The first time I knew of the word ‘cacao’ was when I was all of 10 years old with my head buried into a very interesting“ladybird” book which showed both in pictures and words,the journey travelled by the cacao bean from tree to being made into a chocolate bar.I never forgot that story or that book.
Not for once did I imagine that I would one day be visiting a cacao farm very close to my home town.I’ve been fortunate enough to do that with my family,split open a fresh cacao pod and even taste the beans when still in fruit form.
When I heard of a ‘bean to bar’ chocolate making workshop happening in the city,it seemed an exciting prospect to check out.It was organized by Arun Vishwanathan of ‘Ganache for da chocoholics’ and Fazloor Rehman of ‘M&N chocolates’,Ooty together with the owners of Cocoa town from Atlanta.Having participated in a similar workshop in the US,Arun felt that the local chocolatiers and cocoa farmers would reap many benefits from such an exposure to the chocolate making craft.
What was really special about the workshop was the presence of two highly skilled individuals who had travelled all the way from Mexico city. Mayari Castellanos an archaeologist not only grows her own beans but also owns a chocolate boutique alongside a chocolate museum. Chriss Macbeth is more than a master chocolatier .He is known for his amazing sculptors created entirely out of chocolate.When I was first introduced to them during the session at Hotel Alankar,Chriss was prepping for the next session and Mayari was carefully overseeing her three batches of chocolate that was getting processed in the machines.
During my conversations with her over 2 days I found that her commitment to producing good chocolate took precedence over all else.The 4 day workshop was attended by mostly cocoa farmers and chocolate makers who were interested in taking their produce/product to the next level. Mayari was very keen on helping them understand their beans in order to produce the finest chocolate while taking into consideration the daily pros and cons relating to farming.
She said,“It’s our job to help the local community to thrive and promote business.From the farmer to the person doing the final packaging or selling,the economy will thrive only if they are all from the same area.We do not want them to buy cocoa beans grown in Mexico.That is not right.”
They did bring a batch of their Mexican beans which were of the famous Criollo variety.The beans that they were sourcing from here were the Forastero variety and they were rather impressed with the taste profiles of this bean right from the start of the chocolate making process.
The beans that had gone through fermentation,drying,roasting and winnowing were now being churned into molten chocolate and my chocoholic senses were going into overdrive.The focus here was on the dark chocolate in it’s purest form.Roasted to the optimum temperature to draw out it’s best properties,the whirlpool of chocolate that was being sloshed about before my eyes was dark, satiny and tantalizingly inviting.
As if reading my mind, Mayari dipped the tip of a clean spoon into the liquid chocolate and asked me to swirl it around my tongue.It clung to my palate in a velvety pool and seemed the tiniest bit sticky. Apparently the stickiness is because the process was only half way done but oh my I was in chocolate paradise! I tasted the plain dark Criollo which despite having no additives still had a bit of sweetness and a mellow bitterness.The different batches of Forastero had unrefined palm sugar in one,coconut milk powder in the second and the last one left plain.We all agreed that most Indians would prefer the palm sugar batch among the lot.The coconut milk added a silky smoothness to the dark chocolate and the plain was a little more bitter than the Criollo but still tasted very good.Mayari added that these were all great vegan chocolate options.
While we waited for the machines to finish their job we decided to try out an aroma test.The cocoa bean like the coffee apparently picks up on the fragrances that surround it.These then get exposed during the roasting process.It was a fun few minutes when I picked out and identified tiny samples of cardamom,coffee and tobacco.Then I was handed a small vial and asked to guess that one in particular because it had so far been identified by only one farmer.The smell was infuriatingly familiar in it’s herbaceous-ness but I couldn’t zero in on it.It turned out to be olives and with it came the ahh moment.
Andal Balu,the co-owner of ‘Cocoa town’ was extremely encouraging of getting farmers onto making their own chocolate.Her true passion for the craft was highlighted when she said,”Don’t buy these fancy machines straight away.First use your own pan for roasting and a hair dryer for winnowing.Get comfortable making small batches of chocolate in your kitchen before going to the next step”
It was heartening to hear a young ENT surgeon Laya talk about following her passion for making chocolate.She and her mother,a cacao grower attended the workshop together to look at viable options for their farm.
Balu and Andal having just returned from a world chocolate exhibition had brought along and displayed a large selection of artisanal chocolates which are nothing like the commercial candy bars.
What Arun&Fazloor would like is to educate their consumer to sample chocolate that is not only delicious but high in it’s inherent antioxidant properties. Arun plans to start a natural line of chocolates which cater to different dietary needs and allows him to showcase the best bon bons and truffles that he possibly can.Only time will tell if this 4 day workshop did indeed achieve it’s purpose but I for one can only applaud such initiatives that work for the betterment of all concerned.The fact that it involves chocolate makes it all the more irresistible!
Did you know that ?
Dried cacao flowers are edible and are a secret ingredient which is added to make a drink called Tascalate comprising mainly of chocolate,vanilla,nuts,maize and sugar
Chocolate is one of the main ingredients for the famous Mexican sauce called mole (molay) which is usually eaten with turkey or other meats
Chocolate carries with it many flavour profiles ranging from fruity,acidic,bitter,sweet,floral,salty etc depending on the kind of bean,the environment it grows in and the roasting temperature.
Most of the chocolate that you buy in the supermarkets are just laden with excessive sugar and carry very little of the actual cacao bean goodness.