I am now in the Northern tip of Peru, where you can find Peru’s special white cacao, a genetic variety that is highly appreciated by leading chocolatiers around the world. Some of the world’s top chocolatiers, including Pierre Marcolini, Pierrick Chouard, Jean Paul Hevin, Philippe Bernachon and Stéphane Bonnat, as well as chocolate companies such as Theo Chocolate, Valrhona, Original Beans and Willie’s Cacao, source their beans directly from this region.
The region’s unique climate and rich soil provide just the right combination for white cacao, also known as Peru’s white porcelain cacao.
The main city of the region, Piura is just 4 degrees south of the Equator, which makes it a region that is both tropical and arid. For most of the year, its climate is dry, but this changes to monsoon weather during January, February and March. The contrasting sceneries of the lush vegetation and the arid plains with cactuses are surprising.
The cooperative that I visit originally started as a non-profit organisation to support individual coffee and sugarcane growers. It wasn’t until 2007, thanks to the visit of Pierrick Chouard, co-founder of Vintage Plantations Chocolates, that the quality and rarity of the region’s cacao were properly recognised. Until then, the whiteness of the beans had been regarded as a defect due to an abnormality of the cacao pods, and they were only sold to the national market for making cacao powder and butter.
With the support of a French NGO, the white cacao of the Piura region was included in a development project called designed to help with the conservation and promotion of rare varieties in cacao-producing countries so as to provide a more sustainable income for farming communities.
Today, demand for white cacao beans exceeds supply and a tonne can reach a selling price of $8000, well above the average price for cacao on the world market. It is a great example of an organisation that has succeeded in saving a special rare cacao variety and giving it the value it deserves in the international market place, thus getting a better and more sustainable price for its farmers.
I visit various cacao-producing communities in the area. While visiting the Cacao Associations of the cacao producing region, I can feel the sense of ownership and pride that reigns amongst their members. For the first time during my trip, I really feel that local farming communities are benefiting from cacao cultivation and getting a good price for their beans, whether fairtrade or not. It is refreshing to see the farmers playing a decision-making and participative role in the production and selling of their cacao.
As I visit each of the communities, I sense their pride in receiving a foreign visitor who has come especially to discover their cacao. Each Association has its own fermentation and drying centre, known as a “Centro de Beneficio”. Unlike in the cooperatives I visited in the region of San Martin, where the members sold their beans as wet cacao and then lost sight of them, the farmers here own and control their own post-harvest process, giving them a greater sense of ownership and control.
With support from the “técnico”, an agricultural engineer who provides advice to each community on cacao cultivation and post-harvest techniques, the production levels and quality of the cacao are growing each year.
The Cacao Producing Association below has 31 members, each with approximately one hectare of cacao trees. Together, they expect to produce 13 tonnes of cacao this year.
The second Cacao Producing Association that I visit has 43 members, and this year will produce 25 tonnes of cacao.
The Cacao Producing Association of the third community has 28 members, and this year will produce 12 tonnes of cacao.
I visit the winner of the Cacao de Oro, whom I met at the Salon de Cacao y Chocolate in Lima. At his plantation, he shows me the cacao tree that produced the prize-winning pod.
As I smell the aroma of an open pod and taste the beans, I why this region has won numerous awards in Peru’s quest for “golden” cacao, as well as many awards for the best cacao liquor in Peru.
In these pods, 30% of the beans are white and the rest are a light violet colour. Their lack of astringency and acidity is astonishing. Unlike all the other beans I have tasted, the taste is so smooth that you can actually eat the beans without them leaving any astringent and bitter taste in your mouth. That’s something that you could never do with the CCN 51 forastero bean!
I am told that in the other cacao-producing areas, there are plantations where the pods contain more than 60% white beans and that there is even a plantation where a 100% of the beans are white. The taste and characteristics differ greatly from one area to another. I can’t wait to discover these pods from the various areas and make cacao liquor out of them identify each of their characteristics and flavours!