These days, West Africa dominates the global cacao market, with Ghana and the Ivory Coast together producing around half of the world’s crop. However, this region is part of a relatively recent chapter in the history of chocolate.
Native to the Amazon rainforest, cacao trees only survive in a narrow tropical band extending about 25 degrees north and south of the equator. As Europeans sought to control more and more of the world during the 1800s, they took cacao with them, leading to its cultivation in many colonial territories within this tropical band.
In particular, in 1824, the Portuguese introduced hardy, boldly flavored cacao trees from Brazil into their island colonies off the West African coast. These trees eventually made the journey to continental Africa, landing in Ghana in the late 1800s. And just as cacao was spreading into colonial Africa, many cacao producers in the New World were experiencing severe crop blights, opening the door for West Africa to start taking global market share.
Unfortunately, standards for labor and quality in West Africa have generally been low, with reports of child and slave labor surfacing even today. The cacao itself has been attractive primarily to mega-buyers looking for a cheap input to use in heavily processed mass-market chocolate products, in which the quality of the starting ingredients is immaterial. Meanwhile, out of concern for both ethics and flavor, craft chocolate makers have largely abandoned West Africa in favor of sources in the Americas.
The truth is, when carefully prepared both in the field and in the factory, cacao from this area yields some of the richest, most satisfying chocolate in the world. And from the start, I have believed that it is important to support the region's quality-focused cacao economy by seeking out and purchasing its best ethically produced beans and presenting them as the exceptional chocolate they can be.
What's more, times are changing. Cacao produced by small, quality-driven cooperatives in Ghana is easier to access today than it was when I began making chocolate just four years ago. Indeed, the cacao featured here is a blend exclusively from Ghanaian farms that meet Rainforest Alliance’s social, economic, and environmental standards.
Roasted heavily for intense depth, you'll find that this cacao creates a bar with tasting notes of chocolate pudding, toasted coconut, and peanut butter. At 75%, expect a smooth, full-bodied dark chocolate with moderate sweetness and little bitterness.
Local Event Reminders
April 11: Artisan Food & Craft Beverage Tour @ Common Wealth Development (Madison, WI)
Common Wealth Development, in collaboration with Madison Eats Food Tours, is pleased to present a local artisan food tour & craft beverage fundraiser event in celebration of 40 years of healthy, equitable, and sustainable community development in Madison.
May 5, 9am-1pm: Monroe Street Farmers' Market Opening Day @ Edgewood High School (Madison, WI)
Please mark your calendars for opening day of the the Monroe Street Farmers' Market on Sunday, May 5 from 9am-1pm. The market continues each Sunday through the end of October, and you'll find me there during the cooler months of the season.
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