Monday, April 29, 2013

Cotton Tree Chocolate bars - April 29, 2013

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

Cotton Tree Chocolate
Dark Chocolate with Black Pepper (bar)
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 1.15 oz. (32.5 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 167 calories (estimate) in 1 bar
Cost: (May vary according to location)
Purchased from: Cotton Tree Chocolate, Punta Gorda, Belize

While in Punta Gorda (Belize), I enjoyed the free chocolate tour at Cotton Tree Chocolate, where chocolate bars, cocoa mixes and teas, and other cacao-related items can also be purchased.

Trivia question: Why was Cotton Tree Chocolate store manager (Juli Puryear) holding a hair dryer? All the better to winnow (the thin, light, chaff-like skins that come off cocoa beans after roasting).

I enjoyed Cotton Tree's Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa) with Black Pepper, gluten-free bar -- with almost delicate floral, spicy black pepper notes. This bar was made with organic cocoa beans and organic cocoa butter from the Toledo District of southern Belize, an area known for pockets of fine cacao.

And I believe the pepper in today's bar was Malabar (black) pepper from the Spice Farm up the road. (Peppercorns look like strands of tiny green pearls when plucked from the vine.)

I also enjoyed a bite of a Cotton Tree (seasonal) sweet milk chocolate Cocoa Mint Crunch bar with nibs that tasted very refreshing (think high-quality, peppermint ice cream) on a warm day. Sugar was the first ingredient listed; so, the nibs pressed onto the back of the bar imparted the crunchy, earthy cacao flavor that balanced the sweet mint base.

Cotton Trees, Cotton Tree Lodge
The Cotton Tree Lodge (a sister company to Cotton Tree Chocolate) lies further inland, provides lodging, and also offers chocolate related activities. (Maya Mountain Cacao is also located adjacent to the Lodge.)

Both are represented in spirit, by the Ceiba tree, also known as the Cotton Tree. (A silhouette of this tree is shown on the Cotton Tree Chocolate's logo and packaging.)

This large majestic tree is known as the Cotton Tree in part because of the downy fluff it sheds. (Jaguars are said to raise their cubs in the folds of the cotton tree's elaborate root system.)

Today was Day #8 of Chocolate and Latin America Theme Week.

Agouti Cacao Farm - April 28, 2013

Chocolate of the Day: 

Agouti Cacao Farm
Chocolate with Sesame
(and Coconut Tart with cacao nibs and ginger)
Good +
Weight: 2 oz. (56 g.) approximate amount I ate
Calories: 290 calories (guesstimate) for squares I ate
Cost: (may vary, not available in stores)
Purchased from: Agouti Cacao Farm, San Pedro Columbia Village, Belize

It was impossible to travel to Belize this past week without wanting to learn more about the Maya and native peoples who have used cacao for centuries.

I was fortunate to have visited Agouti* Cacao Farm in San Pedro de Colombia Village (in the Toledo District of Southern Belize, within sight of the historic Mayan site of Lubaantun). This tour was arranged through Belcampo Lodge in Punta Gorda, Belize).

It was wonderful to be able to walk through cacao and fruit trees and see corn drying, with Feliciano Pop; and to receive a traditional chocolate making demonstration from Adalia. Both Feliciano and Adalia are children of Mayan farmer, Eladio Pop, who was featured in the 2011 documentary "The Chocolate Farmer" directed by Rohan Fernando.) I also spoke briefly to Eladio Pop, who was delightful, wise, and very busy with his work.

*Agouti (a large, brown rodent, similar to a rabbit, but with tiny ears), a type of woodpecker, and squirrels are some of the small animals that might nibble on cacao pods (fruit) growing on the cacao trees. Feliciano also mentioned he had seen a gray fox sniffing about the pile of dried corn, which I was delighted to hear -- having spotted gray foxes in the San Francisco Baylands near where I live. (However, no record of fox liking cacao that I know of.)

Traditional Chocolate Making

Adalia roasted (unfermented) cacao beans (and allspice) on a traditional comal (hot surface over a fire), and then winnowed the roasted beans using a woven basket -- allowing the wind to carry away the lighter, chaff-like shells/skins from the beans. The fire-roasting resulting in a very faint smoky aroma in the resulting cocoa paste (stoneground by hand).

The resulting drinking chocolate was lightly sweetened with honey and a little water, stirred, and served in half gourd shells. Adalia told us that older women in the village make the chocolate for weddings.

Adalia also served us homemade sweets -- cocoa paste that was combined with sesame seeds and pressed and cut into squares. Adalia also made a coconut tart, that was made with pressed, shredded coconut (perhaps sweetened with honey), cocoa nibs and a bit of shredded ginger. These chocolate/sweet items were wrapped in foil and would be good for a few days.

We later enjoyed combining the chocolate and coconut flavors together; the darker cocoa balancing out the sweeter coconut.

Thank you for the Agouti Cacao Farm and family, and for all those at Belcampo (and at the airport) for chocolate tasting help!

Today was Day #7 of Chocolate and Latin America Theme Week.

Belcampo Chocolate Truffles - April 27, 2013

Chocolate of the Day: 

Belcampo Lodge
Chocolate Truffle with Nibs
Very Good
Weight: .54 oz. (15.28 g.) (estimate) for 1 truffle
Calories: 80 calories (estimate) for 1 truffle
Cost: N/A - part of package
Purchased from: Belcampo Lodge and Farm, Punta Gorda, Belize

Yesterday, I wrote about Belcampo Mayan Chocolate Pudding, made from scratch, at Belcampo Lodge (Punta Gorda, Belize). This favorite chocolate dessert with a touch of heat, as well as today's featured (brand new) Belcampo chocolate truffles, were special for two different reasons.

First the chocolate for the pudding and truffles was made all in one country (Belize) -- from farm to table. The cocoa beans were grown and fermented within several miles/kilometers of Belcampo Lodge and Farm.

For this first batch, cocoa beans were purchased and transported to a chocolate building at Belcampo's new Agritourism facility to create finished chocolate (recently made possible by new equipment installed on-site at Belcampo). With this facility, Belcampo joins a other local chocolate makers in the Toledo District (where many fine beans are grown in southern Belize). Belcampo is also growing cacao for future production.

With the exception of beans grown in the State of Hawaii, the supply chain for U.S. chocolate makers is usually geographically far flung. Cacao farmers grow beans in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, or other regions within 20 degrees of the equator; whereas chocolate makers and chocolatiers (with sophisticated processing equipment) live in cooler climates (e.g. on the U.S. mainland, or in Europe).

Journey to the Center of Chocolate
Making chocolate is a journey. Today's Belcampo truffles with cacao nibs (pieces of bean) were made using chocolate fresh from Belcampo's new roaster, winnower, concher and tempering machines. (While craft chocolate making is similar to small batch coffee making, there are more steps involved after fermenting and roasting with chocolate.)

Having this production equipment (integrated and local) enables more direct feedback between farmers and makers -- and facilitates production of several cocoa-related end products, including cocoa nibs and the cocoa mass that might be used, with fresh cream, for a ganache (truffle filling). The Belcampo team was experimenting with roast and flavor profiles with the first few pilot batches.

It was an exciting time to be there for the first chocolate making and tasting in the new facility.

Triple Threat Truffles - A Star is Born
Today's delicious rolled truffles were triply good, a look into all that's possible with the cacao bean. A fresh cream, soft, sweet chocolate ganache center was covered with a generous coating of dark chocolate, and then coated in fresh, crunchy, earthy tasting cacao nibs (pieces of cocoa bean).

Given the tropical climate, these truffles were perfect served slightly chilled.

Today was Day #6 of Chocolate and Latin America Theme Week.

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