On a Mission to Improve Chocolate & Cacao in Brazil

Bar of the Week, Bean to Bar, Brazil, Chocolopolis, Community, Happy Hour, Politics & Economics of Cacao, Regional Bar Collection, Sweet Sixteen / Saturday, October 13th, 2018

After a very long dry spell, we recently added two new chocolate makers to our collection, both made in their countries of origin. Last week we launched Momotombo Chocolate, hailing from Nicaragua. Today we are excited to introduce Mission Chocolate, coming to us directly from São Paulo, Brazil.

Not only is Mission Chocolate made in a country of origin, it is made by Arcelia Gallardo, a female chocolate maker, who is on a mission to help Brazilian cacao farmers and their families.

Arcelia hails from Los Angeles. While her parents are Mexican by birth, it wasn’t until she was in college that she first discovered that cacao was domesticated in Mexico. She was a Latin American literature minor as an undergraduate, and as part of her studies she had to read the letters the Spanish explorers sent from Mexico back to Spain. While I’ve read excerpts of these documents from the important book, The True History of Chocolate, I have not read the documents in full. It was here that she discovered that cacao was part of her cultural heritage.

Arcelia began her journey in the business of chocolate when she opened a retail chocolate store in Berkeley making confections. She began thinking about making chocolate from the bean at about the same time her husband had an opportunity to transfer to Mexico or Brazil for his job.  Having the choice of living in one of two cacao-growing countries was beyond her imagination. She and her husband chose Brazil for the adventure, and she spent the next year learning how to make chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate. She was planning to work there for two weeks, but her stint making chocolate for Dandelion turned into a year.

Truly an entrepreneur, Arcelia knew she wanted to start another chocolate company, this time making chocolate from the bean. In homage to her previous neighborhood in San Francisco, she decided to name her company Mission Chocolate. She started her company after arriving in Brazil, setting up shop in São Paulo.

Empowering communities is an important theme in Arcelia’s life. She has turned this theme into multiple personal projects that all have the goal of improving chocolate and cacao in Brazil. She founded a bean-to-bar association, Associação Bean to Bar Brasil, individually contacting any small Brazilian chocolate makers she could find and convincing them to join her group. While it wasn’t a large group, she was surprised to find a nascent craft chocolate movement developing in Brazil with a handful of chocolate makers who had already been making chocolate for 1-2 years.

She helps craft makers develop flavor in their chocolate and she provides guidance on marketing their products. She also accepts cacao bean samples from farmers who want to switch from selling  on the commodity market to selling on the fine flavor market. She turns these sample beans into chocolate bars free of charge and sends the chocolate back to the farmers with advice on how to improve their post-harvest processing to produce better cacao. Fine flavor cacao generally pays a price premium for better post-harvest processing, so helping the farmers improve their fermentation and drying techniques can make a big difference in the quality of the cacao they produce and the price they receive. And it makes better chocolate.

Her commitment to improving cacao and chocolate in Brazil doesn’t stop there. She also works with women in remote villages, often ones without electricity or plumbing, to create chocolates. Her goal is to teach the women a skill using the tools and ingredients they already have. This may ring a bell with readers because it sounds similar to Momotombo’s approach to teaching women to make chocolates using methods that can be replicated in any kitchen in Nicaragua. Arcelia teaches the women to make desserts and drinking chocolates using ingredients found in their gardens and utilizing all parts of the cacao fruit from chocolate liquor (ground up cacao), nibs and pulp. Brazil is home to so many interesting fruits, nuts and spices that the women have many options to choose from when seasoning their rustic chocolate treats.

When it comes to her own chocolate, Arcelia uses cacao from Brazil. I was fascinated to find out from Arcelia that Brazil only allows cacao imports from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Indonesia, but not from its Latin American neighbors. I have heard similar stories from other Latin American countries where local cacao pride runs high (as it should!). She has managed to get her hands on cacao from Puerto Rico, Honduras and Costa Rica in the past, and will make a micro-batch of other origins when she can. In general her focus is on spotlighting Brazilian cacao.

We are excited to add four Mission bars to our collection. We love having high-percent cacao bars in stock, as do our customers, so we were excited to see some tasty high-percent cacao bars on the Mission lineup. We’ve chosen to add the 90% bar made with cacao from Fazenda Camboa which is one of the largest organic cacao producers in Brazil. You may recognize the name of Fazenda Camboa because it is also the origin of one of my favorite bars, the Areté Brazil 70%. It is located in the Bahia province, Brazil’s main cacao-growing region. Our other option is the 80% bar which is made with cacao from Fazenda Vale Potumuju, also grown in Bahia.

We chose to add two delicious inclusion bars that showcase unique Brazilian ingredients. The first is a Candied Guava bar that is decorated with delicious chunks of, you guessed it, candied guava. This is not the overly-sweet guava you often taste in the US. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite inclusion bars. The other inclusion bar is Baruja (short for “baru nut gianduja”), which Arcelia makes by refining cacao with baru nuts. The baru nut is less sweet than a hazelnut and has a more roasty flavor with stronger nutty intensity. It’s a sophisticated take on gianduja.

The Mission 80% Vale Potumuju is competing in this week’s bracket of the Chocolopolis Chocolate Sweet Sixteen during happy hour on Saturday, and then again on Wednesday. Stop by and vote for your two favorite chocolates in this week’s competition. Checkout the updated bracket with winners to date.

A special thanks to WKNDChocolate and Lauren Heineck for her detailed interview with Arcelia Gallardo.