When the cocoa trail becomes the chocolate trail

All good things come to an end. Now it is time for me to return to Europe. But rest assured! It is not the end of the cocoa trail! It is going to swiftly lead into the chocolate trail. With a full understanding now of what quality and ethics in the world of chocolate really mean, I will be looking at this industry with new eyes!

Chocojuju in Pays Basque

And what better way into the topic than to start in the land where my ancestors come from and coincidentally where chocolate-making as we know it today took off.

That’s what I plan to do shortly, with a visit to the chocolatiers of the Basque Country. Some of the best and oldest chocolate-making firms, I have learned, can be found in the area where the Pyrenees meet the Atlantic Ocean in southwestern France and northern Spain.

The French Basque Country on the border with Northern Spain

The French Basque Country on the border with Northern Spain

Before setting off on this new leg of my cocoa trail, however, I want to thank and acknowledge all the people who have helped me over the last few months in Latin America, openly sharing their experience and their knowledge of cocoa cultivation and encouraging me in my project.

Last spring, when I left Europe, I knew little about cacao beans or how they are grown. After five months in Peru and Ecuador, I know now that I could not have chosen better for learning about the cacao cultivation and the importance of special cacao varieties for the making of fine chocolate. Thanks to the positive energy, passion and determination of the many people that I met during the course of my journey, my cocoa trail became a rich learning experience.Cacaonut

First of all, I wish to thank my friend Marie-Amélie for giving me the idea of going to Peru in the first place. Next, my sincere thanks to Vilsic and Lourdes for introducing me to Peru’s network of cocoa-producing cooperatives and to the world of NGO funding to strengthen the cocoa supply chain, and to the Consorcio Cacao Amazónico, for giving me the opportunity to visit and work with the “mujeres cacaoteras” of Tocache, where the cultivation of coca has been replaced with cacao production as a more sustainable source of income.

The women cacao farmers

I wish to thank the Oro Verde cooperative for providing me with my first training in sensory skills for cacao liquor tasting which I was later able to develop and share with the cacao-producing communities of Chulucanas. It is also at Oro Verde that I learnt about the harvest and post-harvest techniques in cacao cultivation, and particularly the importance of fermentation and drying techniques for developing the natural taste and aroma of the beans. I wish to thank Stella from USAID, Marisela from Technoserve and Carmen Rosa from the Agricultural Government for introducing me to Peru’s very own Salon de Cacao y Chocolate, where I got to know some of Peru’s best chocolatiers and more of Peru’s cacao-producing cooperatives.

Carmen Rosa, Stella, and Marisela

I will also never forget the wonderful cocoa trip to the southern part of Peru where we discovered one of Peru’s oldest and rarest cacao genetic varieties. I really hope that in the not-too-distant future this variety will become that star of a success story like the “cacao blanco” of the northern region of Peru.

The Cacao Route

I wish to thank Juan Riviera, winner of the Cacao de Oro, and the lovely Pancho and Fidelina for welcoming me so kindly to their family home and introducing me to the community of Palo Blanco, where I was fortunate enough to spend a week living and working with local cacao farmers. I feel very honoured to have had this experience, as I really got to see what life as a cacao farmer is like and the challenges of trying to earn a sustainable living from producing cacao beans. Pancho and Fidelina  - cacao community in Northern Peru

My thanks, too, to the managers of Cepicafe for receiving me so kindly and enabling me to learn about the special white cacao variety.

I was particularly privileged to visit Eduardo’s plantation, where through complex natural agricultural techniques and research he has succeeded in getting trees to produce only white beans! To find out what they are like, you can taste Pacari’s new chocolate bar, made from exclusively from these very special beans!

Special white Cacao beans

Thank you also to Aldo, whom I met in Lima at the Salon de Cacao y Chocolate, for helping me organise my trip to Ecuador where I was able to spend time with the experts at the Ecuadorean Governmental Research Centre for cacao in Quevedo.Salon de Cacao y Chocolate

It was there that I learnt how to graft and pollinate cacao trees and to appreciate the importance of genetic diversities. I would particularly like to thank Grisnel for his patience in teaching me how to pollinate cacao flowers and Wilden for teaching me how to graft baby cacao trees and prune the trees!

I would like to also thank Juan Carlos and the quality control team for enabling to spend time in the laboratories, where I learnt to analyse cacao beans, make liquor and strengthen my sensorial skills in liquor tasting.

Cacao Laboratory team at INIAPFinally a big thank you to all the many, many people that I met during my journey who were so kind, caring and welcoming. I truly felt at home in Peru, where I began and finished this Latin American leg of my cocoa trail, and where the warmth and positive energy of the people are remarkable. I was fascinated, too, by all that I saw during the much shorter time that I was in Ecuador. Like the after-taste on the palate of a very fine chocolate, the memories of all that I experienced continue swirling in my mind.

Viva el cacao peruano! Viva el cacao ecuatoriano! Viva!

Tasting the chocolate in St Jean Pied de Port

Categories: Basque Gastronomy, Chocolatiers, Cocoa, Cocoa Producing Countries, Cooperatives, Plantations, Sensory

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8 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing this experience with us all. I look forward to hearing more about your journey once back to Europe! Chocolate is an amazing thing and now I, too, have a better understanding of it-thanks to you!

  2. I’ve really enjoyed tour travel and I’ve learned so much from your blog. Looking forward to more of what you do in France/Spain. I think you have about the best chocolate blog I follow. And I hope to see some of this when I travel there next year. Travel safe.

  3. Juliet! You are a wonderful and passionate woman. It has been a pleasure to have help you to build your project and put you in touch with Peru cocoa lovers! You have been walking on almost the same camino and it’s time to fulfill your potential. Welcome back in Europe, hope to meeting you soon and visiting some cocoa farms one day with you 😉
    Un abrazo fuerte
    Marie Amelie

  4. Good luck back in Europe Juliet! There’s lots of good work to be done getting high quality, ethically produced cocoa and chocolate, in Europe and the U.S.

  5. I love this story, I just read all of it over pancakes and coffee this morning! cant wait to read more, you are awesome, I would love to highlight you in my digital publication that supports amazing women. Globeconnoisseur.com please contact us.

  6. I enjoy what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work
    and coverage! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve you guys
    to my blogroll.

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