Trip to the DR with Valrhona
When I was given the chance to visit the newest addition to Valrhona's plantation holdings, I was thrilled. This was a piece of the puzzle that I knew I had to see first hand at some point in my career. It is one thing to talk about how chocolate is made or the differences in origin, but to actually get to see it for yourself was beyond relevant and helpful. To see how cacao grows in the forest, the soil, it's surroundings and how these factors can have an impact of each tree, was truly amazing. To compare a cacao tree to a vine in any vineyard any where in the world is not a stretch. The "terrior" is in full swing. How much sun? How much rain? What were soil conditions? These are the factors that are at work in cacao and eventually, one way or another find their way to your bar or truffle.
The plantation, Loma Sotavento is in the Maria Trinidad Sanchez region which is situated in the northeast corner of the Dominican Republic. No big shocker, it is off the beaten path and might as well be a million miles from our lives back in the United States. I was with a great mix of world class chocolatiers and pastry pulled together by the folks at Valrhona. I found the people of the Dominican Republic to be inviting and quick with a smile. We were given an extensive tour of the cacao trees, the rooms where the beans are dried and fermented and the schoolhouse Valrhona built for the local children. The school was a big deal. This is a VERY challenged area in many ways and the fact that they now have a three-room school with an AC unit and a kitchen to prepare hot meals, literally changes lives. They were so excited to show it off. Our visit to the school was capped off with a variety show that included traditional dance and song
performed by the children and a visit by the Mayor.
When the main ingredient of your craft comes from a thousand miles away, there can be some disconnect. To be witness to the work and expertise of a cacao farmer helps us to treat chocolate with even more respect and care. Think of all the steps along the way to get something as a simple square of chocolate, and of the history behind it. Obviously, the more you understand your ingredient the better prepared you are to utilize that ingredient to its full potential. This was one of those experiences that really drives home the fact that we are so fortunate to get to do what we do. On a daily basis, we have the opportunity to tweak and tinker with one of the most interesting (and delicious) products on earth. But the best part by far is being able to share it.