais: Chocolate purveyors to the Kings of France

A very Parisian storefront

A very Parisian storefront

Is there anything fancier than being assigned chocolate purveyors to the former Queens of France? As the ultimate arbiters of taste, I am sure serving chocolates to French royalty was no easy feat. Debauve and Gallais did just that and, since 1800, have offered their chocolates to us commoners as well.

Their pretty, traditional shop in the Saint Germain quartier of Paris is the quintessential confectioner’s space. Rows of chocolates in tens of different flavors and shapes await to take their place in your chosen ballotin, which is then tied up with a big ribbon like a beautiful gift box. The chocolates themselves are very classic French bonbons, perhaps a tad too sweet for our modern tastes. But you can see the charm of the ancien chocolatier and I loved the little story of how M. Debauve, family chemist for Louis XVI, fashioned the signature chocolate coins so that Marie Antoinette would swallow her unappetizing medicines. In fact, the shop itself brings to mind an old-fashioned chemist.

Although Debauve and Gallais have gone global, with shops in as far-off places as Dubai and Hong Kong, the trip to their original shop in St Germain is well worth a visit.

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The mechanics behind the magic – 1/3 The Beans

After reading this title, you might think I am going to give away our awesome Cacao Art recipes… Tough luck. I am actually going to write about the whole cacao bean to chocolate process in a series of posts.

I love chocolate and chocolate comes from beans, so, naturally, this first post of what I am calling the “mechanics of” series is about cacao beans. After reading these posts you will amaze your family and friends with all your insider chocolate knowledge.

Let’s start with some basics. First, cacao trees are a tropical phenomenon. That means they only grow around the Equator. If you try to plant a cacao tree in Paris or San Francisco or Buenos Aires, it just won’t like it and refuse to grow. These finicky plants are indigenous to South and Central America. In fact, some DNA investigators report that the very first trees grew in the basin of the Maracaibo lake and around the Orinoco river both in Venezuela – I’m sure that’s what makes Venezuelan chocolate particularly wonderful.

Next important thing to know: there are three broad categories of cacao beans, called forastero, criollo and trinitario. Memorize these and you’re halfway there in your choco-education. The forastero is the most common and resistant type of bean, grown mostly in Equatorial Africa and it yields a consistent, plain flavored chocolate known as bulk product. You know what they taste like… Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s, and so many others…

The criollo bean, more fragile and disease-prone, can be found in the Americas, mostly in Venezuela. Basically, these are the spoiled princesses of the chocolate world. They yield more complex and subtle chocolate, usually referred to as fine flavored cacao. Criollo beans are considered the best in the world.

Last but not least, trinitario beans are the real up-and-comers, offering the best of both worlds: the resistance of forastero and the delicacy of criollo. Trinitario beans are the result of a combination that took place in… you guessed it… Trinidad!  The first time this fortuitous event took place was way back in the 16th century, but it has evolved a lot since then. Now Trinitario beans grow in Venezuela, Ecuador, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Java and Papua New Guinea.

So, three types of beans, countless possibilities! It is amazing what modern agricultural technology and industrial processing have achieved in terms of smoother, tastier chocolate resulting from these tiny little beans.

Next post, I will tell you about the cultivation and processing of the beans and the end result: yummy chocolate!

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Chloe Doutre-Roussel: “I am worried about Venezuelan cacao”

French chocolate expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel has touched upon the delicate subject of Venezuelan cacao harvesting and production under Hugo Chavez’s schizo-authoritarian regime. In an article published on her Facebook page, Chloe talks about how “ the goverment has steadily boycotted the cacao and chocolate private sector for the last years, expropriating cacao plantations (…), making exports outreageously expensive and difficult, taking over cacao coops that used to produce quality, mixing mass market with fine cacao to be processed in some national choco factory killing the diversity, the work of the people, the future of the cacao.” To this we say: hear, hear!

Chloe’s comments are all very true and timely. The Venezuelan cacao industry, which is comparatively small when considering the quality and appreciation of our beans abroad, has never reached its full potential. Like I mentioned in my most recent post, chocolate manufacturers like El Rey and San Jose are making great efforts to navigate the many obstacles that political bureaucracy and the political climate has put in their way. From increased steps in the export process (from 4 to 55 in the last 10 years) to violent squatters and expropriations, the cacao business has become increasingly difficult to manage. Which is why we really appreciate Chloe’s parting message: that a change will come on Oct. 7th, when Venezuela  holds Presidential elections and, hopefully, we can move on from the aggression and violence of the last 12 years and into a period of change, peace and prosperity.

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The once and future kings of cacao

I would like to take a moment to give a very warm shout-out to our favorite bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Chocolates El Rey and Chocolate San Jose. Apart from their ever friendly and useful advice, these two manufacturers provide us with the best quality product we could hope for.

Take El Rey: a family company operating since 1929. They use only the finest cacao beans harvested by small and medium-scale farmers in the lush rainforests of Venezuela. Venezuelan beans are mostly of Criollo origin, which are known worldwide for producing complex and delicately flavored chocolate. However, El Rey also produces chocolate from Trinitario beans.

El Rey have a leg up on the competition in part thanks to their their fearless approach to large-scale investment (a tricky business in Venezuela). Despite numerous setbacks, El Rey have forged ahead with their plans of expansion, taking their chocolate to new heights. They have state-of-the-art facilities in which the sun-dried beans are processed to give us customers the smoothest, most enjoyable chocolate experience.

We also want to acknowledge the great work being done by Chocolate San Jose, founded all the way back in 1830. This is another family-owned company that is currently developing a line of chocolate bars made with their own locally grown cacao beans from the Paria Peninsula in Northeast Venezuela. We are keeping a very close eye on their products and hope to use them more and more in the future.

The dedication of these Venezuelan companies in maintaining high quality and innovation, makes us at Cacao Art proud to use their chocolate. And us Garcia sisters proud to be Venezuelan.

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