growing cacao in Peru
As much as we enjoyed the Chocolate Salon in Lima, Peru, our journey of chocolate discovery was not to end there. We had been booked on a flight to take us to Tingo Maria, located in Huanuco Province, and also to Tocache, located in the southern part of San Martin Province.
We had been in the northern part of San Martin province last year when we visited Tarapoto and the cocoa farmers of Santa Rosa. How surprising it was to see these ladies whom I had met last year when they welcomed us to their farm. Those of you who already have a copy of Chocolatour will recognize Charita on page 16 in the first volume of the book. Charita and fellow members of the Santa Rosa Cooperative are now making a cocoa drink mixed with various flavourings such as wheat, packaging it, and selling it via shows such as the Salón del Cacao Y Chocolate in Lima and other local markets.
My trip this year was as part of an international delegation of people involved in the chocolate industry who were invited by PromPeru and USAID (the US Agency for International Development) to visit Peru and learn more about its fledgling cocoa industry. I had heard mention of USAID last year on my visit to Peru, but the trip this year reinforced just how important this agency has been in helping Peru rise like a phoenix from the smouldering ashes of the coca industry and reinvent itself as an integral player in the cocoa industry. Peru now grows some of the finest aromatic cocoa in the world, and is determined to make sure the world knows about it. I didn’t need anyone to convince me that Peruvian cocoa makes great chocolate. I learned that last year, when I tasted the chocolate of Orquidea, Roselen, Xocolatl, and others, and knew it was something special.
This year, we visited the cocoa growing regions of Tocache and Tingo Maria as key stops along the Ruta del Cacao (Cocoa Route) and were welcomed with great enthusiasm as we learned the intricacies of growing cacao in this part of Peru. It was a fascinating journey, and provided me with more great information for the second volume of Chocolatour and this blog.
We visited several cocoa farms and saw the pride from each of the farmers as they described their growing process and how the harvest is a family and community affair. We met many passionate people who want the world to learn of the quality of their delicious aromatic cocoa.
And as in every region I have visited, the cocoa farmers in this region had their own unique challenges. I was surprised to see so many miniature black pods on the cacao trees, and when I asked what they represented, I was told that these were aborted pods. The tree senses how many pods it can nurture to maturation, and aborts the rest. So you will see these tiny black pods on the trees that will just fall off and decompose onto the ground.
It was so fascinating learning more about cacao growing in Peru. It is such a challenge for the cocoa farmers, but with tenacity and continuing education, they are learning how to make the best of it. The result is magnificent Peruvian chocolate that is among the finest tasting aromatic chocolate in the world.