Article no 4.
- Trevor Miles, President Belize Cacao Consortium.
The earth shook and four major tropical storms spiralled all around us yet we had some of the most beautiful weather Belize has ever seen. Flat calm seas, lots of sunshine and lots of new friends all gathered in Belize for our second Belize Cacao Consortium group tour of 2017.
All of our guests arrived safe and sound without any unexpected airline delays. Catherine Barothy, our VP of Operations Belize, was at the International airport greeting everyone in her brightly coloured, green Peini Cacao Plantation t-shirt while the rest of the team headed down to Punta Gorda in anticipation of everyone’s arrival.
After touching down in Punta Gorda and settling into their rooms everyone met around the pool for a “Meet & Greet” social before heading off for dinner. Waluco’s by the Sea did a terrific job and after an excellent meal everyone turned in for an early morning start the next day.
The morning newscasts showed storms intensifying in the Eastern Caribbean. Early morning in Belize at the Coral House, our home for the weekend, showed shimmering sunlight reflecting off calm blue seas. Fresh fruit, scones and exotic monkey bread were paired nicely with dark coffee. After breakfast, we were off on our cacao farm tour.
The first stop was at our Peini Cacao Plantation nursery. This is where the entire business of chocolate begins. Guests were treated to hands on demonstrations of the entire seed to sapling process. One never truly appreciates all the hard work and detail that goes into developing a proper plantation.
Here everyone could see for themselves the entire process and witness first-hand the extremely delicate and very deliberate method of grafting precious mother wood onto solid local cacao root stock.
After the nursery, our team ventured onwards to one of our 3 operating farms. Here guests had a chance to see and harvest cacao growing on the trees. Those more adventurous got down on one knee and split pods open to dig out the sweet beans hidden inside. Mr. Feliciano Pop, our Farm Manager and the gentleman in charge of our nursery, did a terrific job and kept everyone on their toes throughout his entire farm presentation.
Lunch at the Pop’s family home was once again exceptional and prepared by Feliciano’s Mother & Sisters. Everyone was treated to a local Belizean lunch of rice & beans and grilled, farm fresh chicken and got to try Caldo, a clear Mayan soup made with chicken, peppers, fresh herbs and served with handmade corn tortillas.
Once recharged we were off again to find Mr. Eladio Pop at the family’s Agouti Farm. Eladio, the father of Feliciano and 14 other siblings, is quite often referred to as a cross between Darwin and Robinson Crusoe. His knowledge of his farm is evident and he gave a great presentation about how one can live in harmony with nature.
The first day of the tour now coming to an end the group dined and imbibed under the stars at Belcampo Resort and chose from “farm to table” menu selections that change daily based on what their garden produces.
Day two of the tour revealed Eastern Caribbean storms cycling in size between Category 4 and Category 5. In Belize, pelicans broke the early morning sunshine as they dove for fish and shrimp immediately in front the hotel.
Some more energetic guests donned their running shoes and went for an early morning run through the quiet town of Punta Gorda. Once back and everyone fed we were again off to the heart of Belize Cacao Consortium. The fermentation & drying Depot.
The Depot on arrival was customarily busy. The men were busy raking, sunning and bagging many tons of mahogany coloured cacao beans. Samuel Tzui, our Depot Manager and our fermentation and drying specialist, was waiting patiently for our arrival.
Sam has a lot to share and is very proud of his award-winning recipes for processing great cacao beans. Everyone saw first-hand the entire bean fermentation process, from delivery to finished product. Guests were encouraged to try raw, fermented cacao for the first time. While not quite chocolate at this stage everyone could certainly smell chocolate in the air.
Afternoon took us through an extensive local spice farm and a tour of the ancient Maya site Lubaantun. It’s simply astounding what can be grown in Belize. Equally astounding is the great Maya civilization that enjoyed these lands well before our arrival. Today many people speak of single origin cacao.
How about Belize’s single origin cacao strains dating as far back as AD 730?
Coral House ended the southern portion of the tour with an exceptional private dinner while everyone listened to the Garifuna drummers that were playing pool side exclusively for us.
On Monday everyone was up early, breakfast was enjoyed and we headed over to Tropic Air for a flight North to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Armando Choco, our Executive Chocolate Maker and his team, together with Catherine Barothy (in a Mahogany Chocolate t-shirt this time) were awaiting everyone’s arrival. After a quick check in and excellent lunch at Shaken on MBR campus, everyone attended Armando’s chocolate making class. Our tour guests had a chance to make their own personalized chocolate bars using our fine chocolate with added ingredients such as fruits, nuts, nibs, coconut and more according to their own specific tastes and preferences.
Guests were also able to sample a variety of truffles, pralines and dark chocolate squares thereby completing the entire value-added chain of “seed to bar”.
The tour ended with an exceptional dinner at Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club. It was a great week and many new friends were made. We look forward to seeing future tour groups here in Belize in the very near future.