By Valentina Bosia
It was during the spring of 2009 when, as a young gastronomic sciences student in Italy, I tasted my very first piece of fine chocolate.
It was a bar of Venezuelan Chuao, a blast of pine nuts and dulce de leche and an auspicious and buttery revelation of flavor possibilities yet to be explored. And just like that, on that very day, my professional path was set.
Many factors differentiate fine cacao from what is commonly referred to as “bulk”. Here at Cacao Latitudes, I am responsible for monitoring what is perhaps one of the most striking factors: flavor.
What are we talking about when we talk about flavor in fine chocolate? And why do we foster the conviction that flavor holds the redeeming key to unlocking the market potential of specialty cacao? We are far from alone in holding this belief.
Our esteemed colleagues at MOCCA, in conjunction with ZOTO and Guittard Chocolate Company, collaborated and developed the Cacao Regional Flavors Map.
They invested in and were dedicated to training farmers and local partners, offering technical assistance, access to quality planting material and personalized counseling on post-harvest activities. Sensory analysis was one of the main tools used to evaluate and catalog the cacaos produced during the project.
The result is the most extensive cacao flavor map of Central and South America and a new reference for everyone looking to advance Sensory Analysis in fine cacao and chocolate.
“The expansion of the Regional Map of cacao Flavors in Ecuador, Peru, and Guatemala will strengthen post-harvest practices to improve the expression of flavor and aroma, developing unique profiles, and expanding supply to higher value markets,” said Carolina Aguilar, the cacao director from Lutheran World Relief.
Cacao grows in a dynamic and interconnected ecosystem, benefiting from an ever-changing micro-biodiverse environment. Ensuring it is well-managed post-harvest, which is a crucial step for flavor development, requires extreme know-how and skills to master. Harnessing those processes by combining traditional empirical practices with modern microbiology can offer farmers access to new markets.
As cacao sourcers, it is our responsibility to bridge the gap between our colleagues in the tropics and chocolate professionals around the world. Over the coming months, we will explore the unique flavor profiles of these cacaos, celebrating the craftsmanship, expertise, and hard work required to attain, recognize and valorize such striking flavors.
I hope you will join us for this sensory journey.
For more information about Cacao Latitudes, visit cacaolatitudes.com.