Rosanna went on a backpacking holiday to Venezuela to try and track down a small farmer/ producer whom she had met at a chocolate show in London seven years previously, with the idea that she may use his product for her own use.
This is her story.
I flew to Caracus to meet my son`s now ex-girlfriend, My backpack hadn`t arrived on my plane. It was still in Milan- I guess the time between my connecting flight was too short for my luggage to be I transferred (make a mental note of that so it doesn’t happen to you!!) We had a harrowing bus journey from the airport to the centre of Caracus- roads were dreadful, with mountains either side with massive boulders that seemed precariously balanced!!! but the huge volume of traffic made things seem even worse, AND we would have to return the next day to find my backpack!! We stayed in a seedy hostel with cockroaches in the dirty bathroom. I, of course, had no spare clothing, wash bag or makeup!!!
I didn`t really like Caracus. It was dirty and felt dangerous. Poverty abounded. The shantytowns all around and on the hillsides were hovels without electricity and I`m not sure about running water. I was glad to eventually leave- this time with my backpack! However we located it the next day at the huge airport, and with only a smattering of Spanish between us I shall never know-how, but I do know one thing……if I ever return I shall have learnt a lot more of the language!!!
We planned our route, travelling on buses, staying in hostels- more cockroaches I guess that meant!! – , sometimes taking an overnight bus. The last leg of the journey was in a cart as the taxi drivers seemed too superstitious to drive in the rainforest!
We eventually arrived at a small hacienda run by mother and son. Son Billy, an engineer, had been in the tourist industry. One day whilst travelling around with his father he came across a derelict property with 2 acres of unproductive neglected cocoa trees for sale.
He decided to buy! He would convert the buildings into a home for himself and his mother, and 4 guest rooms. By utilising local labour, he would teach his workers how to regenerate his section of the rain forest and once again make the cocoa trees productive.
He decided to produce enough beans for export and enough to produce his own chocolate. He sourced second-hand machinery from Europe and set up his business. Then by using all his contacts in the tourism industry, he arranged coach trips to see and to taste and of course to buy!! What an enterprising man!
Because I was in the chocolate business he allowed us to work with him. First, we would harvest the pods from the trees by cutting them down using machetes. We would split them open, take out the beans, strip off the white pulp that surrounds the beans ( a bit like the white fur inside a broad bean pod) This is fed to animals. We spread out the beans in a nest of banana leaves, covered them and left them to ferment for 4-5 days. The fermentation process alters the flavour inside the cotyledon. We then transferred them to direct sunlight in order to dry for about 3 days, raking them over to dry them on all sides.
We then sieved the beans in an enormous riddle to remove any unwanted bits. Then we roasted the beans in a large rotating oven for approx. 2 hours at a temperature over 200 degrees C. Oh the smell was amazing!!! The roasting dries and darkens the beans and brings out the flavours. The beans are then cracked and winnowed ie the outer shells are cracked and blown away leaving the crushed and broken pieces called nibs. The nibs are then crushed to form a thick paste called chocolate liquor which is very bitter and very grainy. We then added some sugar and vanilla, before putting the liquor through a series of steel rollers to refine it for up to 6 days.
The finished product can then be called 'fine' chocolate ie when you put the chocolate on the tongue it simply melts, feels so deliciously smooth- just like liquid velvet! One could ever guess that the finished product was ever a bean!
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