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How We Discovered Rare Cacaco Beans--Part 3

How We Discovered Rare Cacaco Beans--Part 3

Hello and good day!

Back in 2008, my dad cold called the USDA genetics testing lab in Beltsville, Maryland. My dad was able to get the lead geneticist on the phone because the fellow's secretary was out sick.

My dad laid out the facts for his new friend.

We were in the process of starting a new cacao buying company in the northern Peruvian jungle. We'd come across a population of cacao located in a remote canyon that had white cacao seeds when cut open.

My dad's business partner/stepson was living out in the jungle part time, trying to figure out how to buy, process, and sell freshly harvested cacao. Our company was out in the market attempting to sell the cacao or figure out how to make chocolate with it.

People kept asking us what the genetic variety of the cacao was, and we didn't know how to answer. My dad asked the geneticist what we needed to do to get the cacao genetically tested.

Lyndel, the geneticist, was very intrigued by the story. In particular, the fact that the cacao was growing in a canyon was fascinating.

He mentioned that tall canyon mountains and rivers keep midges from leaving a zone and cross pollinating with trees of other genetic varieties. This allowed the Canyon had its own micro-climate.

White cacao is generally a sign of inbreeding, a genetic defect that occurs when family members mate. It happens to be a delicious genetic defect, but I won't go into the flavor implications here.

The two factors, the canyon and the white cacao, made Lyndel want to know more. On the spot, he offered to help us with genetic testing.

First, he referred us to a lab in the northern Peruvian city of Piura. He sent an intro email to the lab's manager and told the person in charge of the lab to bill the USDA. Lyndel had a budget for special projects, and he wanted to spend some of his project money on us.

After several weeks of radio silence from the Peruvian lab, Lyndel told us that we'd have to do it ourselves. This meant that my brother Brian would have to send leaf samples tree in the jungle to the lab in Maryland.

This required going out to many farms throughout the canyon, picking leaves, vacuum sealing them, and sending them via DHL to the lab in Maryland.  Brian executed on that. He sent the leaves and then we waited.

Several months later we got the results. Every single sample that Brian sent tested Pure Nacional cacao, a prized variety thought to have been wiped out by disease 100 years earlier.  

But it wasn't just an adequate match. It was all at least a 98% match with the marker trees that had been saved in a government germplasm bank.

However, there was one tree, the fourth sample that we took from the farm of a gentleman named Don Fortunato Colala, that was a 100 % genetic match.

It was, and still is, the purest sample of pure Nacional cacao on record. This is where the name of our chocolate, Fortunato No. 4, comes from. The picture is Don Fortunato Holding a pod from that special tree we call the ''Mother Tree"

Brian did another round of testing and for the second round of testing, he cast an even wider net. He went out much deeper in the canyon to collect leaf samples from farms.

The results came out exactly the same. It was all pure Nacional cacao.

When my dad got the call from Lyndel with the results, he was in the middle of getting ready to go out. Dad was sitting in a chair putting on his socks when the phone started to ring.

With one sock on and the other resting flat on his thigh, my dad answered the phone. Lyndel asked if my dad was sitting down, and my dad said that he was.

Lyndel shared the news that we had discovered a thought to be extinct variety of cacao. But that wasn't all.

There is no historical record of pure Nacional cacao ever having white seeds. That part of the discovery was completely unprecedented.

As my dad listened, he put the palm of his hand on top of his freshly shaved bald head and tried to make sense of what he was hearing.

When the conversation was over, each said goodbye to one another and promised to talk again soon. Dad didn't initially know what he wanted to do with this information, but he knew one thing for certain.

It would be fun!

We ended up starting a clone nursery where we have cloned the Fortunato No. 4 mother tree thousands of times.

If new cacao farmers want to join our project and receive huge premiums over world market prices for their cacao, they can go to the clone nursery and take clones back to their farm, free of charge.

My brother Brian moved our operation out into the middle of the canyon so that we could buy pure Nacional cacao from the farms out there.

Today, we buy from more than 500 small cacao farms to make our Fortunato Chocolate products.

It all happened because we met Noe Vasquez, president of the district of Huarango's cacao growers' association at a networking event.

Also, the fact that Lyndel's secretary was out sick when my dad called was a lucky break too.

To our credit, my dad and brother did something with the lucky breaks.They didn't just let the opportunities pass by.

Anyhow, thank you so much for giving me a moment of your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!