BIG Chocolate, small Island

On such a tiny island many great things happen in the world of chocolate. After an enlightening and revitalising start to the  The Grenada Chocolate Festival, with cocoa meditation, cocoa beauty product making and an intense ‘hash’ through the jungle for the first official day, followed by a truly inspirational day two up at Zabuco Estate with Aaron from Tri Island chocolate, it was now time to get down to the business of cocoa. From the macro companies to the micro, past to present it was now time to discover the other influential cocoa growers of the Grenadian (and Caribbean) chocolate scene.

The guided chocolate tasting at Belmont Estate with Dr Sukha

First up on our cocoa hunt was the beautiful Belmont Estate – owned by Grenadian businesswoman Shadel Nyak, who revitalised it in honour of her grandparents who, in 1944, were the first non-Europeans to own a cocoa farm in Grenada! Then after the devastating effects of both hurricane Ivan AND Emily, Shadel tirelessly rebuilt what had become a huge success both locally and internationally. Yes this was far more than just a cocoa farm, over the years Shadel had included a restaurant, conference room, museum, organic gardens, a petting farm and even a goat dairy producing some of the finest goats cheese in Grenada, of which was included in many of the truly mouthwatering meal options we tried in the restaurant!

It’s not just for visitors that Shadel works tirelessly to preserve this beautiful historic gem of Grenada, but also to ensure that her family, colleagues and local community have something to truly be proud of, improve employment opportunities and help sustain the Grenadian economy – no small feat for one woman. But with power and determination and a strong team behind her, as she says so herself, she is achieving now what she had once only dreamed of and more. And today we are here for the launch of her latest achievement, the farm shop and chocolate making kitchen.

Joining us for the day is the all time chocolate guru Dr Darren Suka from the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) in Trinidad and the beautiful Ana Rita Garcia of MUCHO Museo del Chocolate, Mexico City! Two of my chocolate heroes in one space at one time? I literally don’t know what to do! We spent the day ‘walking the cocoa’ and ‘dancing the cocoa’; two processes carried out post fermentation that are fundamental parts of traditional Caribbean cocoa production, ensuring the beans are getting the care and attention they deserve to successfully produce some of the world’s tastiest chocolate!

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In addition to a brand sparklingly new chocolate kitchen and shop, a sprawling farm and idyllic villa, the site also boasts a fermentation facility, and, much to the interest of Dr Sukha, a nursery, where all the baby cacao is looked after until they are big and strong enough to be released into the outside world to fend for themselves and produce their own amazing chocolate.

Dr Sukha with his babies

Known as the jewel in the crown of Grenadian cocoa, Belmont really is shining the light for tree to bar chocolate in this part of the world, but the real pioneer, or ‘granddaddy’ if you will of “Tree to Bar Chocolate” is the man himself, the late (RIP) Mott Green, founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company, a company who Rococo Chocolates of London work extensively with.

It all started in the jungle in the 80s, where Mott first settled in Grenada, recalls Edmund, the joint founder, as he fondly remembers the time he met his dear friend Mott before they founded company together. After years of drinking the local ‘cocoa tea’, a Grenadian staple, and then learning how to make it, Mott set about developing small-scale solar powered versions of industrial machinery for making chocolate, and in time the Grenada Chocolate Company was born.

With a wry smile on his face, Edmund relays to us how him, Doug Browne, and Mott, created the Grenada Chocolate Company from scratch, and then took things one step further, assembling an international eco-friendly sustainable supply chain running from Grenada all the way to Holland! This included volunteer cyclists in Holland and a trade-wind-powered square-rigged brigatine, the Tres Hombres to deliver the chocolate from the tiny Caribbean island to Europe. Edmund also reminds us how and why, after numerous setbacks including the passing of Mott, and the impacts of hurricanes, the company is still running in his honour today. It’s not just for him, and it’s not just for Mot, it’s for Grenada, it’s chocolate and the people who make it their livelihoods to produce what is now regarded as some of the world’s best chocolate.

Afterwards, there is not a dry eye in the room, before we move on to hear from the amazing Karen Waller of Rococo Chocolates about how Rococo have been working with the Grenada Chocolate Company from the outset, on various products using their chocolate.

The processing facility is right where it all started, on Mt Rose, Hermitage, Grenada, and after a suitably swervy, bumpy, yet short ride up from the Belmont Estate, we make it. The facility is in a two story building with one room dedicated entirely to pressing cacao butter out of the liquor using a beautiful hand built manually powered cocoa press, created by Mott himself, and now maintained by the team given it’s temperamental attitude in its old age. Another room separate to the cocoa butter processing room is the roasting and winnowing room, where the machine takes up most of the room, leaving little room for anything (or anyone) else. Not quite as hot as the cocoa butter room, this one is far noisier, but again great to see a hand engineered ancient machine still doing it’s daily task of roasting and winnowing.

Watching the guys at work, feeling the sweltering heat as beads of sweat form on their brows you really appreciate the hard work that goes into the production of fine flavour chocolate. It’s visits like this that those of us in the industry who are lucky enough to go on need to use to inspire the wider public in appreciating quality chocolate in a new light, move away from seeing it alongside candy on the corner shop shelf, and wonder why this fine chocolate bar is so much more expensive. This is why! And besides, quality dark chocolate responsibly made is better for you and the planet, and more satisfying anyway than its purple-wrapped sugar-filled counterpart.

After we explored the facility and learnt from Edmund’s right hand man on the stringent process checks he oversees to ensure their product is organic, it’s time to eat, and boy what a feast we had. Mott’s favourite – oil down – I mean, I was in heaven, and that was even before they brought out the rum punch and put on the reggae. Leaving was so so hard!

OIL DOWNN!!!!!!

A little further north west along the coast, in what was one of the poorest villages in Grenada only a decade ago, we discover Kim Russel and his wife Lynette, the founders of Crayfish Bay, another tiny chocolate company with a big vision making waves in the cocoa world.

Kim and Lynette are painstakingly passionate about what they are doing and what they are achieving – creating fine flavour chocolate bars on a shoe string. Tempering chocolate bars in a hot humid Caribbean climate without air con? No problem for Lynette – improvise with cool tea towels over a bucket of ice water. Unable to afford a mid-range second hand drum roaster with timer to roast your beans? No problem for Kim – just make your own. Although you can’t guarantee the accuracy of the egg timer, trust your nose! Most of the machinery is ‘up cycled’ from machinery once meant for other purposes, a knackered juicer grinds some of the beans for example.

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But it’s not just the making of the chocolate that’s important, as this is only a recent venture for this husband and wife team. In the early days of the farm Kim began forming a cooperative with his farmers similar to that of The Grenada Chocolate Company and Diamond Chocolate Company. This was more than just a dream, and so did take a significant amount of time, work and commitment to become a reality. But Kim ensures his farmers get 90% of the value of the wet cocoa they pick, and even offers them the option of planting as much yearly crops on the land as they wish for selling of their personal use. Thus enabling his workers to provide for schooling and medical treatment for their families, far more than just the bare nececities needed to survive. Surely something that should only be seen as part and parcel of such a role, when you consider how much strength and work is involved, but sadly this is rarely the case, which is why such companies as Crayfish Bay and The Grenada Chocolate Company are vitally important to the industry as they begin setting a precedent for other companies to follow.

Farming like a local

A guided amble around the farm with Kim and his ever casual personality we soon realise it’s not just cacao that has got his passion, it’s the whole of Grenada, and he drills home to us the importance of working with the land rather than taking from it, and encouraging all crops to grow together and support each other – pretty much what we should do in society. Not only is he hugely talented in the creation of very fine (and my current favourite) Grenadian chocolate, he is also a wealth of knowledge on Grenada as a country, it’s history and the beautiful jumble of people who live here. Match that knowledge with wit as sharp as his machete and a keen mind with strong opinions and you have someone you can’t help but like. However, he’s not afraid to admit that not everyone warms to him due to his outspoken nature. And when I think of those people, I just feel sorry for all the magic they are missing out on, but safe in the knowledge there is therefor more chocolate, amusing anecdotes and insightful conversation with a real master of his craft for those who truly believe.

Kim in his element
Kim, me n Lynette

Author: ellecoco

A buckaneering chocolatier, fuelled by chocolate, powered by adventure...

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