Last week I had my first tour of a cacao farm. I loved it. I visited Cyrila’s Chocolate, a local chocolate producing farm approximately 10 miles or so outside Punta Gorda. Juan Cho is the current manager, proprietor, operator of Cyrila’s Chocolate. Together with his wife Abelina and their two children, Henry and Lucresha, they run the only Maya Chocolate producing operation in the area.
Listening to Juan speak of his heritage, his culture, his family, it was easy to see the pride this individual holds for his Maya roots. Juan introduced me to the Maya as he used the words to tell me about his family history. One of the first words he spoke to me was K`ulu’ba`ambilat, which means “welcome” in Maya Kekchi.
During the first hour or so while Juan Cho was explaining his vision of the business, his wife Abelina Cho was performing hostess duties. She brought out 2 plates of chocolate with different varieties on each plate. The first plate had chocolate pieces that were 80% cacao. Tasty, not bitter, sweetened with natural cane sugar, which is grown on another farm owned by the Cho family. The second plate had samples that were 75% cacao, mixed with cane sugar, cacao nibs and milk. The nibs add a crunchy texture and contributes additionally to the chocolate flavour. (On a side note, Juan referred to his wife as “The Chocolate Princess.”)
Also, while we were chatting about the history of Cyrila’s Chocolate, Abelina brought us a pot of chocolate drink. The mixture was just cacao and water, unsweetened. The traditional method for serving is to use a calabash cup. The flavour was quite interesting as the calabash cup seemed to infuse an earthy taste to the chocolate. Sugar is not generally added as the traditional chocolate drink included hot red pepper for additional flavour. The Mayan word for the chili pepper drink is Ku-ku.
Next came time for the demonstration of making chocolate using the traditional tools. The Mano and Metate are used to grind the fermented, roasted partially ground cacao beans into a chocolate paste. These tools can be compared to a mortar and pestle in function. The form is different as the metate is a horizontal tray upon which, through a specific technique, the beans and nibs are crushed to make the chocolate paste. At Cyrila’s Farm the mano and metate is made from basalt, a volcanic stone material that has been handed down through the generations.
Three miles from the farm down more interestingly mother nature carved roads are the cacao fields. Cyrila’s Chocolate owns 60 acres of jungle with 5 acres used for cacao. When we arrived at the cacao field, Juan proceeded to explain the 3 main types of cacao pods that are in production. He picked a pod from a tree, and against a second pod picked by myself, he smacked them together to open one. Cacao does not end up the way it starts and the way it looks is so completely different from what you would expect. Juan encouraged me to sample one of the beans from inside the pods. All I can say is interesting. Doesn’t taste much like chocolate at all. There is a white milky substance surrounding each bean and this substance has a citrusy, or mango-like flavour. Not chocolate at all. The cacao beans are approximately the size of an almond. After sucking on the cacao bean Juan encouraged me to bite it. Again, the bean doesn’t taste like chocolate at all. It is obviously the manufacturing process of fermenting, and roasting the beans that produces the flavour we have come to know and love.
After the tour of the fields was complete we went back to the farm where The Chocolate Princess was preparing lunch for us. While we waited for the main dish she served fresh pineapple. Lunch consisted of Chicken Mole (pronounced molay), coleslaw and flour tortillas. Chicken Mole translates into Chocolate Chicken and it was delicious. A combination of garlic, onion, red and green sweet pepper, chili pepper, chicken and chocolate. One minute my mouth was on fire, the next minute it was saying this is sweet and the next it was saying give me more.
We talked a bit more about life in general, enjoyed some fresh-squeezed orange juice and soon it was time to leave. My impression of the 1/2 day I spent with Juan and his family—WOW!
You can find Cyrila’s Chocolate online at http://www.ecomayachocolate.com