“It takes ten large cocoa pods to make a lump of chocolate the size of a cannonball,” so said the nice lady with her English speaking interpreter, demonstrating the art of chocolate making at Arquimides Borges in the countryside just outside Baracoa in Eastern Cuba.
This wasn’t Hollywood ‘Chocolat’ style sickly-sweet chocolate manufacture, but the hard graft & toil necessary to turn raw pods into the base ingredient that is turned into truffles and fondant fancies by chocolatiers the world over.If you are now starting to salivate through blatant overuse of the word chocolate, I apologise. Just grab yourself a fruit ‘n nut and read on.
Alongside sugar, rum and tobacco, cocoa is one of most Cuba’s successful and important exports. The perfect place for Cadbury’s to make their Old Jamaica Bar that used to be pretty popular with children and adults alike.
In all likelihood, you will have eaten Cuban chocolate. It is no wonder that Hershey set up a huge production plant in Havana province to cater for all those American sweet tooths.
In common with all Cuban industry, Hershey was nationalised post the ’59 Revolution and just like Bacardi, Tate & Lyle and British American Tobacco, they continued to flourish without their Cuban bases, whilst the Cuban industries themselves suffered due to the US led trade embargo.
In a lesson from history that the world is still yet to fully appreciate, Cuba, in exactly the same way as Albania, North Korea, Iran, Vietnam & Syria amongst many others since, turned to Eastern Europe & South East Asia for their trade, protection and friendship.
This in turn led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, in a similar way to which unrest & conflict occurred in the majority of those other countries brought about by hardship and a sense of injustice.
You would have thought the lessons of what caused the Nazi surge in Germany might of struck a chord, but no, trade sanctions and financial penalties were the stock answer then and remain so to this day. Politics over with, have you got any fruit n’ nut left? Great, I will continue.
We rocked up to the ramshackle outbuildings that made up this particular chocolate empire, not exactly something out of Willy Wonka. Our golden tickets gave a fascinating insight into how chocolate was made, flavoured and crafted into black magic.The machete used to split open the pods made us wince, the kneading to turn the cocoa pulp into a buttery substance made our hands ache just thinking about it. The butter is then melded into a sphere and placed into the refrigerator. At the butter shaping phase the likes of orange, ginger, coffee & vanilla are added to give it a gorgeous flavour.
Milk & sugar can also be added to lessen the bitterness. We bought some delectable sweet vanilla triangles and some cocoa butter, perfect protection for the lips against the strong sun.
The setting of the cocoa plantation was beautiful with surrounding hills, lush vegetation, pretty flowers and wild birds – not your average factory setting!
Next time you bite into a chocolate bar yourself, have a think about where your sweet treat may have started life.