Near the northeastern Bolivian town of Baures, on a swath of land about the size of Ecuador, and named Tranquilidad, something wildly delicious is growing. A chocolatier in Toronto has set about transforming this raw material into something gloriously silken and nuanced.
In 2002, David Castellan, co-owner of Toronto's SOMA Chocolatemaker, became one of a privileged few sweet-makers when his cacao bean supplier acquired 630 hectares of woodlands – 400 of them, wild, pre-Columbian cacao forest growing on raised islands of pottery shards, planted there more than 600 years ago by indigenous peoples. The trees produce an original, non-hybridized bean that's smaller than its selectively-bred cousins and is genetically different from all other known cacaos.
Just as the trees were allowed to grow free of human intervention for centuries, Mr. Castellan takes a hands-off approach when transforming bean to bar.
Castellan loves cacao the way preteen girls love The Biebs. "I love the Alto Beni cacao!" he says. "When you look at the beans you know you are looking at something special. They are all tiny, maybe two-thirds the size of regular cacao beans, and they have a natural sweetness that is unique, without the radical citrus twang typical of beans from Madagascar or Papua New Guinea, just a refined, nutty, Bolivian elegance."
He only lightly roasts the beans, no vanilla is added to the chocolate and processing is kept to a bare minimum, allowing for the purest expression of this rare cacao. And the flavour is complex, bringing to mind dark chocolate brownies, black cherry and a perfect balance of creamy, bitter and sweet notes with a long, lingering finish.
Chocoholics take note: Because the trees are low-yield, Castellan can only produce about 160 bars per harvest – a rare breed indeed.
$11/80 gram bar at SOMA in the Distillery (55 Mill St., Bldg. 48), or by phone at: 416-815-7662. SOMA ships to anywhere in the world, except the U.S., due to restrictive importation and bio-terrorism laws.
Special to the Globe and Mail