CHUAO – BEST IN CLASS CACAO
Chuao is known as the most mythical, famous and expensive cacao worldwide. Only a limited quantity of beans are produced each year in the mountains surrounding the village of Chuao. These beans are -some claim- among the best beans you could hope to discover.
450 YEARS OF HISTORY OF CACAO
One of the most emblematic cacao beans in the world comes from Chuao in Venezuela. Additionally, people from Chuao have more than high-quality and rare cacaos, they have an amazing history. The chronicles include incredible pirate stories, beating African drums and a community of women farmers who sing a special cacao song every day. More recently, Chuao’s story includes how this small town obtained an appellation of origin and what characteristics make up the special flavors and aromas of Cacao de Chuao…
Chuao and its inhabitants (of which the majority are descendants of slaves brought to Venezuela during the Spanish colonization) are thriving because of its world-famous and very rare cacao. Dozens of generations of villagers have been growing cacao for centuries according to the old traditions, which has contributed to the perfection of Chuao.
The history of cacao in Chuao started some 450 years ago, in the 17th century with Spanish colonists. Ever since the village was founded in 1660 it has depended on fishing and on growing luxury cocoa, and the west’s sudden penchant for the latter has transformed life here. While their slave ancestors cultivated cacao for Spain’s royal pantries and confectioners, the inhabitants now produce it for the world’s top connoisseurs.
50 SHADES OF TURQUOISE & BEATING DRUMS
Coordinates: 10º29´36”N 67º31´38”W
Venezuela – Aragua – Santiago Mariño – Chuao
Surface cacao plantation: 200 ha
Average altitude from 200 to 400 254 meter above sea level
Average temperature: 30°C
There are few places in the world more idyllic than the little village of Chuao. The village is nested in an isolated valley in the North of Venezuela, an hours walk from the mesmerizing Caribbean coast. The surrounding forests and the national park offer an abundant biodiversity, which is conserved and protected by law.
Chuao cacao is grown organically and in harmony with its natural environment. This remoteness makes Chuao a lovely place – safe, clean, well-maintained and lacking most of the problems that are so prevalent in the rest of Venezuela
The village Chuao is framed by a cliff and is located about 4 km inland. To get there, you must travel to Choroni a town at the heart of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, hire a fishing boat, and edge eastwards along the shoreline to a small stretch of sand and palm trees, surrounded on all sides by high fertile mountains. The only way to get from Choroni to Chuao is to walk along a small path -that no cars can pass through.
On the way, you might spot pumas, howler monkeys and rattlesnakes that inhabit the dense rainforest nearby. Adventurous bird-watchers might spot specimens with evocative names like the Rufous-vented Chacalaca and the Pin-striped Tit Babbler.
After a 4km hike up this little path that winds through the forest, you come upon a large village of freshly painted houses. The acid-sweet scent of fermenting beans fills the air, and on a patio in front of the church, a dappled carpet of deep red basks in the sun: these are the sought-after beans of Chuao.
THE SECRET OF CHUAO: PART 1
GENETICS, CLIMATE, FERMENTATION & DRYING
Chuao cacao has a broad genetic diversity – with more than 30 identified varieties. The cacao genetics in this isolated valley between the mountains and the sea are well preserved and only evolved over time from pollination with the local self-compatible and incompatible cocoa trees.
The cacao trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao.
During the harvest season, the women collect ripe cacao pods, break the pods in the field while singing mythical cacao songs, and fill buckets with the wet cacao. A truck brings the beans to the village center where the fermentation takes place, for 6 to 7 days in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves. This is followed by the meticulous ‘Chuao drying’, dating back 450 years. Cacao beans dry gently in the sun on the church patio, and each day the beans are brought closer to the famous blue and white church until the process is complete. The night drying continues in the central storage room with wooden floor.
Once drying is complete, the beans are properly sorted, packed into 60kg bags, delivered to Chuao pier and transported to Puerto Colombia by fishing boats. From there, the transport continues by truck to Caracas to a warehouse where an additional physical sorting and selection takes place. The cacao beans are repacked in grain pro and sisal bags, and are ready to be exported all over the world.
These processes are very time-consuming but essential in producing the unique flavor of the Chuao cacao; the proof is in the chocolate. Chuao is a time-release flavour bomb. Nice complex but balanced flavours: pronounced aromas with citric tones, hints of agrum, dried fruits, pleasant buttery flavours, woody tones and roasted nuts. If your palate had ears, it would hearing, “Boom! Boom! Boom!
THE SECRET OF CHUAO: PART 2
Ownership of Chuao was tumultuous, only resolved in 1976 when the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture deeded this precious farming land to the traditional farmers of the valley through their collectively owned Association ‘La Empresa Campesina de Chuao’.
This union comprises around 130 farmers who tend the trees and harvest, dry, and ferment the delicate beans. The farmers of Chuao have been producing cacao in the same way for hundreds of years. Chuao is all about the people. They know what they’re doing and they keep their production to small amounts.
The villagers are very proud owners of Chuao plantation, and all work (whatever the task in hand, the farmer’s rotation shift ensures labour is shared equally among all the members of the association), as well as the profits, are shared amongst the community. The Community Association establishes high sales prices, and all income from cacao is shared amongst the members or re-invested in the community life. This is quite a unique business model.
To these local indigenous people, Chuao cocoa is not just an agricultural product; it represents much more. It is their life, their identity, their pride. For them, the cacao nuts that they have planted, bred and selected for centuries are inseparable from their lives, their culture, their land, and their language. This holistic concept is a large part of what makes Chuao cacao so special. The Chuoa community thrives!
LOCAL HARVEST & POSTHARVEST HEROINES:
MRS LEIDA MARGARITA LADERA BACALAO, MRS EDIS MAURICIA LIENDO & MRS JUANA DE DIOS
Cacao is the main economic activity for families of the valley. Cacao workers are primarily women, as men of the valley are predominantly fishing.
Every morning, shortly after dawn, the 130 mostly female workers gather by the square and split into groups. Much of the harvest and post-harvest (especially the drying) activities are done by the women who are in charge of executing this work based on their vast experience and knowledge. They evaluate the color of the beans and the climatic conditions for an optimum final product. The ladies will spend hours in the field collecting the ripe cacao pods, sweeping the square or raking the harvest flat over the stone patio, often singing ‘cacao songs’ while working. It is said this joyous singing might be the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes Chuao cacao so unique and special among the world’s cacao…
FROM VENEZUELA WITH LOVE – A REAL EXCLUSIVITY WITH CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY
Connoisseurship often comes down to location, location, location. You know the tobacco of Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo makes a fine cigar. You expect great Cognac from the Grand Champagne region. In chocolate, the most prestigious real estate is Chuao. The cacao from this village on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela delivers complexity. At its best, it has a length and range of flavors that some call “movements” as if parts of a symphony.
With only a limited volume available each year globally – ranging from 15 tp 30 MT-, Chuao cacao is a real exclusivity. And just like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in Italy or the Champagne sparkling wine in France, Chuao cacao has an ‘Appelation Controlée‘ or ‘denominación de origen’. And its traceability goes even further than that. The ‘real’ Chuao cacao will always come along with a certificate of authenticity.
So how to recognize the ‘real’ Chuao cacao? The ‘real’ Chuao can only be purchased via authorised partners, will come along with a certificate from ‘Chuao Trading’ and Chuao producer organisation, and has a low cadmium level.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK- WOW*!
Chuao cacao is (for already 50 years) sold by the community association ‘Empresa Campesina de Chuao’ to only one exclusive distribution and commercialisation partner. This allows a 100% traceable supply chain. Since 2019, the association has established a joint venture with Chuao Trading that allows complete integration from the producers to the final customers. Chauo Trading is a valued partner for La Empresa Campesina de Chuao’, investing in cacao quality and the community and making sure that cacao can be exported from Venezuela to Japan, the USA and Europe with certificates. Thereupon, only partners approved by the Association and Chuao Trading can purchase Chuao beans. The respected partners in the Chuao-chain value food authenticity, honesty and integrity and share the same philosophy. Silva Cacao is a proud and official partner to import and distribute Chuao cacao to Europe, connecting the Chuao community with European Chocolate makers.
*The way you pronounce this fine flavour cacao is ‘chew’ + ‘wow’. You chew, and you say ‘wow’. (If it is not a wow, than it surely is not a chuao)
KUDO’S, CREDITS & INSPIRATION
https://silva-cacao.com/news/the-name-of-fame-of-chuao pictures copyright Silva & Wim Kempenaers