From Farm to Product
I’ve been eating fistfuls of couverture since I was five. In my house, chocolate was acquired in large slabs (or bags nowadays) from European companies and my assumption was that Swiss or German chocolate was created wholly within those countries. If I thought about it at all. Which, let’s face it, wasn’t often. I was a young adult by the time I realized how the supply chain worked and began to see the different challenges that face chocolate makers. Craft chocolate is a collective effort but it’s fairly rare to find that collective sharing the same passport.
Growing cacao is hard but the agricultural struggles are just one of the many challenges farmers face in origin countries. Currently, most farmers sell their cacao beans at a low profit margin. They are not able to participate in production activities that would increase the value of their product. They are left in the wake created at the other end of the transaction, like so many others, where the resources needed to increase their profit come from outside their country. Finished chocolate seems so different from the pod too, it’s not surprising that there is such a disconnect between farm and table.
Our choices as chocolate buyers do make a difference but it’s not always easy to see where and how. Buying chocolate refined in the country that harvested the cacao doesn’t guarantee a better product or better handling. It may, however, result in chocolate with truly local flavor and exciting new qualities. Local approaches, like the fire drying of Papua New Guinea or unique fermentation processes can have a startling effect on the flavor of finished chocolate.
We are beginning to see more origin based chocolate companies. In fact, I was surprised by the length of this list. This is a positive development, provided the production is sustainable to both the environment and the people involved. Chocolate, which seems to mostly be known as brown, sweet and multinational, is slowly getting its reputation as a local delicacy. Right down to the roots.
The following companies use local cacao or grow their own. If I’m missing any please let me know in the comments!
São Tomé & Príncipe
Being the son of a chocolatier Chris has always enjoyed talking about chocolate as much as he loves eating it. He’s an artist and designer as well as a co-founder of the Chocolate Codex.