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Photographer's Note

This is a shot I made in Chuao, a small village in the state of Aragua where one of the best, if not the best, cocoa of the world is farmed. The easiest way to get there is by taking a boat from Puerto Colombia, close to Choroní.

The picture shows women picking up the cocoa after it has been dried in front of the local church. I cropped the shot, increased contrast and resized.

"Nearly all the world’s cacao trees are grown on small, family farms. Almost 90% of cacao bean production comes from farms under 12 acres.

Of the 3.5 million small family cacao farms worldwide, it is estimated that 2.6 million are located in Africa.
Cacao farming is very labor intensive. Every part of cacao farming, from planting to harvesting to fermenting, is best done by hand, not machines. Pods must be removed from the trees individually, by hand, because not all ripen at the same time. Farmers generally use machetes or large knives attached to poles to slice down the ripe pods, taking care not to hurt nearby buds.

The pods are split open by hand. The beans are scooped out and the outer shell is discarded. If you tasted a bean at this point you would notice a sweet, lemony flavor from the pulp. The actual bean would be bitter and hard to eat.

Once the cacao beans are scooped from the pods, they are fermented and dried in the two-step curing process that sets in motion the development of the flavor nuances which maketasting chocolate so exciting.
Fermentation is the first critical process to develop the beans’ flavor. The beans, still covered with pulp, are placed in large, shallow wooden boxes or are left in piles and covered with banana leaves.

Once fermentation begins, the sugar in the pulp is converted into acids that change the chemical composition of the beans. Fermentation generates temperatures as high as 125° F, activating enzymes that create the flavor precursors which are the beginning of chocolate as we know it.

The fermentation process takes anywhere from two to eight days. (Unfermented or lightly fermented beans have less chocolate flavor but are higher in health-promoting antioxidants.)

The next key process is drying. The best way to dry cacao beans is to lay them on bamboo mats and let them bask in the sun's warming rays. In some humid, rainy climates, beans are dried inside or by blowers circulating hot air which can pose problems. If the beans dry too quickly some of the chemical reactions started in the fermentation process are not allowed to finish and the beans taste acidic or bitter. If the drying is too slow, mold and off- flavors can develop.
The drying process takes several days during which the beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. Once the beans are dried, they are ready to be shipped to chocolate factories around the world.
Farmers take the fermented and dried cacao beans to collection sites where they are mixed with beans from surrounding farms. The beans are loaded into 200 pound sacks and transported to shipping centers.

Buyers sample the quality of the crop by cutting open a number of beans to see if they were properly fermented. The beans should have a brown center and be aromatic."

http://www.allchocolate.com/understanding/how_chocolate_is_made/tree_to_factory.aspx

Regarding this specific cocoa:

"...Chuao, one of the world's finest chocolates. It takes its name from a remote Venezuelan village plantation renowned for its high quality criollo beans. In 2000, the name Chuao was recognized by Venezuela as an "appellation of origin," ensuring that its use is restricted to beans and cocoa products from that area only. Amedei, an Italian chocolate maker, holds exclusive rights to the beans under an arrangement with the Venezuelan government and produces limited edition, hand-numbered bars."

http://www.atasteforchocolate.com/store/scripts/openExtra_news.asp?extra=28

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Additional Photos by Yvonne Becker (smash2707) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 583 W: 86 N: 686] (3320)
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