My obsession is chocolate. I can forgo bread, cakes and cookies but god forbid I am left chocolate-less for one day. As a child, my palate insisted on cloying milk chocolate and it wasn’t until my 30’s that I came in contact with real chocolate and all its nuances. Like wine, chocolate has a flavor profile that ranges from bitter to sweet, passing through the stations of astringent, sour, floral, nutty and fruity.
Cacao beans are grown at the same altitude as coffee and the best cacao comes from Venezuela and Colombia. The most sought after bean is “criollo”, of which there is not much to go around and plantations that cultivate it are fiercely protected like coca ones – most of the criollo production is gobbled up by exclusive chocolate makers such as Valrhona. The runner-up bean is Trinitario, more widely grown but still many steps up the humble and not so flavorful beans that end up in most mass-produced candy bars.
I recently came across a single origin Colombian Chocolate that blew me away. Made by Nacional de Chocolates or, in other words, by the Colombian Government run chocolate factory first established in 1920, Cordillera Chocolate is a hybrid of criollo and trinitario beans. Up until a few years ago, their best beans were shipped over to Europe until an American chocolate importer suggested Colombia take over production of the chocolate by roasting it in loco, skipping the expensive process of sending it to Europe for roasting and, from there, shipping it back around the world. The benefits proved to be manifold.
The Colombian government pays the farmer in advance of their crops yield, thereby encouraging to switching from coca leaves to cacao beans (coca and cacao plants grow at the same altitude), one more ammunition in the war on drugs.35,000 families now make a living growing cacao and life in some parts of rural Colombia has significantly improved.
All this is wonderful and touching but the real test was the dark pastilles in my mouth – my favorite, Cocuy and Sumapaz, have a 70% and 65% cacao content respectively but their flavor profile couldn’t be more different. The 70% filled my mouth with notes of roasted nuts, blueberry and even some coffee while the 65% definitely had a fruity personality. When I first tasted them, my mind started whirring imagining the different applications on the plate and 10# of each were promptly ordered.
If you would like to know more please visit www.chocolates.com.co. In the meantime, I promise you a slew of chocolate recipes to come.