Chuao's Chocolate Terroir
From the Print Edition:
Paul Giamatti, January/February 2011
Connoisseurship often comes down to location, location, location. You know the tobacco of Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo makes a fine cigar. You expect great Cognac from the Grand Champagne region. In chocolate, the most prestigious real estate is Chuao. The cacao (chocolate’s base) from this village on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela consistently delivers complexity. At its best, it has a length and range of flavors that some call “movements” as if parts of a symphony.
Expect the fuss over Chuao’s special climate, topography, soil and growing heritage to heat up as long-held exclusives on its crops lapse. The village still may be tucked among mountains and rain forests and most easily reached by boat, but its just become more accessible to chocolate producers who are eager for another source of fine cacao in an over-burdened global market.
Chuao’s long association with cacao dates to the late 16th century, when it was made a land grant to a Spanish family. The new owners used slave labor to feed the new craze among Europe’s aristocracy for drinking chocolate. Several decades ago, in a flourish of democratic action, ownership was returned to the farmers. A local cooperative was formed, but the prestigious French chocolate producer Valrhona cornered the supply at around $1.30 a kilogram. Then Italian producer Amedei secured its own exclusive contract.
Amano Artisan Chocolate, of Orem, Utah, is one producer that that has swooped in since Chuao sourcing has relaxed, paying in excess of $10 a kilogram for the prized bean. With the release of its first Chuaos, founder Art Pollard praises the farmers’ attention to old-school detail as they fertilize with banana leaves—not chemicals—and work the fields by hand.
But the proof is in the chocolate. It’s a time-release flavor bomb. Beyond the rustic nose, its first flavor is fruit—blueberry, plum—followed by molasses and saddle leather, then a little cinnamon. Then comes a floral note, something like a light Port. Then a woodsy note calls to mind the citrusy cedar of Osage-orange. If your palate had ears it would hearing, “Boom, boom, boom.”
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