I’ve been meaning to post all week about my trip to a local cooperative that makes chocolate from the bean to bar, but somehow I’ve just been too busy relaxing. Now, on this rainy day, I’m finally getting a chance to post some pictures and write a brief description of the visit.
Everyone that I spoke to has assured me that there’s no cocoa growing in Oaxaca, that it grows in Chiapas and Tabasco only. But last week I visited a little cocoa processing operation that makes chocolate from trees grown right here in Oaxaca. The place is called Toltepec and you can check out a cool video on U-tube if you google “Chocolate Toltepec”.
Ilona and I hired a taxi to take us there and after a 2 hour ride, we discovered the place was closed! Luckily our taxi driver found one of the members of the collective and asked him to show us around the facility. To be honest, there wasn’t much to look at. Operations seemed to be on hold. When I asked the man giving us the tour how often they made chocolate, he explained that the chocolate is made on demand. I can imagine that without some marketing, there is a huge disconnect between this little chocolate manufacturing facility in the mountains
and the markets of Oaxaca or elsewhere.
Even though there wasn’t much to see in terms of chocolate being made, it was still cool to be surrounded by cocoa trees. We asked to try the fruit fresh off the tree and it was delicious! Quite sweet and a little tangy at the end. That tanginess must be what gives chocolate its acidity. I asked what type of bean they use in their chocolate (which is really good, by the way) and the man said that they use criollo beans. That must be why it’s so good! I bought a bag of the chocolate and a bag of raw cocoa beans to experiment with when I get home. I have yet to try roasting my own beans-now I have the perfect excuse.
We have just debuted our new-and-improved ice cream sandwich for the summer! The ice cream has been made for us by the lovely folks at Pinocchio – we gave them a special 80% Valrhona chocolate, and the result is a rich, silky, not-too-sweet ice cream.
But the cookies are definitely not an afterthought – soft and chewy with plenty of cocoa, they recall the texture of a classic chocolate wafer; but with a true chocolate flavour and a pleasing thickness, they are tempting to eat all by themselves. Paired with the ice cream, they are elevated to new heights. A roll in some crunchy cocoa nibs, and the result is an intense chocolate treat to enjoy in the warm weather.
For those of you with hardier constitutions (than me), we sell them whole, but we are also selling them in halves. If you can afford to slip into a chocolate coma for a few hours, though, there is something deeply satisfying about holding an ice cream sandwich potentially larger than your fist!
You can buy a lot of interesting things on the beach here in Huatulco. Besides the ubiquitous shell jewelry and tie dyed sarongs, you can buy things like photos of yourself with a python or bags of organic coffee. Yesterday I bought a pound of freshly ground chocolate that a woman makes in the local town of Crucecita. Even though I’m surrounded by chocolate here in Oaxaca, I’m having some serious cravings for something intensely chocolatey. Most of the chocolate here comes in the form of a drink, which is great, but sometimes you just want to eat the stuff. Thus, Ilona and I decided to make brownies to put the local chocolate to the test.
We spent a good part of the afternoon in our rented condo looking for a good recipe and getting the ingredients together for our brownies. We found this recipe on Chowhound: http://www.bhg.com/recipe/bars/magic-brownies
The result, I think, is pretty good. The brownies have a nice consistency and good chocolatey flavor. The chocolate we used, like all chocolate here, isn’t conched, which means that it’s fairly gritty and course. You get a bit of that grit in the texture but it’s mostly masked by the other ingredients. When they grind it, they almost always add cinnamon to the beans so the brownies came out tasting pretty strongly of cinnamon, which isn’t unpleasant at all, but I must say that I’m getting a little tired of that cinnamon flavor. Sometimes you just want that pure unadulterated flavor of cocoa, you know? Anyway, the brownies are tasty but now we’ve got a whole pan of them that we have to try to get rid of. Perhaps I can trade them in for a nutella crepe at the creperie next door…
Before Ilona and I left Oaxaca last week, we took a trip with our B&B host Alvin to a village to meet a family who makes Pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of the agave plant. You can drink that juice fresh as well and it’s known as “aqua miel”. I was really interested in how the juice is collected so Alvin arranged a tour with a family who we met earlier that week at the market. We got to their house around 5pm to watch them harvest the juice. The process begins first thing in the morning when a family member goes to the field to carve a well into the agave plant. As the day progresses, the juice collects into the well until it is harvested at around 5pm. We were there to witness the harvesting, which is a pretty simple process consisting of a person sticking a tube into the well and then sucking it’s contents into a container. The farmer-whose name I have forgotten gave us a taste of the liquid which was served in a gourd. It was quite sweet with an interesting after taste which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Ilona said it tasted like honey, which is quite a fitting description since the name of the drink translates to “honey water”. She proceeded to drink the entire contents of the gourd-so I guess she thought it was pretty good. I ended up drinking the pulque which the farmer’s wife had brought along for us to compare. To me pulque tastes a bit like new wine-or slightly fermented juice. Kind of sweet with a little sourness. You can taste pulque in different stages of fermentation. I preferred the first stage which was still quite sweet. I felt that the second and third stage or the 2nd or 3rd day of fermentation made it taste rather like vinegar. By the way, pulque is really a rural drink-you wouldn’t find it at a restaurant, for example. So if you want to try it, you have to come to Mexico!
I had my first taste of mole negro which is the mole sauce they make here using chocolate. It was slathered onto a chicken leg and served with rice and beans. It was pretty yummy, I thought. More sweet than spicy. The flavors definitely evolved as I continued to eat the dish. I started noticing a subtle smokiness which was really nice-I suppose it is created by roasting the chilies. Yesterday I was supposed to learn how to make mole negro from a local chef, name Pilar Carbrera who owns a restaurant in Oaxaca named “La Olla”. I woke up feeling pretty crummy but I thought it was the effects of the Mescal I had the night before. I decided to go ahead with the class anyway figuring i would start to feel better. Ilona and I got to Pilar’s house around 9:30 to begin the first part of the class which was the market tour. At the market she showed us the different ingredients used in Mexican cooking and pointed out what was in season now(herbs, guanabana or soursop). She took us to the “food court” inside the market and showed me the stand where she likes to buy “atole” which is a drink made of corn, water and unrefined cane sugar. Pilar purchased 2 cups of chocolate atole for us, which the woman made by frothing a chocolate liquid which she spooned out of a jug and adding some of the thick atole to it. It was delicious. Like a thickened hot chocolate with bits of corn but not as sweet as the hot chocolate that I had at Majordomo. I find it interesting that people still froth their hot chocolate-a tradition that dates back to the mayans and aztecs. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from that. After the market tour we went back to chef Pilar’s house to begin our class. By now I was feeling worse and could hardly stand up. Sadly I had to cancel the remainder of the class and reschedule it for a later date. I hope to make my mole negro with chef Pilar when I return to Oaxaca at the end of the month.
On Sunday Ilona and I went to a market in the town of Tlacolula just outside of Oaxaca. There were lots of interesting things there but nothing more interesting than my first taste of Tejate. Tejate is a drink made of ground corn, cocoa beans, ground mammey seed (a fruit) and rosita de cacao flowers-which are not actually flowers from the tree but called thus because they are used in this specific drink. I found tejate to be extremely refreshing and tasty on a super hot day. Kind of like an ice cream shake but not as heavy. It is has a slightly starchy texture and a subtle but distinctive cocoa flavor. The best part was the cocoa butter “scum” on top which gave it just enough richness to make the drink both refreshing and pleasurable.
Ilona and I went to Mayordomo today and tried their hot chocolate. First we watched them grind the beans and cinnamon into a paste. Pretty simple process really. They just dumped the whole lot into the grinder and mixed it with sugar once it was turned into paste. The smell was most delicious! The hot chocolate was good too. Sweet but very very fresh tasting.