Most of the chocolate we eat is the result of a great industrial process, so what a treat to make it from scratch at Melanie Boudar’s cacao farm on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Melanie is one of Hawaii’s finest chocolatiers but not content with making fine chocolates and roasting beans to make her own bars, she is now growing the beans as well.
Hawaii is, she says, ‘the north pole’ of chocolate, at the extreme edge of cacao living conditions. The cooler nights make for a fatty bean and higher cocoa butter content. Melanie reckons there is also a Hawaiian ‘terroir’ that can be tasted in chocolate grown here, and that Hawaii can be to chocolate what the Napa Valley is to wine.
It’s early days, but her plans are for not just a farm, but a whole chocolate experience at Manawai Estate. I was happy to test out the prototype tour!
We start with beans that have been fermented for a week in a basket lined with banana leaves. The wild yeasts that live on the banana leaves help the fermentation process get going. The alcohol formed through the fermentation kills the seed and starts the development of the flavour. The beans are then slowly sun dried over 10 days to dissipate any volatile acids and roasted.
The roasted beans are cracked to release the cocoa nibs from the papery shells. We winnowed by blowing away the shell, and picking out the nibs.
The nibs, which are chocolatey and bitter are then ground through a sausage grinder to make a paste. This was harder than it sounds and took considerable bicep power. If the reward was not chocolate I might not have bothered!
The paste then needed to be ground a little finer. Melanie took over, grinding it with cane sugar between two hunks of granite. (See those dirty fingers – this is messy work!) When chocolate-making is powered by more than biceps, conching machines are used to reduce the chocolate to such fine particles that they can’t be detected by the tongue, giving that silky mouthfeel we love in premium chocolate.
You couldn’t call what we did conching, and our paste was far from smooth, but we thought it would do the job. Mixed with hot water it was completely, surprisingly delicious, even if grains of chocolate got stuck in our teeth. Then Melanie added her expert touches – a bit more sugar, some vanilla extract, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a grind of fresh back pepper. I had my doubts. Would this be overdone and smother the delicious deep flavour of the chocolate? I should have had more faith.
Melanie whisked her concoction with a traditional Mexican hot chocolate whisk and served us up a little taste. So good! I could have drunk the whole jugful. And would have if we about to taste our way through seven countries worth of chocolate to find out about that Hawaiian chocolate terrior. Ah, but that’s another story.