How We Discovered Rare Cacao Beans--Part 2
Hello and good day!
The name of the canyon where we buy cacao in northern Peru is the district of Huarango, pronounced wah-ron-go. the canyon is near the Marañón River which comes the Amazon river.
My dad and brother met Noe Vasquez, the long running president of the Huarango cacao growers' association, 15 years ago at a networking event in the northern Peruvian city of Jaen.
As an aside, my brother Brian is godfather to one of Noe's children. Noe and Brian ended up becoming very close friends.At the event, Noe put on a hard sell for my dad and brother to come see some farms out in the canyon.
Noe promised that they wouldn't be disappointed and that there was very special cacao growing there. The invitation was accepted and a week or so later, the two men in my life found themselves on a two hour drive down a beat-up old country road and crossing a thick river in a canoe with an outboard motor, into the jungle.
They toured cacao farms and were amazed by the wonderful hospitality of their hosts.They ate lunch with a cacao farm family and visited several farms on their trip. One of the farms was Noe's, and he took my dad and brother far out on his ten-acre farm, into a grove where he kept many varieties of cacao.
The cacao that Noe wanted to showcase was the cacao native to the canyon.
The bright yellow pod was recognizable, as my dad and brother had seen trees with yellow cacao on just about every farm they'd visited that day. Noe asked one of his sons to cut down some pods and bring them over to take a look at.
With a machete, Noe swiftly cut the pods in half.
Imagine taking a big kitchen knife and cutting a football in half longways. That is kind of what it looked like. When you cut a cacao pod longways like that, you also end up cutting the seeds inside the pod in half. See the photo above to get an idea of how it looked.
Noe asked what stood out about the cacao.
Well, that's easy, answered my dad. It's the white cacao. Noe patted my dad on the shoulder and congratulated him.
The native cacao in the district of Huarango has white seeds, which is uncommon. Most cacao is entirely purple when you cut it open.
There are a fother cacao origins in the Amazon jungle that have 100% white cacao seeds, and there are specific farms in the district of Hurango that have higher white seed counts as well.
Noe informed us that throughout the canyon, the average cacao pod had 40% white cacao. My dad and brother didn't know what exactly to do with that information, but they found it intriguing.
After the trip was over, my brother Brian went back to the Peruvian city of Cajamarca, where he lived, and taught English to make ends meet.My dad and his wife went on a vacation to Hawaii that they'd had on the calendar for a while.
In Hawaii, my dad visited one of the few small cacao plantations and on one of the plantations, my dad met a gentleman who had been in the chocolate business for 40 years. He was the fellow who owned the plantation.
He and my dad got to talking and my dad ended up telling this gentleman about the recent trip to the district of Huarango. When the chocolate industry veteran heard the story, he said, and I quote "if you have white cacao, people will come pick to seee you in a private jet, it is so sought after", unquote.
That was all my dad needed to hear.
We had some money banked from our previous venture selling parts to the gold mine. It wasn't much, but it was something, and it had been put aside to start a new business, once my dad and brother could find a good opportunity.
As soon as my dad got back to the United States, he called my brother and told him to go for it. My bro quit his job teaching English and started commuting back and forth to the jungle, trying to figure out how to go about buying and selling cacao.
While my brother was doing that, my dad and I started trying to figure out how to sell cacao or make chocolate and sell it. We had no idea whatsoever how to do any of this stuff. We figured it all out as we went along.
As it turns out, the guy in Hawaii overstated the enthusiasm industry professionals would have for white cacao. What professionals wanted to know when we pitched the white cacao was what genetic variety the cacao was.
That, we did not know. Nor did the cacao farmers.
To find that out, we'd need to do genetic testing. But how does one go about doing genetic testing on cacao? Well, googling it is a good place to start.
And that is just what my dad did.
After reading internet search results for an hour or so, my dad found that there were two USDA facilities on the east coast that do genetic testing on cacao for the chocolate industry.One lab was in Miami. The other was in Maryland.
My dad figured that it wouldn't hurt to call and ask about the process. First, he called the Miami lab but got stuck in a phone tree. Next, he called the Maryland lab and ended up hearing a guy on the other end of the line saying "Hello? Hello? Anybody there?".
The fellow who answered the phone was the lead geneticist at the lab. His secretary was out sick and he was answering the phones himself in her absence. He wasn't sure if he was doing it right.
My dad told the guy that his voice was coming through loud and clear, and the two kicked up a conversation. The fellow's name was Lyndel Meinhardt and he was a PhD with expertise in cacao genetics.
It turned out that Dr. Meinhardt was a good old boy from Iowa and my dad is from Indiana and they hit it off immediately....
Sorry to do this to you, but I am running out of space and steam for today.
More to come tomorrow!
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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