This month we are going to be tasting chocolates made from Venezuelan and Peruvian cacaos, and these really are as good as it gets in the cacao world. Venezuela is where my journey in chocolate began, and the lowland rainforests of the Upper Amazon Basin which encompasses both of these countries, is where the cacao tree evolved. We are going back to the roots of chocolate.
Theobroma cacao charmingly translates as Food of the Gods, and there are three varieties. Forastero and Criollo came first but are quite distinct from one another. Forastero is a hardy grower, but lacks the subtle flavour notes of the rare and highly prized criollo beans. Trinitario beans are a cross between the two which developed when a hurricane virtually wiped out Trinidad’s criollo crop in the eighteenth century and forastero was introduced. Some of my favourite cacaos are Trinitarios.
My farm is in the Henri Pittier national park in Venezuela. I fell in love with cacao there from the very first day walking up into the farm through the shafts of sunlight, past other worldly trees with the multi-coloured pods jutting straight out from the trunk. Many of the world’s finest beans come from Venezuela because until the 1950’s they were one of the world’s largest producers of cacao, but the rise of oil meant that traditional industries were neglected and as a result some of the original strains of cacao have remained pure ever since.
Let’s start the tasting with Pure Gold, 100% Sur del Lago cacao. This and its Venezuelan friends Rio Caribe 72 and Las Trincheras 72 are all beautiful examples of Trinitario beans and are on the nutty side of the flavour spectrum. For me the Las Trincheras is the most welcoming and smooth of all my chocolates. For people just starting to discover dark chocolate this is where I suggest they begin. Rio Caribe then layers on complexity and depth. In this batch, the coffee notes that you are tasting alongside the nuts, are appearing a touch fruity. I love this natural variation, it is like getting to know the beans as people.
The Sur del Lago bean is perfect for making both the 100% cacao and Almendra because it is light and once conched without acidity. Rio Caribe would totally have overpowered the soft sweetness of the freshly roasted almonds.
Moving to Peru we have Chulucanas 70, made from an exceptional criollo bean. Its natural notes of raisins and plums make it the obvious choice for making the Hazelnut Raisin chocolate. There is a bean for every chocolate.
The Pistachio Date and Orange Almond 100% cacao bars naturally sweetened with fruit and nuts, are made with a bean from Rio Maranon in Peru. While it is on the fruitier side of things, like Sur del Lago it has a lightness and complete lack of acidity that makes it perfect for these types of chocolates.
These are the two handmade chocolates that I make specifically for each tasting box.
La Unión, 73% dark chocolate, the joyous marriage of Rio Caribe and Chulucanas. I am a purist so I make all my chocolates with single estate cacaos. I love the clarity of flavour and the sense of place. But I have to admit this blend is interesting. The Rio Caribe starts the dance, but soon the fruity Chulucanas emerges to take it home.
Papelón con limon, Sur del Lago 70% dark chocolate with papelón and lime. The top of Hacienda El Tesoro steeps up into the cloud forest and this is where sugar cane grows. Its deep, treacly flavours played a huge part in so much of my cooking on the farm. Papelón is sugar cane juice evaporated off and dried into a cone. To call it sugar is a ridiculous understatement. Together with lime it’s a classic combination that takes me straight home.