I realized yesterday that I've made a bad omission during my last couple of years writing these emails.I've never mentioned the man who has been in charge of supervising our fermentation team for more than 10 years.
Please see the photo above.To the very left, in a red shirt, red shorts, and red sandals is our fermentation supervisor Melchiades, lovingly called Melko. Melko is one of the best people you will ever meet.
He is the strong quiet type. But when he talks, you realize that still waters run deep. He is a brilliant guy. Melko lived as a roommate with my brother Brian in our small apartment/office out in campo for the longest time, maybe 7 or 8 years.
Brian went back and forth between Cajamarca, where his family lived, and Puerto Ciruelo, the little town where our facility was located, for a decade. When Brian was out of town, Melko was the de facto leader of the entire processing operation and he also took care of the apartment.
Melko is still running our fermentation team to this very day. Two things brought my attention to this oversight.
First, we recently received analysis from Max Felchlin AG, the Swiss company who manufactures chocolate for us, regarding a container of cacao that just arrived in Switzerland. It got very, very high marks for flavor. It looks like the 2022 harvest was a very successful harvest for cacao quality.
Felchlin has an extremely rigorous tasting panel, and they do a deep dive on all of the cacao they receive. Getting high marks from them means a lot.
Second, Brian just got back from a trip out to campo and he brought back a whole bunch of chocolate bars made by Peruvian chocolate companies. We did a fun tasting session yesterday.
We are very supportive of Peruvian companies attempting to add value in country. We considered setting up a chocolate making operation in Peru back in the day ourselves.
But it became obvious pretty quickly that we weren't going to be able to get good enough fast enough and that if we wanted to produce the best chocolate possible, we should partner with a company that had more than a century of experience and the best machines.
The idea of making good chocolate in country reminds me of something that my father in law, who lives in northern Peru, points out to me all the time. My father in law is a real coffee aficionado and he is always lamenting the fact that most of Peru's really good coffee is exported to Europe and the United States.
And then in Peruvian homes, almost everybody drinks inferior, imported, Nescafe. Shouldn't Peruvians be enjoying superior Peruvian coffee in their homes? Yes, they should be.
And they should be enjoying chocolate made from fine Peruvian cacao as well. However, coffee is a much more viable possibility at present. Coffee mostly requires an excellent, fresh roast.
Chocolate is much, much more complex.Unfortunately, I have to say that the state of Peruvian made, supposedly fine flavored, chocolate is not strong at this time. Brian brought bars back from one of the swankiest chocolate shops in Lima where they charge top prices.
All of the packaging and the informational inserts were lovely and well done. But almost all of this chocolate was plagued by the same problem Absolutely terrible fermentation.
I talk about it a lot in this daily email, but it almost can't be talked about enough if you are a chocolate geek.
If you are going to make fine flavored chocolate, and you aren't going to cheat by using vanilla and a dark roast to cover up the true flavors of the chocolate, you cannot use poorly fermented cacao.
You just can't.
Of the 15 bars that we tried, 13 were really bad. The chocolate was not poorly made. Obviously the companies have good machines and are competent chocolate makers. They attempted to do interesting flavor combinations. Their thinking was progressive. We sampled dark milk chocolates and chocolates made with alternative sweeteners.
I like the way these companies are thinking.But they are sourcing cacao that is not well fermented and it overshadows everything they are trying to do. However, there were two shining stars and both came from the same origin, Chuncho, which is in Cusco.
This leads me to believe that not only is there a very good genetic variety there, but also there is a good co-op or cacao growers association who is taking post harvest processing seriously.
If you are looking for another Peruvian chocolate besides ours, I'd start with chocolate made using cacao from Chuncho. One of the bars was a 63% dark chocolate made with maracuya, passion fruit.
It was great. But the one I liked even better was a 70% dark chocolate made with cacao from Chuncho and infused with muña. Muña is an herb that grows in the Andes mountains and is used for tea. To me, it tastes like a mix between mint and chamomile.
We hadn't been thinking about using herbs in chocolate at all. But now we are. A mint or chamomile tea is just about one of the most relaxing hot drinks you can consume. And dark chocolate with a relaxing herb is extremely comforting. I felt calmed and centered eating a dark chocolate bar with muña.
The properly fermented Chuncho cacao had a rich, nutty, chocolate flavor to go along with the calming herbs. A tip of the cap Chuncho. Very good cacao. Very good chocolate.
Going back to Melko before I sign off.
About three years ago, my brother Brian moved back to the United states after living full time in Peru for fifteen years. We both now live in the small town of Issaquah, WA now where our chocolate shops are located.
Brian goes back and forth to Peru constantly to keep an eye on our operation down there. But Melko is the boss of fermentation day in and day out.
Our wonderful operations manager Oscar Ayala is charge of cacao buying and logistics. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to a growing business than an awesome team.
And we are blessed. Our team in Peru has been working together, unbroken, for a long, long time now, more than a decade. They are seasoned veterans who know what it takes to process fine flavored cacao and Melko is probably one of the best cacao fermenters in the entire world.
That is a bold claim, but it must be true.
Max Felchlin AG doesn't lie or play games. The Swiss have high standards and they are straight shooters. Here in the US, we have a tremendous team of dedicated, talented, hard working, and conscientious folks as well.
You know what that makes us? The most blessed company in the world.
None of it would be possible without our tremendous team.
Lastly, I want to again mention that out in campo where we buy cacao, the farmers are currently pooling capital to build a chocolate making operation in campo. This should be an excellent experiment.
We know that their cacao is top notch and we are going to let them piggyback on our cacao processing operation so that they will have a world class base ingredient.
This should allow them to make very delicious end products for the domestic market and of course, we will distribute their products here in the Untied States as well.
Fun and interesting times ahead.
Anyhow, I am running out of steam for now.
Thank you for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!