I have been growing cacao since 1996 at the Hacienda El Tesoro, my beautiful farm in the breath-taking heights of the Henri Pittier National Park in Choroni, Venezuela. There are around 20,000 cacao trees, 1,000 trees per hectare.
The cacao pods take five months to grow from the blossom bud to ripe fruit. Fermentation is crucial to the taste of cacao: without it, cacao beans won’t develop a chocolate flavour, but if you mess it up, you can ruin a great cacao harvest. After the beans and pulp have been removed from the pod, they are placed in hardwood boxes, covered in banana leaves and turned twice a day to aerate them.
Drying the beans is less complex than fermenting, but it requires care and attention. After around 120 hours of fermentation, the beans are placed in the sun, first for a gentle dry, an hour in the morning and afternoon, when they need to be turned constantly.
Roasting enhances the rich flavour of the beans. After fermentation and drying, this is the next most important stage in developing their unique flavour and aroma.
A piece of spare pipe on the Hacienda has proved my accidental hero and shaped the 100% cacao bar into a cylinder. When I couldn’t decide what to use as a mould for my earliest batches of cacao, I noticed a length of the pipe on the floor of my workshop. I chopped up all I had into moulds and it worked beautifully, I kept the shape when I started making it in Devon and it rolls out of the factory better. It’s great for grating and keeps better because it has a lot less surface area than a flat bar.