On our final excursion of the program, we got a full tour of the Rio Grande chocolate farm. Rio Grande is a small town in the mountains that uses sustainable farming techniques to turn cacao into the delicious chocolate we know. We started with a walk (that turned into a small hike) to land a little higher on the mountain, where the cacao trees were growing. Here, we saw many different signs popped up on trees with different animals on them. They explained to us that this is one of the ways they avoid using pesticides and harmful control methods. Mice are some of the biggest problems when growing cacao, as they love gnawing through the outer shell to reach the sweet cacao grains, ruining the fruit. These animals are natural controls on the mice population. Among them were ferrets (hurones in Spanish), cats (gatos), snakes (serpientes), and owls (buhos). It was great to see the community utilizing knowledge of the natural food chain to replace the need for harmful chemical pesticides.
We were later taken up a little bit higher to a small structure, nothing more than a roof, a table, and some benches. Here we got an explaination of how cacao goes from the fruit in front of us to the powder that makes chocolate. First, they passed around one of the fruits, letting us try one of the white pods inside. They had a sweet, somewhat tangy flavor that almost was reminiscent of citrus (only suck on these, as some us us found out, it does not taste good it you chomp through the whole thing). Those pods are then dried, and once they are at an acceptable level, they are put through a manual grinder. This is what gives the more recognizable coco powder. This is also when it started to smell absolutley delicious.
From here, one of the ladies (La Jefa) started mixing the powder with a few other things, such as flour, ground corn, and cinnamon and a few other spices. This is when it really started to smell delicious. This mixture is the basis of what I can only imagine is the best hot chocolate ever. Thankfully, they didn't just tease us, and each of us were given a ball of this chocolate mix (for free, because these people are saints) and we were told to mix it with hot milk or water, and a pinch of salt for the best results. So for those of you trying to emulate this, all you need is coco powder, ground corn, cinnamon, and salt, and your house can smell as good as that mountainside!
To finish off this excursion, we were taught (finally) how to play dominos, so now we really have had a Dominican immersion experience. A dominos setup will also most likely be making an appearance in my appartment, as will hot chocolate recipes inspired by theirs.