Since establishing French Broad Chocolates, we have sourced our chocolate with an eye to purity and quality. Peru has long been a bastion of organic cacao, so our couverture was primarily of Peruvian origin.
When we set our sights on making bean-to-bar chocolate, we knew we needed to begin with a reliable source of cacao: especially as we planned to orchestrate our own importations, rather than purchase from a broker. So in the summer of 2011, Jael & Dan made an expedition to Perú. They met up with James, a friend of Dan’s sister who happened to work as an organic certifier for BioLatina. James helped arrange farm and fermentary visits at several organic cacao operations throughout the regions of San Martín and Piura. We traveled over two weeks through Huanuco, Tingo Maria, Tocache, Tarapoto, Piura, and Chulucanas. We met many awesome farmers along the way, and hope to explore further partnerships down the road. For our first importation, we were most impressed with a group of cooperatives called Coop Norandino,based in Piura. They gave us access to smaller partner cooperatives throughout northern Perú, including the Tumpis coop from Tumbes; the Palo Blanco community and CEPROAA in Amazonas.
As availability has changed over the years, we've gotten to explore other partnerships in Peru. We have had the pleasure of working with an indigenous community in Amazonas, and another coop from Tocache (San Martin). You'll see these origins represented in our offerings throughout 2016.
No cacao source connects us with our roots more than Costa Rica. Sourcing quality cacao from Costa Rica would prove to be a formidable challenge. But with mutual trust and confidence, Daniel South would help make the dream a reality! Read here about Daniel’s operation.
Daniel’s farm is reaching maturity. It used to be lush with old-growth cacao, but was also lush with fungal blight and general overgrowth due to neglect. Other family members clear-cut the land, seeing diseased cacao as having no value. When Daniel took over control, he decided to replant cacao using an agroforestry model promulgated by CATIE (another digression for another time, but suffice it to say the model promotes crop diversity and sustainable management practices). His farm includes other crops like plantain, yucca, tikiski, ngampí, and lumber trees. It also includes a spring-fed tilapia pond, and most importantly, a cacao fermentary! Daniel has begun adding an agrotourism component to further diversify his revenue opportunities, while educating curious travelers about his operation.
Our farm partners, vis-a-vis Daniel…
Daniel buys cacao, grown chemical-free, from several cacaoteros in his area. One of the more notable gentlemen is Boyeston Cayaso, pictured below. He is a veteran in the cacao business, at one time or another having dealt in huge quantities of cacao from his whopping 100 hectare farm. That’s one square kilometer, people.
For having such an impressive wealth of knowledge about cacao cultivation and curing, as well as the local history, Don Cayaso (above, being a bit camera shy) proves an invaluable partner. Dan has spent many hours sitting on his front porch, learning the lore of the cacao trade. Unfortunately, the future is uncertain for Cayaso and his cacao farm, because none of his 4 kids care to continue the family farming legacy.
Like the farm of Cayaso and many others, Dan and Jael's farm, affectionately called Finca Buddha, had been ravaged by blight, and abandoned. Once thought to be their future homestead, then held for preservation of an important biological corridor, Finca Buddha is now on a slow road to revitalization (its enduring role as a biological corridor very much compatible with responsible cacao cultivation). With Daniel South's help, the farm has been cleaned of underbrush, and planted with fresh cacao. In a few years, with a dose of luck and the generosity of the squirrels, we hope to see a crop that comes from this land!
In 2013, we were blessed with a direct connection to Giff Laube, who formed Cacao Bisiesto (which means leap year -February 29-, signifying the day the company was started) with José Enrique Herrera. Both are agronomists with a passion for cacao. They are taking a unique tack in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, attempting to protect heirloom varieties on the brink of extinction. They both grow their own and cure the harvests of surrounding farmers, providing a much higher value than the farmers could previously expect. While the varieties currently under cultivation on their partners’ farms are largely newer hybrids, Giff and José are actively curating a selection of heirlooms on their own farm.
Giff has been to Asheville to speak with our staff and customers, and Dan and Jael have been to visit Matagalpa. They were particularly impressed with the innovative slow curing methods employed, which ensures lower acidity in the cacao. In 2014, French Broad Chocolates' 68% Cacao chocolate bar with Giff and Jose Enrique's cacao won best origin dark bar at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and in 2015, a Good Food Award!
In 2015, we brought a new partnership online, by allying with Uncommon Cacao. An awesome organization with a mission to de-commodify cacao, bringing fine flavor beans to the craft chocolate industry while building value for producers so they are incentivized to continue! We purchased the entire export crop from a Maya Queqchi producer group in Lechua, in the village of Rocja Pomtila, called ASODIRP.