Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Wild cacao beans from Bolivia make for a marvelous chocolate bar
The story of chocolate has most certainly changed a lot over the last forty years. Even twenty years ago bean-to-bar chocolate was essentially unheard of. The “best” chocolates back then came from big European chocolatiers who sourced cacao in producing countries and finished it into great chocolate in their factories. Two decades later, the story and the reality have shifted in really big ways—bean-to-bar now sets the bar for those who are looking for world-class chocolate. Today, we know the country of origin and often the farms from which the cacao comes. A few years ago, a new chapter—or really an old chapter—was added to the story when we started to gain access to amazing chocolates made from wild cacao. The first were from Luisa Abram in Brazil. Last month, this new bar, sourced from wild cacao beans by the folks at Fruition in upstate New York, showed up on our shelves!
Brian and Dahlia Graham started Fruition Chocolate in 2011 in the Catskills. The Grahams have done great work sourcing beans while actively assisting farmers in the producing countries. This newly arrived bar is crafted with rare cacao that’s hand-gathered by Indigenous people in the wild forests of Itenez in the northeast of Bolivia, up against the border with Brazil. The beans are fermented and dried, and then dried again and sorted at the renowned Hacienda Tranquilidad. The estate was started by Volker Lehmann who moved to Bolivia from his native Germany twenty years ago. The farm is run using permaculture/agroforestry methods, and the processing of all their cacao—in this case, these wild beans—is very carefully done.
The wild beans are small—about half the size of typical cacao—but are naturally higher in cacao butter, making for an exceptionally creamy-on-the-tongue chocolate bar. Long-time chocolate expert Clay Gordon describes how they grow:
The trees (which are technically feral, not wild, because they were planted—over 500 years ago even though they have not been tended in hundreds of years), grow on islands in the middle of a seemingly endless savannah. Amazingly, the savannah (some 70,000 acres) AND the islands are all man-made. The multi-trunked trees also amaze; they are unlike any other trees I have seen.
This Wild Bolivian chocolate bar is quite remarkable, and has joined the chocolate of Shawn Askinosie, Marou, and Luisa Abram on my regular “playlist.” It’s gentle and forward at the same time, complex with an earthy brightness, a hint of dark honey, super juicy, and a lovely clean finish. It’s a chance to taste what nature makes happen in the most marvelous of ways! Since the beans are wild, the flavor will be as it would have been at the time of Bolivian independence from Spain back in 1825. The letterpress wrapping is as beautiful as the chocolate inside!